At first he lingered in the shadows of 2018, less an afterthought than a forethought swiftly whisked to the side. In the running log I kept of the large and small details that filled the Mets season (not to be confused with this here blog), his name showed up twice on Opening Day:
• Frazier becomes 167th Mets 3B all time, 38th since David Wright’s debut
• Wright introduced last among non-starters
After March 29, I wouldn’t have reason to type his name in my veritable diary again until April 27:
• Mets claim LHP Buddy Baumann off waivers from SD, send him to Vegas, move Wright to 60-day DL to make room on 40-man roster
The season ambled along mostly without him. Once in a while I’d receive a report or would be moved by contemporary happenings to recall his name.
Wright plays catch for first time all year
Indians sign Ollie Perez to major league contract after Yankees released him from his minor league deal. Only 2006 Met besides Reyes and Wright still active.
Wright continues baseball activities with fielding grounders but not throwing them
Mets have lost ten straight to Dodgers, including every game in 2017; last win was last game Wright played in; streak started with the “our ass is in the jackpot now” game
DeGrom is first Met to earn a repeat selection since David Wright made his last All-Star team in 2013
Another month would pass until the figure in the shadows would begin to stretch in earnest.
David Wright playing five innings Sunday for St. Lucie at Clearwater, defense included
David Wright goes 0-for-3 in first rehab start for St. Lucie at Clearwater, plays third base for five innings, says he feels great; referred to himself as “all smiles” while maintaining a fairly unexpressive face
Reyes two hits, including two-run homer (4th on season, all on the road); also turned ninth-inning DP (perhaps inspired by Wright playing rehab game)
Wright plays another rehab game for St. Lucie, remains in one piece
Wright and Bruce play in a regulation (non-exhibition) game together for first time, at St. Lucie
Wright records first two hits of rehab assignment; is 2-for-17 thus far; jokes Jay Bruce wanted to give him the ball from his first hit
Wright plays full nine innings for St. Lucie; Marc Carig article details physical demands facing David just to prepare to play on a given day
Nimmo begins rehab assignment at St. Lucie; Wright has single and double
Wright gets a second consecutive game off in St. Lucie
David Wright continuing rehab assignment with Triple-A Las Vegas; makes trademark barehanded pickup and throwout at third
Post reports Wright is “driving this train” in terms of whether he’ll get to play in September; insurance money may be at crux of matter
Mets say they want to see more from Wright, who has joined them to continue rehab, before activating him; Wright wants to play soon; Mets look bad as usual, Wright seems determined to get back on field
The determination was genuine. So was the emergence, at last, of the figure standing in the shadows of love. When September came, he wasn’t just a thought. September sort of masqueraded as March, as if hemispheres had flipped. Like we say about baseball every spring, he was coming back to life. Time may have ignored him as it devoured the first five-sixths of the 2018 major league schedule, but we hadn’t. How could we? For a baker’s dozen years, we had set our calendars to him. He was the constant of our team, the captain of our hearts. He never had to do another thing for us. But would it be asking too much to ask one more favor where he was concerned?
Could David Wright  come out and play?
For him. For us. Same difference.
Though most of the season went on without him, we decided collectively it couldn’t end that way. And it wouldn’t. He’d make it all the way back, if for little more than a moment. Yet it was a moment to treasure and keep in a way few moments are, just as he was a player to treasure and keep in a way few players are. It wasn’t as if we didn’t already have a plethora of his moments to have and to hold. Really, he didn’t have to give us anything. We didn’t have to receive two more games, three more plate appearances, four more defensive innings or one more moment. But he gave them to us, and we were all better off for it.
For the way he returned to the Mets present and reminded us why he will forever matter to the Mets fan, Faith and Fear in Flushing is delighted to present the 2018 Nikon Camera Player of the Year award — dedicated annually to the entity or concept that best symbolizes, illustrates or transcends the year in Metsdom — to The Last Days of David Wright.
If you want to consider it a lifetime achievement award, go ahead. Half of David Wright’s life was been spent becoming, being and becoming again a New York Met, possibly the best New York Met position player ever. His status was secure long before the final weekend of September 2018, but Wright — possibly the best Met person at any position ever — elevated the occasion of his brief renaissance so definitively and so gracefully, that his two more games, three more plate appearances and four more defensive innings catapulted him to a whole new level.
That’s some kind of moment.
David Wright to work out Friday, play simulated game Saturday
David Wright works out, John Ricco continues to tamp down chances that he’ll play, citing the need for him to be a complete player, not just a pinch-hitter…which is code for not wanting to impede insurance payments
David Wright homers off Tim Peterson in simulated game. Will play another one Tuesday. Also says he’ll talk to Jeff Wilpon.
