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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Most Valuable Blur

“I saw him play.”
“Yeah? What do you think?”
“He was the best. Run, hit, throw…he was the best.”
—Buck Weaver on Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eight Men Out

Listen, I’m supposed to present this award to you: Faith and Fear’s Most Valuable Met for 2011. It’s not a real award, so don’t clear space for it or anything. It’s just something I do every year to put a wrap on the season.

You won the award easy. You won it in June. Now and again it would occur to me that come November I’d have to compose an essay to make it “official,” if you will. I looked forward to it. I always look forward to doing Most Valuable Met, especially in the overall bad years, because it’s something positive to look back on.

I have to admit I’ve been waiting to present this “award” to you ever since I invented it in 2005. You were one of the “finalists” every year the first few years, but there was always someone who embodied the season just a little more. I considered it a great exercise in self-control that I didn’t give it to you in 2006. I wanted to, but Beltran had the big numbers, and since I’d been boosting him for league MVP, I thought I had to honor that.

But that was OK. It wasn’t really a thing in my mind back then. The first couple of MVMs were sort of off the cuff. I didn’t make a thing of it until 2008, really, and that one had to be Johan’s. You understand, I’m sure.

Then you disappeared for most of a year, and weren’t more than 80% yourself the next year. You weren’t really top of mind. You understand that, too, I’m sure.

Finally 2011. You owned it. You owned the heart of it. I can’t imagine your agent doesn’t have all kinds of statistics revealing just how much you accomplished this year and every year — and how much you’re likely to do in the years ahead — but I have to share what I divined anyway, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

From May 24 to July 2, you batted .413. Your OPS was 1.074. You scored 37 runs in 34 games. You collected 62 hits. You stole 13 bases. You tripled 9 times.

And you transcended your numbers. You ascended to that level where nobody wanted to miss a single thing you did on the field. For six weeks, you were the greatest show on turf. You managed to maintain that J. Pierrepont Finch grin of impetuous youth, yet there you were, unquestionably a man in full. You may have been the best Met not named Seaver or Gooden I ever saw. For one of those rare moments across a half-century in the sport, we had the best player in baseball.

Honestly, I don’t think we ever had a better position player over an extended period. I could rattle off a few names and dates, but that wouldn’t help anybody else’s case or dilute yours. Nobody was as exciting as you. Nobody started games the way you did and nobody kept them going the way you would. Nobody was a better advertisement for staying tuned and sticking to one’s seat. Whatever else your teammates were doing — and they did what they could — you were why I wanted to watch the Mets in 2011.

Who am I kidding? You were why I wanted to watch the Mets from 2003 on. You played with a division champion. You played with eight lost souls. It didn’t matter. In my soul, you were the draw for me. You hitting. You running. You not stopping. You until you were a blur…a happy and peppy and bursting with love of the game blur, blazing from home to third and then ninety feet more.

A blur…that was you and that was time, it now occurs to me. How did it get to be nine seasons so soon? How did you get to be our all-time leader in runs scored? How did you land suddenly second to indefatigable compiler Eddie Kranepool in hits? How did June 10, 2003, become more than eight years ago so fast?

This year your blur was epic. Then it receded into injury. Why that keeps happening I don’t know. I was envisioning a 2011 that was going to keep growing in stature until it was the stuff of legend. The year you broke Olerud’s record for batting average. The year you broke Lance’s record for hits. The year you made yourself inarguably indispensable to the fortunes of the franchise. You were going to create a masterpiece so dazzling that the commissioner would have been forced to invoke the “best interests of baseball” clause to keep you from going anywhere else, because how could the Mets — whatever their financial foibles — function without you?

You came back from the first hammy calamity, you groped to find your footing…and it happened again. Another injury. There went the blur. There went the fun. Your teammates had run out of gas by then and you weren’t around to fuel them anymore. So we just waited for you to return a second time, sort of like we did all through and then after 2009…a lot like we did all through and after 2004 and even 2003, come to think of it. A little like we had to do in spots during 2010.

