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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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Your Newest Cardinal

Carlos Beltran is a Cardinal.

I say good for him. A player criminally unappreciated by the Mets’ stupider fans deserves a last go-round in a town that’s reflexively supportive of its players.

But isn’t it weird that Beltran’s a Cardinal? Because remember he took that called third strike that one time against the Cardinals? (If you haven’t already, go back and read Greg’s take.)

That Adam Wainwright pitch was a magical offering. Pretty much every day, some batter somewhere in a Major League Baseball game is frozen by an unhittable 12-6 curve to end an at-bat. But not all such pitches are created equal. Ones that end at-bats in the third innings of games in mid-May are just kind of a bummer. But ones that come at the end of Game 7s of playoff series are different. Imbued with the sense of the moment possessed by all inanimate objects, they are little spherical judges of a man’s character.

If not offered at, such curveballs prove that a player isn’t a winner and has never played with passion. When confronted with such pitches, real men realize at the last second that they have been fooled and take gritty, agonized hacks despite the fact that the ball is already settling into the catcher’s glove. They then contort their faces in a rictus of pain intense enough to be seen from the upper deck, rend their uniforms with bloody fingers and try to beat themselves to death with their own bats. Carlos Beltran failed to do any of those things, and so revealed his essential character to those wise enough or sufficiently steeped in WFAN to see it. All of the things he did later — getting the knee surgery he knew he needed, gamely trying to return from it too early, shifting to right field to defuse a clubhouse controversy — were shameful attempts at trickery.

Is it weird that Beltran will be a Cardinal, a teammate of Yadier Molina, he of the comically tattooed neck and the cosmically awful home run?

I suppose it is. But it’s always weird.

It’ll be weird confronting Jose Reyes as a Marlin. It was weird when Pedro Martinez smothered the Mets as a momentary Phillie. It was weird when Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden beat us as Yankees. It was weird seeing Lee Mazzilli as a Yankee. It was weird seeing Lenny Dykstra as a Phillie, or Rico Brogna as a Brave, or Edgardo Alfonzo as a Giant. My forebears probably thought it was weird seeing Jim Hickman as a Cub or Gary Gentry as a Brave. And let’s recall that only an injury saved us from what would have been a deeply, tragically weird confrontation with Tom Seaver of the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.

We’d like players who were our favorites, or even just logged enough time to be familiar, to never go anywhere else. By all rights they should vanish and be remembered as they were. The world buffets us with change enough as it is — it’s galling, somehow, to get more strangeness and dislocation from baseball, which is supposed to be our escape from such things. But baseball doesn’t play by those rules any more than the rest of life does. Ed Kranepools are few and far between — most players with whom ties are severed find it in their interests to play wearing someone else’s uniform, just as most former colleagues, mentors or mentees insist on continuing to earn a living even if it’s with competitors and most ex-girlfriends fail to do the decent thing and flee to a nunnery.

Carlos Beltran will be a Cardinal. He’ll probably sit next to Yadier Molina now and then and inexplicably not karate-chop him in the throat. He’ll probably get some hits off of us, maybe even one off an attempted 12-6 curveball that turns out to be more of a 12-3. It’ll be weird. Life often is.

34 comments to Your Newest Cardinal

  • You know, it’s kind of weird to see anybody as a Brave.

    You know, unless they’re born Braves. An Andres Gallaraga doesn’t make sense as a Brave. A Jeff Francoeur doesn’t make sense as a non-Brave. Braves are Braves.

  • I always thought of Glavine as a Brave, even when he was a Met, and he probably thought the same thing.

  • Exactly. There are born Braves, and born non-Braves. And more than other teams (to me, at least) they don’t really make sense any other way.

  • Joe D.

    And when Beltran gets a key hit, or Jose makes a great stab at a ball hit up the middle, I’ll be moaning about them being in different uniforms as opponents yet sadistically smirking at the Wilpons and saying “take that, you idiots” from the safety of my living room (since I don’t plan to give them one dime of my hard earned money).