David Wright takes simulated ABs versus prospects Justin Dunn and David Peterson; doesn’t play third because of field conditions after rain
Announcement regarding plans for David Wright expected Thursday; word is he will play final homestand
When not watching the Mets, I take in the occasional history discussion that airs on C-Span2 Book TV or C-Span3 American History TV. One such program a while back focused on James Byrnes, a name that I vaguely associated with Franklin Roosevelt but knew next to nothing about. Byrnes was a substantial figure in the political landscape of the mid-20th century. An ally of Woodrow Wilson in the House of Representatives. An influential United States Senator. A champion of the New Deal. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. A key wartime adviser on the domestic front to FDR. Potential VP nominee. Harry Truman’s Secretary of State at the dawn of the Cold War. Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Governor of South Carolina. Grey eminence of Palmetto State politics after leaving office. Lived nearly nine decades, 1882 to 1972. Yet what I took away from the talk was this phrase:
“Now largely forgotten.”
Those three words saddened me. Not out of any sudden affinity for Byrnes, but on principle. You go from being a big deal one century to being nobody in the next. Maybe you don’t necessarily deserve immortality let alone reverence merely for being famous (Byrnes opposed the school desegregation mandated by Brown v. Board of Education), but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect to be remembered.
It may seem a leap of sorts to pivot from the latter-day obscurity of James Byrnes, who died in 1972, to contemplating the legacy of David Wright, who was born in 1982, but collective memory is only so elastic. We are inundated with an ongoing influx of information — people, the things they did, what those things meant in their day — and involuntarily purge what falls to bottom of mind to create space for the new stuff. You can only remember so many substantial figures as time marches forward.
In September 2018, you couldn’t forget David Wright.
You had before, though. Not in the “now largely forgotten” sense (not with so many WRIGHT 5s still visible at Citi Field), but on a daily basis, life went on. It had to. The schedule demanded it. The 2016 Mets had 115 games remaining when David was scratched from the May 28 lineup with a troublesome neck, 116 counting the Wild Card Game they earned while he was physically unable to play. The 2017 Mets faced an entire 162. In 2018, the club was 144 games’ worth of wins and losses (mostly losses) old when word spread that not every game in the Mets’ future would be as Wrightless as the prior 400-plus.
A fuss was building. Maybe it wasn’t universal, but it reflected the will of the Mets fan, the same creature who had also been trying to will their team into calling up Peter Alonso. That move never happened in 2018. Fifty-five Mets had played for the club so far this year, yet none was the most dynamic power-hitting prospect the system was cultivating, most recently at Triple-A. The Mets had been going nowhere since May, yet Alonso was coming no closer than Las Vegas. Despite 36 home runs and 119 runs batted in accumulated between Binghamton and Vegas, the Mets had to keep him off the 40-man roster for reasons related more to clockstarting than competing.
Fourteen seasons earlier, David Wright was Peter Alonso, the organization’s shiniest beneath-the-surface gem. We’d only seen numbers and highlights. Eighteen home runs in Double-A and Triple-A to mid-July. A spot in the Futures Game. Hope for a team’s fans groping for optimism. The 2004 Mets season hadn’t yet evaporated in the heat of high summer the way the 2018 Mets had in the midst of a rainy spring, so maybe we weren’t as down then as we’d be this past year. Still, this Wright was supposed to be the real thing. Let’s get him up here and see what he can do.
He did plenty with what was left of 69 games: 14 HR, 40 RBI, .293 BA. Most of us were just learning to look at the statistic that added together the ability to reach base and hit for power, but that was impressive, too. David Wright’s first major league OPS was .857. Two Thousand Four ended brutally for the Mets, but Wright’s debut was beautiful.
The last we’d hear of Peter Alonso during the 2018 season was encouraging. He launched a walkoff homer in the last game the Las Vegas 51s would play as a New York Mets affiliate. Syracuse beckoned as the home of the Mets’ top minor leaguers in 2019. One of them would probably be Alonso, at least for a couple of Basic Agreement-tinkering weeks. Then, once service time considerations were appropriately manipulated, we’d probably get a legit scoop of his potential. Then, not now.
To be fair, by September 1, the Mets could have activated Wright from the disabled list, promoted Alonso from the Pacific Coast League and distributed ice cream to every fan for the ride home and they still would have been largely unpalatable. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan still hanging in there night by night by September in a year like 2018, you deserve a treat.
The peckish among us were getting worked up over a 35-year-old being authorized to play a little for a fourth-place also-ran more than two years after he was reasonably healthy, more than three years since nobody had to wonder how his back would hold up under game conditions. This was the treat we badgered the Mets for?