I really wish you hadn’t missed all those games. You’d be ahead of Kranepool by now. More importantly, you’d have had no doubters in high places. You’d have been courted and signed for the long haul. You’d be the Met for life you couldn’t not be. There’d be no questions from a front office that didn’t know what it had in you when it got here. I could hear it in Alderson’s tone a year ago when they asked what he planned to do about his shortstop’s expiring contract. “Who? Him? We’ll see.”

Yeah, he saw. We all saw. We saw the upside. We were reminded of the outside — the trademark, toothsome explosion of joy you effortlessly evinced. You were still that kid from 2003 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007 before it kind of went to hell on you. Yet you were somehow more mature, too. You were 28: timeless and ageless. And, in the heart of 2011, you were as healthy as you were vibrant.

Except there’s a portrait of your hamstrings in a storage facility somewhere in Corona and those suckers got old fast. Hearing about them did, at any rate. Nobody here wanted to think about the parts of you that weren’t indestructible. We preferred your smile. Your flying dreadlocks. Your facefirst slide into whatever base came next. Your infectious clapping from the dugout. Your blur. Your June. All of that felt impervious to danger.

Your hamstrings were another story. They were a story we chose to put aside as you wrote a new lede in the final weeks of 2011. You weren’t in Olerud/One Dog territory anymore, but son of a gun, you were still the hittingest hitter in all the National League. You were leading in batting average. We all agreed to suspend our cynicism toward a statistic that proves more and more hollow the deeper one drills into it because, quite frankly, it was the neatest title any Met had ever pursued. It may not have been complex or sophisticated, but when we were growing up, it had it own baseball card and its own listing in the papers — the leaders every day, and everybody on Sunday. No Met had ever headed that listing. But you were going to.

And you did. You did it with an uncharacteristically klutzy flourish on the final day, but I’ve already pretended to forget about that. The point is you won the title. You were the National League Batting Champion of 2011. You hit .337 the year after you hit .282. You did it in less than ideal physical condition. You didn’t triple after July 21 (yet tied for the league lead with 16). You tried to steal only once between August 31 and September 22 (but still finished sixth in the N.L. with 39). Your legs…your business partners…didn’t cooperate, but you overcame.

Which brings us to the presentation of this award, usually a pleasant distraction from the gaping maw of November and the fact that the Mets tend to come up empty where real awards are concerned. Like I said, I was looking forward to this little annual ritual of mine, but honestly, it’s been difficult getting to this point. I can’t think of what you’ve done without thinking of what your next move might be, and whether the Mets will cooperate with you any more amenably than your legs did in the second half of the season. And, to be perfectly frank, I can’t swear to just how much cooperation in the form of a lucrative multiyear contract is reasonable.

If money were no object…never mind that fantasy. Money is an object, one that likely eludes the grasp of the owners of this franchise (thanks to their most infamous business partner). I don’t know how New York City became Kansas City, but it apparently has. Nobody really believes you’ll be back to defend your batting title or run out more triples or give us something we can’t take our eyes off in 2012 and beyond. I don’t really believe it anymore, though I’d be happy to be wrong very soon.

If they don’t sign you, there will be moments, perhaps lots of them, when it will make all the sense in the world, but there will be at least as many moments — unquantifiable yet emotionally tangible — when it will be the worst idea in the world. The thought of the Mets without you is why this award presentation has been difficult for me to pull off. I can’t even bring myself to inject your name into this discussion. It’s like if I put it out there, forces will align to take it away from me.

I didn’t become a Mets fan to endure indeterminate stretches of being less happy than I’ve been previously. I’ve put up with those inevitable downturns on principle; or out of loyalty; or maybe just because I have too many clothes featuring too many Mets logos to start over. But these days I’m having a tough time reconciling my diehard tendencies with the notion of the Mets plodding along without you. I don’t look forward to rooting for a Mets team that doesn’t have you. It wasn’t much fun doing it when you were on the DL, but at least then we knew you were coming back.