  • Z

    In the grand scheme of things, was Beltran really a much greater Met than, say, John Olerud? Or even Robin Ventura?

  • What’s the grand scheme of things? If you mean stats, then yes, he was. Here are the team’s all-time leaders in career WAR:

    1. D. Strawberry 37.7
    2. David Wright 32.6
    3. Carlos Beltran 31.7
    4. Jose Reyes 29.3
    5. Edgardo Alfonzo 29.1
    6. Keith Hernandez 26.5
    7. Howard Johnson 24.7
    8. Mike Piazza 24.6
    9. Mookie Wilson 19.4
    10. John Olerud 18.6

    Ventura’s No. 24 on that list, behind Todd Hundley, with 10.7.

    If the grand scheme of things means something more spiritual, that’s of course up to you.

    • Steve D

      What are the avg WAR stats per season? The list you give seems to be a large function of longevity. It also doesn’t capture leadership. If it captured defense, leadership and clutchness, Keith would be by far be number one, Piazza number two. How far back does WAR go? Nobody on that list played before 1980. Where is Rusty? Felix Millan?

      • A link would have been helpful, wouldn’t it? Here you go — hours of entertainment/thoughts provoked.

        http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYM/leaders_bat.shtml

        • But to preview, the list goes all the way back — the Top 10 list reflects the fact that the Mets were an offensive black hole until their mid-80s resurrection. Rusty is No. 35, Millan No. 39. Cleon Jones’s 7.6 WAR in ’69 is the sixth-best single-season mark, though. Anyway, have fun.

      • Z

        Yeah, does anybody keep average-WAR-per-season stats? That would be a good perspective, considering Beltran’s Mets-career WAR is much less than twice Olerud’s even though he played here more than twice as many seasons as Olerud. Plus Olerud’s OBP and OPS stats were much better. And a few years ago, when Greg ranked all the Mets’ players through 2001, Olerud was No. 20 (Ventura was No. 22). So Beltran at this point should probably fall somewhere around No. 25.

        What’s also very interesting on that stat list below (to digress for a moment) is that Reyes doesn’t show up at all in the OBP charts. And that his 2011 batting crown number was only the 5th-highest season BA in team history.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    You are going to have To adjust your T.V. screen! He is going to look goofy in red anyway you slice it!

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    You are so right – anybody who saw Carlos play day in and day out knows how great a player he was and that it was criminal how under-appreciated he was by so many.

    To be fair, however, most of that prejudice comes from not performing up to the expectations that came from the lucrative contract that Omar offered which is a reflection of the financial absurdity that professional sports has turned into. Though it often did not seem spectacular, Beltran produced and always put out 100% – which is more that could be said for most others.

    So you do not need to back up your argument with statistics like WAR, etc that I believe are so trivial and meaningless to anyone other than a mathematician. Anybody with a keen baseball knowledge can appreciate the words that you wrote.

    Joe

    • Steve D

      I once again must invoke the term leadership…when the team was choking at the end of 2007 and 2008, there was a clear lack of leadership. You can put up great numbers and produce, but you will never win it all without it.

      • OK, but how do we measure leadership? If we can’t, isn’t it somewhere between possible and likely that leadership is a characteristic ascertained in retrospect after a team wins, or found lacking after it doesn’t?

        I love baseball and storytelling — it’s a major focus of this blog. But more and more, I think we’ve got to be careful about storytelling. Stories about grit and leadership and passion and that stuff are generally Just So stories, and I think baseball is more interesting than what we derive from them.

    • Actually, the WFAN wing of Mets fandom is wrong about that, too — Beltran was worth his contract. See an interesting discussion of that here: http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/20185/wilpon-got-what-he-paid-for-in-beltran.