Damn Wright it was.
David Wright will be activated September 25, at the beginning of the season’s final homestand. He will start at third base on Saturday, September 29, Game 161. The word “retirement” is never spoken during press conference with Jeff Wilpon and John Ricco, but Wright admits he won’t pursue playing over the final two seasons of his contract given the physical difficulties he’s encountered.
David says he got to a point in his rehab where he said, “I just wanna put this uniform on again.”
Tickets for Wright game selling like hotcakes, prices shoot up on StubHub
Callaway indicates Reyes will start alongside Wright on September 29; Reyes fairly emotional talking about Wright postgame
At the beginning of the week when the Mets figured out how to usher their captain back onto the field for a kiss & cry, the Jets were starting a new era of their own. The Jets are always starting a new era of their own, though this one was off to the most promising start imaginable. Their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold broke into the NFL by leading the Jets to a 48-17 victory at Detroit. Forty-eight points on the road was a Jet record, edging the previous standard of 47, set by Joe Namath & Co. in 1968 at Fenway Park versus the Boston Patriots.
That’s a longstanding record by any measure. The part that gets me is “Boston Patriots,” which the Patriots stopped being in 1971 and haven’t resembled whatsoever since 2001. This football note would have grabbed my attention any week, I suppose, but in the week it was announced that David Wright would play again, it really resonated. It hadn’t been as long since we’d seen the Boston Patriots, but the Montreal Expos hadn’t been around in quite a while, either — not since 2004.
Not since David Wright’s rookie season. Wright broke in against them. Major League Baseball departed Montreal before the next season, but a dwindling handful of reminders lingered along the MLB landscape nearly fifteen years later. Bartolo Colon of the Texas Rangers, who is pretty much the last everything, was the last active Expo. The last GM of the Expos, Omar Minaya, was one-third of the Mets acting general manager apparatus. One of his Montreal predecessors, Dave Dombrowski, was now running the Boston Red Sox (who were still playing at Fenway a half-century after Namath last took a hike there).
Any extant Expo connection that could be uncovered in 2018 was not to be taken lightly. Longevity never should be. Wright had more links to the baseball past in his backstory that most modern Mets (besides Colon) could claim. The first time he played ball in the big leagues, Wednesday night, July 21, 2004, versus those Expos, his teammates included pinch-hitter Todd Zeile, whose first game in the majors came as a St. Louis Cardinal in 1989; left fielder Cliff Floyd, who suffered a horrific injury as the Expo first baseman when Todd Hundley ran into him at first base; shortstop Kaz Matsui, who began building his high-profile Japanese career for the Seibu Lions the same year Floyd was recuperating and Zeile was first traded, in ’95; center fielder Mike Cameron, who became a Seattle Mariner in 2000 as a result of the M’s trading Ken Griffey to the Reds once a trade of Junior to the Mets fell through — with Zeile if without Griffey, the Mets would go to the World Series that year; reliever Mike Stanton, who first reached the postseason with the 1991 Braves; right fielder Richard Hidalgo, who made the playoffs with the 1997 Astros; defensive replacement Shane Spencer, a phenom on the eventual 1998 world champion Yankees; and second baseman Jose Reyes, 21, whose Futures Game was 2002, whose celebrated callup was 2003 and whose position was actually shortstop, but Matsui had been quite the prize on the international free agent market, so Kaz got first dibs at short.
The television play-by-play announcer for David Wright’s first game was Ted Robinson. The color man was Fran Healy. The network was MSG. The site was Shea Stadium. The Expos, when their road trip was done the next afternoon (they had lost Wright’s debut, 5-4, despite three hits from their centerfielder and notorious Metkiller Endy Chavez), would resume their home slate at Olympic Stadium. The improbably upstart Mets, diligently hanging a few games from first, would continue in their unlikely pursuit of the perennial NL East powerhouse Atlanta Braves that weekend at Shea, taking on a team whose neverending title defense was managed by Bobby Cox, powered by Chipper Jones and closed as applicable by John Smoltz.
The Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs had zero World Series titles among them since the end of World War I. The Houston Astros had never won one since their entry into the National League, alongside the Mets, in 1962. Neither had the Giants since taking up residence in San Francisco in 1958. Washington, the capital of these United States, hadn’t hosted more than an occasional major league exhibition game since 1971. The Giants’ Barry Bonds was en route to his seventh Most Valuable Player award, The Astros’ Roger Clemens was pitching his way to his seventh Cy Young. With numbers like those, both were on every bit the collision course with Cooperstown as Floyd unfortunately had been with Hundley nine years before.