By the way, you can decide to take less money to stay here. That is if you like it as much in these parts and in this dead-end organization as you’ve indicated you do. I wouldn’t necessarily do it if I were in your position. I don’t plan on becoming one of those creepy fans who writes to 29 strange teams declaring he’s a free agent, but except for habit and a lifetime of devotion, I can’t think of a good, rational reason to get squarely behind this team if you’re not on it.

You, on the other hand, were the best, most rational such reason for nine seasons, especially last season. That’s why I’m going through the formality of informing you that you’re Faith and Fear’s Most Valuable Met for 2011, from when “valuable” didn’t need to be assessed with a dollar sign.

We experienced it for ourselves day after day. If we don’t experience it anymore, I am going to miss it too much for words.

FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS MOST VALUABLE METS

2005: Pedro Martinez

2006: Carlos Beltran

2007: David Wright

2008: Johan Santana

2009: Pedro Feliciano

2010: R.A. Dickey

Still to come: The Nikon Camera Player of the Year for 2011.

25 comments to Most Valuable Blur

  • Exactly. You nailed it.

  • Guy Kipp

    After the All-Star break, Lucas Duda was the Most Valuable Met. But I’d rather go into 2012 wondering how to get by without Lucas Duda than without he-who-shall-not-be-named here.

  • March'62

    What a nice going away present. Something that will be enjoyed while relaxing on the IR in South Beach next summer.

  • Z

    Nice Tony Randall reference.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    My vote would be for Carlos Beltran. He led the team in homers and RBIs despite saying goodbye to us in late July.

    He also accounted for 112 runs in just 98 games or 1.14 per game. Jose accounted for 138 runs in 126 games which, at 1.09 per game, is actually a bit lower. No doubt Jose would have been driven home a lot more had Carlos remained in the lineup and the Mets, in turn, would have scored a lot more runs overall.

    His glove and throwing arm in right was as valuable for an outfielder as Jose’s glove and throwing arm was for those playing short.

    Of course, we finally have a guy who wins the batting title and we lose him nonetheless. A real blur.

    • March'62

      I guess it’s a good thing that Kranepool never won a batting title or he would have gone much sooner and would not have stockpiled so many team records.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    oh stayyy oh stay oh stay oh stayyyy…

  • Joe D.

    Nah,

    Eddie’s best years came before free agency so he was stuck with the reserve clause.

  • Andee

    We’re not the Royals. We’re just every team that isn’t the Yankees, and hence doesn’t print our own currency. They can eat their mistakes and barely even burp; we can eat ours, but it will hurt like major surgery.

    The days of the Mets bidding against themselves, which the team did from Phillips through Minaya, are gonzo, not coming back. I think that’s all to the good. The Mets WANT Jose’s agent to have other offers in hand before they make a serious bid. They don’t want to set the market for him, they want other teams to do it. It’s exactly what the Cardinals are doing with Pujols, the Brewers with Fielder, the Rangers with Wilson. It’s what every team that’s not the Yankees does anymore. After all the huge unmovable deals that have gone down the last few years, it’s the right thing to do.

    Personally, I’ll believe someone coughs up 140/7 for him when I see it. And I’m not touching the sports sections in the New York papers with a nine-foot barbecue tong. These people hate our team, Greg. HATE it. They want nothing more than for the Mets to lose 100 games a year forever. Do not listen to them.

  • BlackCountryMet

    I agree with Andee. We simply cannot afford the sort of deal the Yanks seem to table every season and neither can almost all the others. We must know that we’ll be damned if we get him, damned if we don’t. If we sign him, I bet his hammys blow up and we never get full value or playing time. If we don’t, well you know he’ll play every game, hit and steal a ton, it’s just the Metsian way!!

