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Your Newest Cardinal

Carlos Beltran is a Cardinal.

I say good for him. A player criminally [1] unappreciated [2] 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 [3].)

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.