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There Goes Mr. Cedeño

With all his running willy-nilly hither and yon of late, Jose Reyes’ stolen base total has leapt to 62. Barring some calamity out of Here Comes Mr. Jordan in which he is compelled to trade bodies with Ramon Castro [1], he will steal four more bases, then another before we know it. And with that, Jose — the first infielder to swipe 60 or more bags in three consecutive seasons, according to Elias — will own the Mets’ single-season stolen base record, en route, probably, to piling it way higher than the 67 currently required for the mark.

It will be a most happy moment for a most happy fella, a most speedy fella, a most deserving fella. Team records are made to be broken and set again by great players. Even in a season that pales by comparison to the season before, Jose Reyes, 24, already qualifies as a great player.

Amid the dust Reyes kicks up under whoever’s too-late tag he steals his 67th, the wayside will claim a victim as collateral damage of Jose’s feet-powered feat. Roger Cedeño’s line in the Mets record book will fall there, just as Mookie Wilson’s did in 1999 when his 58 steals succumbed to Roger’s 59th on August 30 eight years ago. Of course Mookie recorded many Mets accomplishments that continue to transcend markers as mundane as records to this day.

Roger, on the other hand, had mostly his stolen base record.

Every time you miss a Met who has been traded and think “I wish we could get him back,” consider the cautionary tale of Roger Leandro Cedeño. For one season, Cedeño was a scrappy and successful Met, sparking rallies, sprawling for catches and, most notably, stealing 66 bases, eight more than any Met prior to him ever nabbed. He may not have been a classically sound player, but for 1999, he was extremely effective. He, too, was a most happy fella. When I think of Roger Cedeño in his first Met season, I see a wide smile — remember him on his back at home plate exchanging fisticuffs with thin air after sliding home with the winning run off Curt Schilling in the ninth? — and a surfeit of spunk…the kind Mr. Grant told Mary Richards he hated, the kind every Mets fan adored.

Cedeño 1.0 was necessary payment for Mike Hampton, the lefty ace who would be the difference between losing a dramatic League Championship Series and winning a comparatively calm one. It was a reasonable exchange, him and Dotel to obtain a pitcher coming off a 22-4 season. But I missed Roger in 2000 and was predictably thrilled when the Mets reacquired him via free agentry in December 2001.

Cedeño 2.0 was a system downgrade. Roger couldn’t do anything right in 2002-03, save perhaps for inciting the ire of Roberto Alomar by taunting him over the condition of his perm on his 1988 rookie card (anybody who pissed off Robbie Alomar deserved a few Nikon Player of the Game votes in my book). He couldn’t get on base. He couldn’t get under a fly ball. He couldn’t get out of his own way. He couldn’t get thousands of grumpy fans out of his own hair. His support plummeted faster than his statistics. He played the unfortunate role of Convenient Scapegoat in The Worst Team Money Could Buy, The Long Unawaited Sequel.

But at least Roger Cedeño still had that single-season stolen base record he had set in 1999 when he was younger, when the Mets were better, when we were all a little more human.

He won’t have that for long. One week ago today, Jose Reyes woke up with 54 steals for 2007. One week later he has 62. He has two in each of the past three games, including last night’s when his deadly running and his nifty fielding [2] helped defeat the Nationals quite soundly. I won’t “at this rate” it because that’s usually the kiss of death, but Reyes should pass 66 any day now. If he gets a good enough jump, he’ll pass it on the way home from Washington.

I’ll be elated to watch new history established by the shortstop who has enhanced the meaning of the phrase “fast track”. I love when Mets records fall because it means something good is happening for the Mets right now. But I’ll be just a touch saddened to watch the Roger Cedeño of 1999 — the good one — run out of the shard of team history he earned on grit, skill and Rickey Henderson’s tutelage, leaving him in too many minds as only the Roger Cedeño of 2002 and 2003 — the inept one — if he’s remembered at all.

Even as Reyes potentially and preferably places the record well beyond the previous standard, it would be sweet if somebody someday hears the name Roger Cedeño and the first reaction it elicits is “wasn’t he the player who held the stolen base record before Reyes?” and the second reaction is “he really helped us that year, that really great year.” No third reaction will be necessary, unless it’s “hey, look, Jose just stole another one!”

On the theme of team records, I recommend you read this year-old article from the [3] Washington Post that I found yesterday and still find fascinating today. Do Nationals break records held by Expos? Or by Senators? Or do Rangers and Twins break Senators records? Does anybody break Expos records? What about records held by Browns — Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Browns? How amid issues never definitively addressed by recurring franchise/city shifts did Fred Wilpon not manage to have Pee Wee Reese grandfathered in as a Met? And if he ever does, can I have Mel Ott [4]?