  • I’m totally down with financial parameters, legitimate judgments and Madoff-enforced reality, et al, but it bleeping kills me that this is OUR guy we’re talking about — not not going after Pujols or Fielder (or the Lackeys, Crawfords and Werths in years past), but not keeping OUR guy. That’s the Kansas City in this. We manage to cultivate a homegrown star and we can’t (potentially) figure out a way to keep him.

    • Andee

      But Pujols, Fielder, and Wilson are homegrown by their organizations, too, and none of them have been blown away by an offer by any of their respective teams. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Rangers are not bargain-basement organizations like KC, either; they’re just not the Yankees. So they have to be somewhat savvy about this.

      And so do the Mets, who (before Alderson was foisted on them) never quite got that flinging around zillions of dollars was only prudent if you could also afford to flush zillions of dollars. Which they couldn’t. If not for Jason Bay’s contract (and Johan Santana’s too, although fewer people saw that coming), none of this would even be an issue. They can’t do what they used to do, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting their fingers in their ears for the next two months. There is something in between.

  • […] Faith and Fear in Flushing, in an awards presentation to Jose Reyes, makes similar points and sums up my feelings pretty well in this quote. except for habit and a lifetime of devotion, I can’t think of a good, rational reason to get squarely behind this team if you’re not on it. Follow @Ceetar […]

  • Joe D.

    The Mets also chose not to re-sign Chris Capuano.

    The consensus opinion is that Chris did a good job taking into account the marginal investment. To his credit, Chris didn’t miss a start and came back from a major injury and that is indeed a nice feel-good story but IMHO he pitched poorlythis season, even for one in the back of the rotation.

    If his pitching was credible enough for a team with little other credible pitching, one would think Sandy would at least attempt to negotiate to keep him in New York. Even a two-year contract at $4 million each would not break the Mets piggy bank – not for a real decent back of the rotation starter.

    But if it’s the money factor more than not being satisfied with his performance, then forget about re-signing Jose or keeping anybody of quality after six years.

    Last winter many praised Sandy for the signings of Capuano, Young, Carasco, Boyer, Bulcholz, etc. stressing that with his sabremetric skills he was ushering in a new philosophy of fiscal restraint and assembling a good team consisting of players undervalued by others by going outside the box.  Now, who out there is satisfied with the results of this past season simply because the Mets didn’t go out and spend that much money? Who is content that the little results on the field only resulted in little losses on the payroll?

    These were not brilliant moves — Sandy was instead being forced to sign discards on the cheap just to fill roster spots.   That’s not suggesting that if we could, we should go back to the days of Omar but it is fair to say that going back to the days of the late seventies isn’t the right approach either – though it seems this is the only option left open to Sandy.  

    I wonder if by now knowing the fiscal restraints he has to work under that when he wakes up in the morning Sandy isn’t asking himself why he ever took the job in the first place and stay in the Commissioner’s office instead.

  • BlackCountryMet

    Disappointed re Caps, felt he did a more than decent job and would have been a fine back end of the rotation starter. Sign of the times, that we can’t keep someone for a relatively small amount, after the millions we’ve spunked away on dross pitchers in the past(someone mention Ollie?!?!)

    • Joe D.

      Not to mention that we also won’t keep someone for a relatively small amount considering the relatively un-small amounts we’re being forced to pay for tickets, concessions, parking and the opportunity to walk a flight of stairs in order to get to our seats in the upper promenade.

      Another question is if the Mets were satisfied with Cappy’s performance, why would they openly state they were not going to re-sign him instead of keeping quiet and just waiting to see what the other offers were before extending one on their own? That’s the story we’re hearing about their dealings with Jose, who I think is going to cost a little bit more for a little bit more time.

  • eric b

    Reports today say Reyes to Marlins is “almost a done deal.” I pray this is not the case. I live in South Florida and to have Reyes sitting her under my nose while the Mets languish seems like torture.