Todd wasn’t playing anymore, but the catcher who replaced him on the Mets, Mike Piazza, still was, albeit at first base. The pitchers Piazza had caught regularly since 1998, Al Leiter and John Franco, were still Mets, too. Down at Binghamton, the next potentially great Met lefty pitcher, Scott Kazmir, learned his craft. Second baseman Chase Utley was in his second year with the Phillies, catcher Yadier Molina in his first with the Cardinals. Robin Ventura was a Dodger, Edgardo Alfonzo a Giant, Benny Agbayani a Chiba Lotte Marine, Rickey Henderson a Newark Bear. Jesse Orosco and Bob Murphy were each in their first well-earned year of retirement.
The New York Mets David Wright joined were barely weeks removed from having been at their best. On Independence Day weekend — July 2, 3 and 4 — they hosted the Yankees in the Subway Series. Hosted them and swept them right out of Shea. Kaz drove in five runs in the opener, an 11-2 rout. The next afternoon summoned the spirit of Matt Franco, veering back and forth on a Fox Saturday until the Mets pushed across a tenth run in the ninth inning, our Matsui scoring on Shane Spencer’s bases-loaded squib. When the Mets prevailed, 10-9, the Shea speakers blasted OutKast’s “The Way You Move,” selected by Cameron and Floyd as 2004’s “Mojo Risin’”. The Mets would scale unprecedented intracity heights the next day. The star of Sunday’s proceedings was second baseman Ty Wigginton. He’d homered off Javier Vazquez with Jason Phillips on first in the second to put the Mets up, 3-0. He’d homer again off Tom Gordon in the eighth to untie a 5-5 score and provide the margin of the sweep. The Mets were 3-0 in the series, 4-2 against the Yanks in 2004 and, at about the season’s halfway point, two games out of first place in a division where they weren’t expected to compete.
The year before, they’d lost 95 games. Maybe the only everyday bright spot had been Wiggy, as Ty Wigginton couldn’t help but be referred to. With little prospect hype, he earned and kept the vacant third base job in 2003 (Fonzie was West Coast-bound and his presumed replacement, erstwhile Osaka Kinetsu Buffalo Norihiro Nakamura, had a change of heart), starting 153 times and driving in 71 runs. A BBWAA member judged him worthy of a third-place Rookie of the Year vote, matching the total Reyes won when the otherwise godforsaken year was over. Ty was the Opening Day starter at third in 2004, eventually sharing the spot with Zeile. Wiggy didn’t automatically sit when Todd played. As Reyes worked his way back from the injury that postponed the beginning of his sophomore season, Wiggy was called on to fill in at second. Anything for the team for Ty. On July 21, he started at first base. He had to flex his versatility, for third base was suddenly occupied for the foreseeable future, and not by Todd Zeile.
Ty Wigginton had 1,081 big league games ahead of him. The final 1,074 would be for teams other than the New York Mets.
As Wiggy was reading the Wrighting on his wall, George W. Bush sought a second term in the White House. Will Ferrell, who had imitated Dubya on Saturday Night Live, was urging San Diego to stay classy in Anchorman (drawing $28.4 million from moviegoers two weekends prior). Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, was preparing to introduce himself to the nation by delivering the keynote speech at his party’s convention in Boston. Chad Pennington was the incumbent starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Eli Manning was going through his first training camp as a New York Giant, but for now would sit and learn behind Kurt Warner. It was hard to turn on the radio that summer and not hear Hoobastank or Yellowcard or, for that matter, OutKast. The fifth highest-rated network series in the just-concluded prime time season, according to Nielsen, was The Apprentice, a reality program where self-styled entrepreneurial hustlers vied to curry favor with a high-profile businessman host.
Callaway indicates Reyes will start alongside Wright on September 29; Reyes fairly emotional talking about Wright postgame
David Wright presented with a “5” from the Fenway scoreboard by Dustin Pedroia (a truncated farewell tour, to be sure)
Wright presented with NYM from Citizens Bank Park scoreboard; Jay Horwitz also recognized with a cake; Charlie Manuel and Bobby Wine were the presenters of the respective gestures
Foley’s to rename itself Wright’s for David’s final weekend
Pete McCarthy’s guests all week reflect on Wright: Lo Duca, Phillips, Manuel, Rubin
Ryan Zimmerman presents David Wright with Mets flag from foul pole; Jay Horwitz presented with cake (was out to dinner with media the night before)
Mets keeping Wright from talking to media until he plays
David Wright belongs to multiple eras. The one when Franco, Leiter and Zeile were winding down. The one when Conforto, Nimmo and Rosario were warming up. John Franco was born in 1960. Amed Rosario was born in 1995. Both entered games started by David Wright.