      I’d urge you to give WAR a chance. (Insert John and Yoko joke here.) Advanced stats aren’t ever going to feel as natural to me as the ones I memorized when I was a kid, but their aim is to help us better measure player value and understand the game we love, and I think WAR is one of the best at that. You probably saw it, but Bill Simmons had a nice article about WAR and some other stats last year:
      http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/100402

      • Steve D

        Jason,

        I am a math teacher, so this is not coming from a lack of math understanding. I looked over those WAR numbers and something has to be skewing them toward recent players. Granted the Mets never hit much in the early days…but this is ridiculous. Also look at the Defensive WAR…are you telling me Cleon Jones is the only Met before 1989 with a top ten WAR season? Not kosher. I will have to get to the bottom of it when I have some time.

        • Steve D

          and the Pitching WAR is equally odd…only one top ten Pitching WAR after 1975!…so according to these stats, the Mets couldn’t hit until 1987 and couldn’t pitch after 1975 (except Doc in 1985).

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    But quoting Edwin Starr – “WAR, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”.

    Respectfully, stats like wins above replacement, etc. go so much to the extent of near infinity that they become meaningless other than for an interesting statistical debate and to trivialize a player’s true talent, ability and contribution to his team. As an example, the difference between a .300 and .250 hitter with 500 at bats is just five more hits every 100 at bats – hardly noticeable when watching the two play day in and day out as far as producing hits is concerned but much more impressive as an individual stat.

  • Steve D

    Clutch? Beltran has a .283 lifetime average…but in clutch situations, that drops to .262 w. 2 outs RISP and .266 Late and close.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=beltrca01&year=Career&t=b#clutc

  • Sam B

    Unless I missed it, I’m very surprised no one has mentioned the real reason Beltran was criminally unappreciated.

    He was the best of the Latin players in the Omar era.

    I hate to say it, but you can’t ignore the fact that many fans were uncomfortable with Los Mets. Once he took that third strike, it was all over.

    “He’s not a leader.”

    “He milks his injuries.”

    “His English isn’t nearly as good as mine.”

    Forget all of this WAR talk, if Beltran looked more like David Wright, fans would better understand his amazing accomplishments in Flushing.

    Merry Christmas, everyone. And especially you, Jason. Your posts are a joy to read.

    • Joe D.

      Sam,

      I have to agree with you about the underlying prejudice that was reflected in many a Met fan. Donn’t know if it was a minority. majority or somewhere in the middle but do know I had and still do hear too many comments about how Omar wanted to stock the teams with Latinos – with the comment not coming across as an opinion but in anger and resentment.

      But I think the intolerance directed to Beltran had more to do with the length and amount of his contract, the hype generated with his signing coming after that great 2004 NLCS. And Beltran always got an unfair rap because for a team to lose a seven game series to a club that barely made it over .500, it had to be a team effort. That series should never have gone past five or six.

    • Steve D

      The greatest Met leader was Keith Hernandez…wasn’t he Latin?

      • Sam B

        Not even close, Steve. Keith’s mother is Scots-Irish and his father is Spanish – as in from Spain, you know, the one in Europe. Not everyone whose name ends in a “Z” is of Latin descent. But thanks for the broad brush.

        I was never more embarrassed as a Mets fan when I’d hear talk show callers complain about Omar’s “Latinization” of the Mets. It was sad to see how threatened some fans started to feel. It was almost as if they were saying they could deal with a few Latin guys (as long as they were very good) but not half of the team.

        Beltran was maligned repeatedly for being selfish and not playing hard enough – nonsense that’s been around since the days of Clemente. THAT is THE reason why he was so criminally unappreciated. Jose (I still call him Jose, too) was ripped for displaying the wrong type of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, white players just as demonstrative are praised for their fire.

        Nearly 30 percent of MLB players are Latino. Embrace these talented players, folks. Enjoy the “foreign” walk-up music, and deal with the fact that not everyone’s English is as good as Keith’s.

        Happy 2012, all!

        • Steve D

          His father is Spanish…Hispanic is defined as “Of or relating to Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America.” So how isn’t Keith Latin or Hispanic?

          I didn’t bring up this race crap and I will not comment on it again. My point is that some Met fans may hold prejudice, as in any walk of life, but most respect performance above anything. Sorry if I don’t gush over Beltran’s .266 average in the clutch.

