“The Mets were for the common people, I thought — the policemen and the doormen and the shoeshine boys and the newsdealers and the hot dog peddlers.”
—Ford C. Frick Award winner Lindsey Nelson, 1966
“There is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.”
—J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Roger Angell, 1962
The hot stove season, particularly during its winter meetings interlude, seems to fit Ralph Kiner’s description of the weather in Chicago: “If you don’t like it, just wait 10 minutes.”
Great advice, Ralph! as Fran Healy might have offered in rejoinder, for stories come and go mighty quickly and my mood is blown hither and yon with just as much velocity depending upon who’s tweeting/trading who. For example, five days ago I began conceiving a piece on not taking well the news that Carlos Beltran had opted to shed his last shred of human decency and sign with the Yankees. Then I got distracted. When I returned to attempting to flesh out my thoughts yesterday, I discovered I don’t really care what Beltran does or where he does it…the fink.
OK, maybe I care a little. But not that much. On Friday I was emotionally vulnerable because of the timing. First we sign Curtis Granderson, former Tiger and whatnot, and I’m getting used to the idea that this could be a splendid acquisition. Then the other team in New York swoops in and grabs a guy who was one of our best players ever, though not a Met since the middle of 2011 and not owing me or any Mets fan any consideration regarding what he does with the rest of his career.
It wasn’t that we didn’t re-sign Beltran for the next three years, which I never thought we would. It’s not that I believed Beltran was necessarily a better option than Granderson for 2014 — if Curtis’s age and return from injuries bothers me a little, Carlos’s Atchisonian wear and tear would spook me a lot. And it wasn’t exactly that Beltran had decided to allow himself to be clad in what my blog partner now and then refers to as the raiment of the beast. Simply pinning the tail on the Pinstripes wouldn’t explain my morose state as the news sunk in. Ex-Mets from Duke Carmel to Raul Valdes have been changing at Grand Central for the uptown 4 since 1965. What the hell, they gotta eat, too.
What got to me, I suppose, was that when Beltran and the Yankees agreed to do business, it felt as if one of the happier hot stove nights of my life had been erased, that Saturday night in January 2005 when Beltran and Scott Boras told the Houston Astros “no” and the New York Mets “yes.” That was business, too, but to me it was missionary work. Carlos Beltran had looked deep within his heart, saw where his services would bring hope to the most downtrodden people and chose us. Never mind that his missionary zeal was greased by $117 million of goodness or that it came out not long after that Boras shopped him late to the Yankees for a somewhat lesser but still lucrative deal and they uttered the heretofore unimaginable words, too rich for our blood. The best player on the market, the one who had just torn up the postseason, was going to be a Met!
No, it was better than that. He was going to be a New Met! Surely you remember the shall we say money quote from his feelgreat introductory press conference of January 11, 2005:
“I feel proud to be part of the new family, the New York Mets. The New Mets. I call it ‘The New Mets,’ because this organization is going to a different direction, the right direction — the direction of winning.”
Not quite seven seasons played out, some Newer than others. By the end, when Carlos Beltran’s aging knees were traded for Zack Wheeler’s fresh arm, fortunes had grown fairly old in Flushing. Beltran joined a Mets franchise that had previously finished 71-91. He was leaving one that would wind up 77-85, and they haven’t done even that well since. He did all he could, sometimes it was almost enough, never did I think his stay wasn’t worth it. Even through these last two years when he plied his craft as a distasteful Cardinal, I could peer past the red he was wrapped in and see him mouthing that phrase as prologue to our giddy rise from endless nothing to short-lived something.
To paraphrase agent-in-crisis Jerry Maguire as it was dawning on him that his star client’s father had gone behind his back to secure different representation, I was still sort of moved by Carlos’s “New Mets” thing.
Then Friday night, he does what it was assumed he would do in 2005 and goes to the Yankees of his own free-market will. He wasn’t a selfless missionary for the greater forces of all that is good and Metropolitan anymore. He was a soulless mercenary, that nasty epithet Astros fans hung on him nearly nine years ago when he left their team to join our team. Houston’s snit constituted a sour-grapes reaction from a bunch of ingrates, I had decided. Those yahoos didn’t deserve him.