Fourteen different quarterbacks — Pennington to Darnold — started for the New York Jets while David Wright was a member of the New York Mets. This squad doesn’t include Tim Tebow, backup Jet quarterback for one season and Met farmhand for two going on three. The two were Port St. Lucie neighbors in the summer of 2017 as each attempted to make up for lost baseball time.
Know David by his Mikes: Mike Piazza, Mike Stanton, Mike Cameron, Mike DeJean, Mike Matthews, Mike DeFelice, Mike Jacobs, Mike Pelfrey, Mike Hessman, Mike Nickeas, Mike O’Connor and Mike Baxter were all teammates of David Wright’s. So were Michael Tucker, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Conforto, not to mention Miguel Cairo and Miguel Batista. Plus Mike Hampton’s leaving the Mets facilitated David Wright’s coming to the Mets via compensatory draft pick.
John Franco. John Maine. John Buck. John Lannan. Jon Adkins. Jon Niese. Jon Switzer. Jon Rauch. Juan Padilla.
Dave Williams. David Newhan. David Aardsma. Ike Davis. All with David Wright.
When Pedro Martinez left the world champion 2004 Red Sox and Carlos Beltran departed the National League runnerup Astros, David Wright was in St. Lucie to greet them. Big acquisitions of future offseasons — Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca, Moises Alou, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay, Curtis Granderson — all had their hands shaken and probably their phones texted by David. Wright had the opportunity to welcome Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets on three separate occasions, all after competing with him in Citi Field’s only Home Run Derby.
Chosen with a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft, David Wright played against the 1992 Mets’ top pick, Preston Wilson, in the 2006 NLCS and behind fellow ’01 first-rounder and Game Seven pitcher of record Aaron Heilman. Unbowed by defeat, Wright would keep playing at a level as high as he was drafted, alongside Met No. 1 picks Lastings Milledge, Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Eddie Kunz, Ike Davis, Matt Harvey, Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki, Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto. He played with the players for whom a few of them were traded. For example, Milledge was swapped to Washington, so Wright played with those who came in return, Brian Schneider (the ex-Expo who caught a foul pop off David in his very first game) and Ryan Church. Church was traded to Atlanta for Jeff Francoeur, and Wright became chummy with Frenchy. Frenchy was shipped to Texas and the ex-Ranger Joaquin Arias. Arias was part of a double-switch in Jerry Manuel’s final game managing the Mets when Manuel removed Wright to elicit an ovation. It was Arias’s final game as a Met.
David had 1,004 behind him and 581 in front of him.
Prospects. Journeymen. Legends. Obscurities. Future Hall of Famers. Former All-Stars. Players who had won awards. Players who were winning awards. Ring-wearers from elsewhere. Thirty-four catchers who caught Met pitchers. Fifty-one pitchers who recorded Met saves. Forty-two third basemen who followed the trail he blazed to the Met hot corner. Twenty-four men who were on the Met roster he joined July 21, 2004. Three-hundred thirty-one men who’d thereafter attach themselves to the Met roster he was a part of, he was the center of, he would work his spine off to return to before September 30, 2018. Accepting the definition of teammate as anybody who was a Met while David Wright played, healed, rehabilitated, strived and captained as best he could, nearly a third of everybody who has ever played for the New York Mets has been a teammate to David Wright.
And David Wright was a teammate to every one of them.
David Wright activated; John Ricco says he’s unlikely to pinch-hit vs Braves because ATL still fighting for home field advantage
Scant crowd intermittently chants “We Want David,” but cries go unheeded by manager
Wright in talking to media about his success as a Met credits Reyes, Delgado, Beltran and Lo Duca for being on base or batting behind him; also says he talks to Brian Schneider, who made a nice play on him in his first game in majors
Jose Reyes tweets picture of baseball shoes David Wright inscribed for him; David calls him his Dominican brother
Wright doesn’t play at all in series
David Wright left a bottle of Don Julio tequila in each teammate’s locker, inscribed with No. 5 and “Thanks for the Memories.”
Only Wright and Reyes take BP; Wright signing lots of autographs during BP, after game going to players’ parking lot
While the 2018 Mets were finishing the road portion of their schedule in Washington, someone else closely associated with Queens and having loads of hits was coming up to bat for the last time in Flushing Meadows. Paul Simon was playing a show he billed as his career finale across the way from where Shea Stadium had stood and Citi Field now awaited a few more swings. Simon didn’t just hang around backstage. He played as soon as he was eligible. That’s how you treat a king of Corona.
