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He’s Still ‘Jose’ (not ‘Reyes’) to Me

A friend and I were discussing recent Met developments over the weekend. He referred to “Gil and Reyes,” as in he perceives an anti-New York bias inherent in Gil Hodges not making the generally worthless National Baseball Hall of Fame and Jose Reyes not finishing in the Top Ten of the National League MVP voting. What struck me in his communiqué was Gil was dependably “Gil” yet Jose had been relegated to last-name status.

No way, I said.

Yeah, he retorted. Jose’s a Miamian now, thus he’s Reyes.

Nah, I fired back. Argenis Reyes, if he’s around anywhere in 2012, he can be Reyes. Jose is Jose. Jose will always be Jose to me.

I didn’t high-hat Fonzie into Alfonzo. Darryl didn’t become Strawberry. Doc in his darkest pinstriped hours never became Gooden. Rico was always Rico. Melvin was always Melvin. And Tom Seaver never stopped being my favorite Met.

I’ll allow Jose a little latitude when the Marlins come to Citi Field for the first of their forty or fifty annual games against the Mets on April 24. He’s granted a leadoff base hit; what’s one more night without a no-hitter? He’s permitted to steal second and take third on the throw. I’m undecided on whether he may score.

Then he can go into a six-year slump against Met pitching. He can tear up the rest of the National League the rest of the time as long as it doesn’t do the Marlins much good. The Marlins can beat the Phillies, Braves and Nationals just as the Phillies, Braves and Nationals can beat the Marlins. They can all beat each other up while the Mets sweep the whole lot of them into oblivion.

That’s the plan, though I suspect it doesn’t have much fiber to it.

I also suspect that the longer Jose Reyes is an actively competitive ex-Met — not just a West Coast rumor along the lines of John Olerud in Seattle — I’ll decrease my simmering sentimentality bit by bit. Forty or fifty games a year against the same team will do that. But unlike Olerud (another free agent whose departure left me groping for my December bearings), Jose grew up on my watch. It’s one thing to wave goodbye to the professionals when you previously knew them as something else. Gary Carter the Dodger or Rusty Staub the Tiger were essentially returns to form from when they were Expos. But the guys I never knew as anything but Mets…that’s tough. Rico Brogna morphed into a Phillie and a Brave yet I never didn’t applaud him when he swung by Shea. He was always a Met to me.

Tug McGraw was always a Met before he was traded, thus his Phillie incarnation — a pretty significant phase of his career and their history — never really seemed demonic in my eyes. Same for Lenny Dykstra when he wore a Phillie uniform instead of an orange jumpsuit. I wanted the Mets who faced them as rivals to prevail against them but I couldn’t root against them in any substantive “enemy” sense. Same for Wally Backman as a Pirate/Phillie when both identities were rather nauseating to a Mets fan of that era.

I’d have preferred some Met who broke in as a Met and blossomed as a Met had remained a Met for an entire enjoyable career and then tipped his cap on his last day as a Met. But that’s never happened. I mean never — neither Ed Kranepool nor Ron Hodges went out on their own terms, and they’re the only Mets of length to not sign somewhere else at some point.

Why I expected homegrown multitime All-Star Jose Reyes would be that Met I’m not sure. Cap-tipping lifetime one-franchise players are pretty rare to begin with these days. The best I can hope for is the Mets won’t pretend for years on end that Jose Reyes didn’t exist as an essential part of them for nine seasons; that his image won’t be erased from every 50th anniversary montage; that his pictures aren’t all shoved in storage; that bloggers of 2023 or whenever aren’t forced to demand to know when he’ll be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. The Mets can be chillingly Soviet that way.

Meanwhile, the Marlins of Miami are no more tenable as a taste than the Marlins of Florida, and a pox on Loria and the lot of them, but Jose is going to be Jose to me for a very long time. That much I know. When the Mets and Marlins are playing for low stakes, I’ll veer toward the Met on the mound, but a tiny bit of me won’t ever be not at least a smidgen happy when Jose gets the better of an isolated confrontation. Should they play for high stakes — meaningful games in September or a no-hitter on the line — that will almost certainly be a different story.

Right now, it’s all speculative and rather unknown. I’ve had to deal with beloved ex-Mets regularly but not at this level in a very long time. Not at the “he’s my favorite” tier. That’s a tough tier to negotiate. I regularly rooted for Fonzie to take the measure of the Gl@v!nes and Trachsels when he was a Giant and they were boring.

If you could convince me all this was part of a master strategic plan to improve the franchise, OK. Sometimes players have to go so as to bring in better or different players. I was in mad love with Melvin Mora in 2000 yet understood the need for a dependable defensive shortstop (even if what we got was Mike Bordick). If someday a champagne-soaked Sandy Alderson can trace a championship to the meeting he had with his braintrust in the fall of 2011 when they knew letting Jose Reyes go would be painful but ultimately baseball-beneficial, I’ll gather all the hindsight at my disposal and retroactively praise the thought process to the high heavens.

But this is about ownership not having the money to keep their best player in his prime because they figured out a way to lose it. It’s not about roster maximization and I don’t believe it’s about not giving six years to a dicey hamstring risk. No way Jose would have gone had Bernie Madoff not come along. This used to be a large-market, big-league operation. For the time being, we’re condemned to Bisonmania.

You’re welcome to your spin. Mine is our franchise, the one to which we pledge our fealty, has been diminished. Jose Reyes’s departure isn’t the cause of that but a symptom of it. I don’t have any idea when this trend will be reversed. I hope it won’t be too long.

I do a lot of hoping as a Mets fan.