          • Andee

            Keith might be “Latin” in the broader ethnic sense of the term, as an American-born person of Portuguese descent might be (e.g. Steve Perry). But he is fully Caucasian (as are many residents, immigrants, and immigrant-descendants of Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, the D.R., etc.; race =/= ethnicity). He was born in the US and has always spoken unaccented English (and from what I gather, very little to no Spanish), and has very light skin and what looks like pretty straight hair. If not for his surname, nobody would think of him as “Latino,” ever.

            Beltran, on the other hand, can never pass for US-born white, even if he has some Caucasian ancestry (most Puerto Ricans do), either appearance-wise or accent-wise. It would be nice to think that if he were fully Caucasian and spoke with no accent, he’d be treated the exact same way…but no, there will always be a certain number of pit-scratchers who are gonna put him on a shorter leash because of that, a shocking number of whom actually get paid to write and talk about it.

        • open the gates

          IIRC, Keith Hernandez is 3rd- or 4th-generation American. Which would make calling him “Hispanic” roughly equivalent to thinking of Mike Piazza as a recent arrival straight off the gondola from Venice. Neither here nor there – just the way it is.

          Actually, the late-’80’s Mets were known for having a slew of Anglo players with Spanish surnames. As in: Hernandez, Sid Fernandez, Jesse Orosco, Dave Magadan, Mark Carreon, Bob Ojeda, and I may be forgetting a few others. The only actual Latino player from then who stands out in my mind is Rafael Santana. And the Mets took plenty of guff for that fact. Probably from the same media folks who later lambasted Omar for “Latinizing” the team. You just can’t win with those folks.

  • Andee

    Also, “clutch hitting” stats vary a lot from one year to another, even more so than batting stats in general. If there were actually any such thing as “clutch hitting” as an ongoing thing, players would have similar stats in “clutch” situations every year, and they don’t. Look at Beltran’s “clutch” stats (or really, any good hitter’s, Pujols included) from each individual year, and you can see what I mean.

    • Sam B

      Perfectly stated, Andee. Thanks for the backup.

      Though I know it’s not really his thing, I’d love to hear Jason’s take on this.

    • Steve D

      Baseball Reference has pretty solid clutch hitting stats…Late & Close are PA in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck. Beltran played full seasons in 2005-8 and 2011…here are his Late and Close Stats:

      2005 .289
      2006 .299
      2007 .175
      2008 .282
      2011 .217

      So yes…these numbers are volatile…NY fans are smart. They sense inconsistency here…he had 3 years of clutch hitting, 2 years of killing us and 2 years where he played half a season or less. That makes only 3 solid years out of 7 in clutch hitting…plus one high profile failure that is probably unfairly placed all on him, but it is out there. That doesn’t cut it in NY.

      • Andee

        You conveniently left out ’09 and ’10. Smaller sample sizes because of injury, yes, but that’s kind of the point here; it’s a random stat, more random than most. Can you name a player who, over a 10-year period, has a high average in that situation every single year? Or anyone who did it as a Met for 5 years? In 1999, Mike Piazza had a .217 average in “close and late” situations. Did he “kill us” that year? Or, as was the case with Beltran in ’06, would it be hard to imagine us getting to game 6 (or in Beltran’s case, 7) of the NLCS at all without him? I’m in the latter camp, meself.

        • Steve D

          You make valid points…I have calculated Beltran’s clutch stats for his whole Met career…this gives a bigger sample and no inter-year swings.

          2 out RISP: .230
          Late and close .271

          From the moment he took that curveball, which was 2 out RISP, through the remaining 5 years of his Met career, he hit .219 in those situations. He also missed a lot of time due to injury…I don’t think he was milking anything, but it certainly doesn’t help revere him to me as being an all-time Met.

          So yes he made some contributions…helped get us into 2006 NLCS…failed in seminal moment…struggled in key spots and missed lots of time thereafter.