The homeward bound David Wright had to cool his heels, his spine, his desire to return to the game. Shades of mediocrity enveloped the mood. We wanted David ASAP. We didn’t get him the second he was activated in advance of the last homestand of ’18. You could be understanding of proceeding with caution and fume anyway. You could also begrudge the Mets only so much for sticking to their plan. They make so few of them to begin with.
Another Queens voice, LL Cool J, advised against calling what he was up to c. 1991 a comeback. You could call what David Wright was up to anything you like, though ever since stenosis definitively knocked him out, it was clear the most we could hope for was a cameo. Still, Wright had been here for years. He and we deserved another couple of days together so we and he could get back where we once belonged.
The Beatles played Queens quite notably, too.
If he wasn’t the gamechanger the Fab Four were, No. 5 was No. 1 over and over again where Mets records were concerned. David didn’t have to lace up another spike to claim ownership of most every high-profile position-player category. The hits; the two-base hits; the runs; the runs batted in. More times up to bat — 6,869 between 7/21/04 and 5/27/16 — than any Met by the equivalent of a full season and another half-season besides. If he didn’t top every chart, he was ranked way up there.
Paul Simon had been performing in concert for more than a half-century, yet it didn’t stop his fans from queuing up to take in one more show. Likewise, no matter that a David Wright plate appearance was literally the most common individual occurrence in Mets history, we of course called for an encore. The sounds of silence would not do.
There wasn’t enough David to go around as 2018 wound down, but maybe that was all right. Leave us wanting more. The worst thing you can be is a formerly great Met still on the Mets. Witness the long denouement of the Dark Knight, Matt Harvey. We couldn’t wait to get him back when he went on Tommy John’s shelf in 2013. We were collectively unperturbed when Matt, his drama and his lofty ERA moved on five years later. Witness the uncomfortable homecoming of Jose Reyes, half of the infield’s left side on the Mets’ 50th Anniversary team, selected in conjunction with David Wright in 2012 despite having just slipped away to the Marlins. Wright’s DL assignment created space for Reyes’s return in 2016, but the murky circumstances behind Jose’s unlikely availability meant the storyline could never be as clean as a friend filling in for a friend at third base.
Harvey the Red disappeared into Cincinnati, then the past; the James Byrnes of Met aces. Reyes the Met didn’t have that luxury. He maintained a Met roster spot despite a batting average that rarely peeked above .200 and the dissolution of most of his baseball skills. The franchise’s all-time shortstop, in the third season of his second term, saw whatever homecoming aura that briefly surrounded him completely wear off. The domestic abuse allegation that led to his suspension by MLB and release by Colorado never quit hanging in the air. Jose had been a solid citizen as far as we could tell since that night in Hawaii led to police reports and mug shots, but it was hard to stay sentimental on his behalf — especially as he was batting .189.
We might devour our own when not adequately sated by performance, yet Wright never experienced serious backlash on any kind of scale. A few cranky calls to the FAN lobbying for an expedited retirement so his compensation could be reinvested into payroll? Sure. A recurring urban myth that none of his 1,777 hits was what one would deem “clutch”? There’s a conspiracy theorist in every crowd. But no complaint ever gained critical mass. There wouldn’t be enough futile at-bats to instinctively try our most polite patience. There wouldn’t be a few too many grounders beyond the reach of a third baseman no longer capable of diving. There’d be no widespread kvetching that David, as great as he had been when he was younger, had grown old and obsolete and why are they keeping him around? A steady diet of absence had done wonders for our heart’s fondness.
We knew we loved David Wright in theory. We were just aching to do so again in practice. We didn’t get to see him in the last Mets-Braves series of his career. In the first of those, July 24 and 25, 2004, Cox, Smoltz and Chipper were all present and accounted for. Two games, both wins for Atlanta. Smoltz saved each. Chipper had three hits.
So help me, I wanted to see them in the visitors dugout at Citi Field in September 2018. And I wanted to see Wright beat them.
David Wright returns as pinch-hitter, batting for Paul Sewald, grounds out to third baseman Brian Anderson (sharply) on first pitch from Jose Ureña leading off the fifth inning, receives huge ovations
Wright admits to great nervousness while in the on-deck circle, particularly in the fourth before Kevin Plawecki makes the third out. Says he thought he’d throw up, which he never felt, not even when making his MLB debut. Also noted he dropped his bat as he was being applauded.
Wright was all smiles after grounding out and continued to appear incredibly happy after the game despite the 0-for-1 and loss.