    • Joe D.

      Haven’t seen reports other than they had meetings but also see that Miami is looking to sign Puljos as well. Imagine the turnover those two players could make? And with a new stadium, the Marlins might then go back to drawing close to 23,000 per game like they did in 2005, the last time they didn’t finish last in attendance figures (they were 15th out of 16 that season).

    • Z

      Anticipated Post headline:

      JOSE TAKING HIS TALENTS TO SOUTH BEACH

    • Will in Central NJ

      At this point, with Jose touring opponents’ ballparks, it’s like being in high school, and watching a girl you just broke up with, in the arms of a despised primate from the varsity football team. It’s better not to look or listen. It can only be painful.

      Hope against hope for a return, but brace yourself for the crushing worst. Sigh.

  • nestornajwa

    The Marlins’ pursuit of Reyes and Pujols smells like a season-ticket sales pitch. The Marlins draw, what, 10,000 per game? So they make sure they’re first out of the gate, making offers to the two biggest names on the market, knowing that both are extremely likely to wait for several offers before signing a deal. But they look aggressive as they try to build interest in the new stadium. Of course, none of that means that the Mets intend to re-sign Reyes, and the only way that happens is if Jose is telling his agents “go out and pump the market, but I’m staying in NY”. No, I don’t believe that either. But I’m not sweating the Marlins. I’m much more worried about the Brewers, Giants, Phillies and, god help us, another team with an aging shortstop even closer than Philly.

    At least M. Donald Grant didn’t tear down Shea Stadium.

    • Andee

      I agree, it’s just hot air. Loria just wants to be able to say “well, we TRIED to sign players x, y, z,” and then he’ll sign someone like Heath Bell, or maybe Jimmy Rollins, for a bunch of money and have everyone go, “Ooh, big spender.”

      And now I’m somewhat less concerned about the Phils poaching Reyes considering they just handed the keys to the gold bricks to Jonathan Papelbon for the next five (if he vests) years. (Sign a closer for big bucks and multiple years coming off his peak season? Gee, where have we seen that before?) They’re gonna have a hard time even retaining Rollins now, let alone getting Jose.

      The Giants got hosed on their last two big free agent signings (Zito and Rowand), and in fact cut Rowand with over a year remaining on his deal. They’re probably more concerned about what they’re going to have to shell out for Lincecum, Cain, and Sandoval, all of whom are about to get very expensive.

      And I don’t know why the Brewers would snub Fielder in order to get Jose. I don’t see how that makes any sense for them, unless they just hate Scott Boras even more than other teams do.

      • Joe D.

        Interesting take Andee about the Marlins perhaps making the first offers to both players more as a publicity stunt to then justify having no choice but to sign others below the status of Jose and Albert

        However, publicity stunts don’t sell tickets and unless either Puljos or Reyes are actually signed, I doubt the spin would work as far as ticket sales are concerned. Such moves don’t with other teams.

        If their offers were made with the notion they would be rejected, by being the first to submit such offers all Miami has accomplished is raising the bar for others to counter with. Who knows, if they out-priced most other teams, Miami might be stuck with having to sign them!

        • Andee

          From yesterday’s ESPN story on the Fishies:

          Marlins president David Samson made it sound unlikely that the team would be willing to pay all three veterans they’re courting if Pujols, Reyes and Buehrle accept offers.

          “It’s a problem we never suspected could happen,” Samson said. “It didn’t even occur to me. We have a first choice, a 1A and a 1B after 1. This week did not happen by accident. We knew who we wanted to see, and when we wanted to see them.”

          Love it. It never occurred to Samson that they all could say yes simultaneously? Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a neo-Yankees big spending team to me.

          • Joe D.

            Yeah, would like to see what the Player’s Union does regarding an owner who reneges on his offer.

            Even Fred and Jeff are not that dumb!