Oh, all right, Carlos Beltran was a mercenary then, too, and I knew it, but he was our mercenary, which meant he was getting paid on the side of the angels. Now he was taking the most money and running to the Bronx…except, no, he apparently could’ve gotten more money from Arizona but really wanted to be a Yankee, reportedly “over the moon” to at last don their beastly raiment.
He’s a Yankee, but so was Curtis Granderson, and that bothers me not a bit. Ex-Yankees began crossing the Macombs Dam Bridge to the Polo Grounds in 1962 when Marv Throneberry (by way of Baltimore) and Gene Woodling (Washington) made the trip. They were greeted in Upper Manhattan by their old skipper Casey Stengel and might have recognized in their midst a onetime Yankee farmhand by the name of Rod Kanehl when they arrived. It’s a recurring phenomenon now more than 50 years old. In 2013, Aaron Laffey, David Aardsma and Sean Henn all showed they knew the way to Flushing Bay: just jump off a scrap heap and transfer at Grand Central for the Queens-bound 7.
My tolerance for intracity changes of address, whether made directly or after a cooling-off period, has built to a decently sturdy level over the past couple of decades. It’s certainly been tested since the mid-1990s, when we temporarily (I still hope) stopped having better records and drawing more people than our near-northern counterparts.
Doc, Darryl, Coney…two desperately needed a job and one had developed a hired-gun reputation. I didn’t love that they (and their once-familiar eventual Hall of Fame manager) brandished shiny new World Series rings in 1996, but I didn’t love that their teammates with no Met connections whatsoever did a whole lot more.
Robin, Zeile, Oly…all arrived as the dynasty was showing cracks, each went low-profile and none thanked the good lord for making them a Yankee, popularly parroted propaganda that seemed to be in vogue among newly enriched Steinbrenner Inc. employees around the turn of the century.
Leiter? It should’ve felt harsher given all he had done for the Mets against the Yankees in the 2000 World Series, but he was from there to begin with. I gave him a pass.
Vizcaino? The crime wasn’t being a Yankee. The crime was winning Game One in 2000 for the Yankees against the Mets. Besides, he was Jose Vizcaino…y’know?
Orosco? Betcha forgot Jesse Orosco who closed out our most recent world championship was a Yankee toward the end of his exceedingly long and winding road. It was no more than a15-game moment of surreality in 2003 as the 46-year-old lefty specialist caught his breath between San Diego and Minnesota en route to retirement. No harm (12.46 ERA), no foul. His glove eternally soars over Shea.
Benitez? Take our closer. Please.
And other than particularly repellant types like post-9/11 conspiracy theorist Mike Stanton and springtime drop-in Jim Leyritz, I’ll accept converts from wherever they emanate. The David Weatherses, the Graeme Lloyds, the Ricky Ledees…I didn’t ask for papers. I just asked them to not suck a whole lot. (They didn’t always do what I asked, but they weren’t alone in that distinction.)
I wouldn’t have asked the ingratiating Granderson to say anything unkind about his former professional circumstances when he was introduced in Orlando on Tuesday, and he didn’t. But of course I kvelled when he wove a simple question about adjusting his game in deference to differing ballpark dimensions into perhaps the best preseason slogan since Baseball Like It Oughta Be.
“A lot of the people I’ve met in New York have always said true New Yorkers are Mets fans. So I’m excited to get a chance to see them all out there.”
Natch, most of the context was clipped from his response in a nanosecond and it became Curtis Granderson laying down the Subway Supremacy gauntlet or something like that. Not the most accurate of interpretations, but upon reviewing the transcript of his Q&A session, it definitely reads like a line he was determined to get on the record. Not cynically, perhaps, but probably not delivered without agenda. Sort of like Beltran after Boras first suggested he strongly consider this heretofore hapless organization that was courting him and the checkbook it was willing to wield to lure him.
But January 2005 was almost nine years ago. So was last Friday night, as far as I’m concerned. True New Yorkers aren’t terribly interested in Carlos Beltran’s whereabouts these days. True New Yorkers are instead suddenly excited to call Curtis Granderson their own.
Maybe we’ll all see him out there.