Wright’s appearance, his first since May 27, 2016, was essentially the only highlight of the evening
Wright said deGrom and starting pitchers presented him with bottle of wine, though Jake couldn’t quite get the words out
Reyes was first teammate to greet Wright after his groundout
Wright becomes the 56th Met to play in 2018, extending the franchise record
Kristie Ackert writes in News about golden reputation Wright has with Citi Field employees, regularly asking about their families and doing heartfelt things for them
SNY did not cut to commercial in the middle of the fifth inning, staying to focus on Wright preparing to bat
Colin Cosell overdid the PA announcement of Wright’s at bat, referring to him as “THE CAPTAIN” and blaring his name; Alex Anthony remains missed at Citi Field
Plate appearance was the 6,870th of Wright’s career
Wright has given several in-depth interviews to, among others, Ed Coleman, Wayne Randazzo, Steve Gelbs, all expressing sincere appreciation for everything about his career, basically
Jarring to realize, after Wright returned to the dugout, how the game just kept going on, Gary, Keith and Ron commenting on the next at-bat and so forth; baseball is like that
Yankees take out full-page newspaper ad to salute Wright, though the ad is mostly a Yankee logo
On the occasion of his first Major League plate appearance in two years, four months and one night, the Captain of the Mets might as well have been Rudy. That’s Rudy from Rudy, the spunky kid who dreams of running out of the tunnel with the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame. Never mind that, as it is accurately observed in the 1993 film, Rudy is five-foot-nothin’, a hundred and nothin’ and has barely a speck of athletic ability. That’s not David Wright. But the postgame moment when, after he pinch-hit and grounded out, David admitted that he didn’t know the signs…that was so much like Rudy not knowing what to do when he was left in to play defense after finally getting his chance on kickoff coverage.
The Captain as undersized underdog. It was so very Metsian. So was anticipating a pinch-hitting appearance in the 160th game of a season between a fourth-place club and the only club to trail them. So was my cat Avery getting jumpy when I reached for a tissue as the home fifth began. Avery sees me go for a tissue, he expects a sneeze that will blow him off the couch, so he vamooses.
I wasn’t about to sneeze. And there wasn’t “something in my eye,” to invoke that manly expression of detachment. I was crying. I was crying because David Wright was about to come to bat for the 6,870th time in his career. I didn’t react remotely so emotionally in advance of the previous 6,869. I suppose choosing now to get choked up was Metsian, too.
It wasn’t the last time I’d do it during this series between the fourth-place Mets and the fifth-place Marlins.
You didn’t have to hold David Wright above all others to recognize how admirable and honorable he was and to therefore yearn to admire and honor him to the greatest extent possible. Yet I will confess, as if a confession is warranted, that Wright was never My Favorite Player in the Seaver sense of the phrase. As this century got going, Jose Reyes got to me first with his speed and his smile, the year before Wright came up, and held the title tightly until he left in 2011. There was probably a wafer-thin wisp of me that reluctantly resented that David was extended through 2020 while Jose was allowed to walk. Sports being sports, we’re always choosing sides, even when there’s no competition.
Turns out neither Wright nor Reyes was the best of long-term bets. Jose had his moments as a Marlin and Blue Jay but ceased starring away from Flushing. David, after signing his veritable Met For Life contract in December 2012, made one more All-Star team (2013’s at Citi Field) and never enjoyed another season free and clear of injury. The stenosis diagnosis from May 2015 was accompanied by a recitation of previous athletes to have suffered the same affliction. None of them recovered and resumed their careers unaffected.
The Mets had to go on without David Wright. They never cancelled a single game in any of the seasons since he came along. Postponed, yes, but no “never mind” to any contest scheduled since August 14, 2003, when the Mets, Giants and all of New York were blacked out and a makeup date was deemed impractical. The Mets kept playing in 2016 after David felt something in his neck before a game against the Dodgers. They kept playing throughout 2017 when rehabbing came slow. They kept playing in 2018, starting on March 29 and grinding along Wrightlessly through September 27.
David’s first AB of what was finally his fourteenth season in the bigs occurred on the tenth anniversary of Shea Goodbye, the day the 2008 Mets were eliminated and Shea Stadium was disappeared. One decade later, we had fewer and fewer Mets from Shea on whom to keep tabs in an active vein. We had Reyes, however regrettable his lingering presence had been viewed. We had Ollie Perez, who wore out his conditional welcome early in the Citi Field era, yet was reborn as a lefty specialist and thus became eligible to pitch forever. We had Jason Vargas, a footnote from 2007, a contributor to the debacle besetting us until late summer 2018. We had Joe Smith, the heretofore young submariner who used to take the subway to Shea. We had Carlos Gomez, so fast that he was here and gone and almost came back before we blinked. We had that Daniel Murphy dude, whose wicked bat and sinful glove introduced themselves to us in the last weeks when you could still use terms like “Loge” and “Mezzanine” in the present tense. And now we had David establishing himself as the 56th Met of 2018 and inserting himself in the season’s 160th box score to make it seven Shea Mets still around.
