The recent passings of Jim Beauchamp and Don Cardwell demonstrate the power of association by distillation. They both had long and distinguished careers in the Majors but it is the instinct of the fan to boil it all down remember them for the one or two things they did on your team.
Beauchamp? He good-naturedly gave up No. 24 in May 1972 when the Mets acquired a centerfielder who may have been more readily identified with it. Pretty good righthanded pinch-hitter, too.
Cardwell? He drove in the only run of a 1-0 shutout in the second game of a doubleheader after Jerry Koosman performed the same unlikely hitting feat in the first game. Also, I hear he wasn't crazy about love beads.
Granted, Don Cardwell was about five minutes before my time and I wasn't terribly conscious of Jim Beauchamp until he was traded here with a flock of Cardinal bit players in exchange for Art Shamsky, whose 24 he donned for about a month before switching to 5 in deference to Willie Mays. I know Cardwell pitched a no-hitter as a Cub and, in the aftermath of his passing, have learned more about several of his 1969 contributions beyond that RBI single and those eight shutout innings in Pittsburgh. I recall Beauchamp as a Braves coach when they got good again in '91 and persevering there before he retired and they became intolerable at the end of the '90s.
But Cardwell drove in the only run of a shutout in the doubleheader in which Koosman did the same. And Beauchamp gave up his number for Mays. That's what I remember. That's what came to mind in the instant after I learned of their respective deaths, just as it was what came up every time their names were mentioned since they stopped playing. It may not make for a complete or representative portrayal, but it is what has stuck with me. It's probably what's stuck with most Mets fans.
What do you suppose we'll remember about Endy Chavez when his name comes up after he's not playing anymore?
That drag bunt single to win a game against Colorado, the homer off Pettitte, a big hit against the Pirates on the July 4 before last…plenty of good, strong contributions. If you want to recall him generically as architect of perhaps the most significant fourth-outfielder season in Mets history — 133 games as a stellar fill-in in 2006 — go right ahead. If he makes you yearn for low-fat dairy, raise three glasses of skim milk to him.
All that acknowledged, who're we kidding? You think Endy, you think catch. What else is there to think about? We'll remember the catch. We'll remember other stuff, too — he is surely no one-catch pony — but we're tethered to the catch. The next generation will know of the catch and the generation after that one, too.
The Mets have secured Mr. Chavez's services for another two seasons, agreeing on a two-year $3.85 million contract. This comes a couple of weeks after he aggravated a hamstring in winter ball. That wasn't the one he strained and missed a load of time over in regular ball last June. He played the last month or so of 2007, but it wasn't quite the same Endy from 2006. And now he's recovering from injury again.
If this were Player X, I'd be a mite reflexively grumbly that management just overcommitted, as it is prone to do, to someone 30, brittle, part-time and theoretically replaceable. But he's not Player X. He's Endy Chavez.
Endy Chavez made that catch. How much do you suppose that would be worth in arbitration if any one of us were the arbitrator? How much would have you given in the course of the evening of October 19, 2006 to have had Scott Rolen's surefire two-run homer retrieved and converted into a double play? For how long would you feel privileged to compensate Endy Chavez in appreciation of his dash, his leap, his grab and his throw?
Two years? Make it two eternities. One for now, one for later. It was that good.
Technically, the catch took place 15 months ago. Seems more like 15 years, doesn't it? A little? Doesn't that moment when the world froze for a handful of unyielding seconds seem from another era already? Endy was in left. Who were in center and right — Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda? Is it possible that that same Endy Chavez who made in 2006, with all due respect to glorious Met outfielders past, the greatest postseason catch ever played on the 2007 Mets of badly constructed legend? What would a Mets team with Endy Chavez be doing coughing up a large divisional lead? No, impossible. Endy is associated with only goodness; he drinks his milk, he eats his yogurt and everyone wins!
Of the theories that have abounded and will always be bandied about where The Greatest Collapse In Baseball History is concerned, you don't hear much about the extended absence of Endy Chavez, how 133 games in 2006 were reduced by almost half in '07, how Chavez came to the rescue in Cliff Floyd's absence one year but was unavailable to do the same for much of Moises Alou's predictable recovery period, how a team rises to the occasion when it has an Endy Chavez and how it falls flat when nobody plays that role for months at a time.
To be fair, the Mets were muddling along in first place when Endy went down on June 6 (against the Phillies, appropriately enough) and were still masquerading as front-runners on August 28 (once more versus Philly) when he returned. A check of Baseball-Reference's gamelogs reveals he had slumped from .337 to .292 in the week-plus before his left hamstring gave out…reflecting eerily the southbound turn the Mets as a whole had begun to take. When he came back, he wasn't quite the same Endy, not the one from 2006. That's perfectly understandable as it's tough to miss 73 games and reconjure your magic all at once.
He also wasn't used that much down the stretch. With Alou healthy and hot, Chavez wasn't going to left. Among lefty Green and righties Gomez and Milledge, he got lost in the other corner shuffle. He started all of three times in September, all in right, not once after September 18 (when he went 3-for-3 and drove in two runs). I sat at one of the final games of the year, the Friday night loss to the Marlins, and wondered, amid the parade of pinch-hitters Willie Randolph was dispatching to the plate and welcoming back to the bench hit-free, where in the world was Endy Chavez?
Venezuela, I learned. His sister died. He went home for the funeral and would miss the final series.
2007 was almost never the same as 2006. There were dozens of factors that went right previously that simply underwhelmed later. In one year, a journeyman utility outfielder first steps up and then jumps up and makes a breathtaking catch for the ages and an incalculable difference to our fortunes. In the next year, he's the same man, yet he can only do so much. He can't do anything when he's hurting. He can be a bobblehead promotion and he can be the one universally beloved component of the “Sweet Caroline” video, but he can't play if he can't play or they won't play him. Subtract such a glaring disparity between '07 and '06 and you wind up deleting the extra from extraordinary.
None of which makes me think of anything but that catch when I think of Endy Chavez. Whatever he does in 2008 and whatever he does for however long he plays for the Mets, he makes that catch. That thought sticks with me.