Endy Chavez, off the MLB grid since 2014, hadn’t retired. The architect of the greatest catch & throw Shea ever saw, on October 19, 2006, spent 2018 patrolling the outfield for the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. The closer for the Long Island Ducks was one of the first Citi Field Mets, Frankie Rodriguez. K-Rod’s late-season batterymate from 2009, Josh Thole, logged time in the Tigers organization after a whirl with Wally Backman’s New Britain Bees. Darren O’Day, an ’09 Met for a few minutes (before a dimwitted roster machination chewed him up and spit him out) continued to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles. Otherwise, twenty-three players who landed in Flushing expecting to contend for a title in a shiny new ballpark and instead found themselves on a voyage of the baseball damned were altogether done playing by 2018. Mets who were first Mets in 2010 suddenly had no more than a handful of representatives in the pros. Justin Turner was a heavy hitter for the Dodgers; Lucas Duda was warming the bench for the Braves. Ruben Tejada was hanging on in the Orioles system. Dillon Gee was pitching for the Chunichi Dragons. That was it. New Mets from 2011 were also hard to find on a field near you. There was Blaine Boyer, a Royal for a spell in 2018. There was Pedro Beato, a Phillie farmhand. A nation hadn’t lately turned its lonely eyes to Brad Emaus, Chin-lung Hu or Chris Schwinden.
The recent past developed a disconcerting habit for making itself surprisingly distant. Jon Niese, who won a game at Shea Stadium on September 13, 2008, didn’t make it out of Spring Training with the Rangers. Mike Pelfrey, who started the first game of the final series at Shea Stadium on September 27, 2008, transitioned into college coaching. Bobby Parnell, who threw the last pitch any Met would throw at Shea Stadium, was released by the White Sox in 2017.
Miracle of nature Bartolo Colon (in the minors when David was in middle school) notwithstanding, it’s hard to hang in there. It’s hard to hang on at all. Fresh faces grow stale. The bodies they’re attached to do them no favors. We, the fans, watch them come and sometimes miss a trick when they go. Weren’t we just at Shea rooting for these guys? Didn’t we migrate, however unwillingly, to Citi Field and root for them there, too? Wasn’t everybody young a yesterday or two ago? That included us, right?
David Wright starts final game of his career at third base, goes 0-for-1 with a walk; his last AB ends in a pop foul caught by Peter O’Brien
After four innings, Mickey Callaway sends Amed Rosario out to shortstop, with Jose Reyes shifting to third, thus ending David Wright’s career
Extended ovation for Wright as he departs. He hugs Reyes, hugs Plawecki, hugs every teammate and coach in front of the dugout, takes a curtain call
Fourth sellout of the season, sixth-largest regular season crowd in Citi Field history on hand to say goodbye to the Captain
Wright soon shows up in TV and radio booths in full uniform, the action on the field ignored by the announcers; Gary Cohen fought back tears as David left the field
Later, David is back in the dugout, waiting with his teammates for resolution of a thirteen-inning game that the Mets win 1-0 on Austin Jackson’s double
Mets are 9-9 in extra innings; their eighth walkoff win of 2018
David addresses crowd after game and short tribute video (for which most of those in attendance stuck around, Fireworks Night notwithstanding); David talked about the love of the evening and how the fans had his back and said thank you a lot
David was more smiling than sad throughout the proceedings
David and Jeff Wilpon held forth in press conference room afterwards, Jeff presenting David with Mayor’s proclamation that September 29 was David Wright Day in New York
Wright admitted his body feels not so great and reiterated that he’s not exactly at peace with his ending, but thanked Wilpon and Mets for the opportunity to have an ending; thanked the fans a lot; referred to himself as undeserving of so much attention
It can never again be said the Mets have never shepherded a career or an ending like this
Peter O’Brien is new villain for catching David’s last foul pop and ending his career; seemed cool with the attention
Last pitcher to face David Wright: Trevor Richards
Among those on hand: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud (all DL’d for months), Michael Cuddyer, Cliff Floyd, Todd Zeile
In TV booth, Wright thanked Hernandez for saying (in a video) he could start for 1986 Mets, though Hernandez told him he’d have to bat seventh
After game, Wright, along with family and friends, went to Foley’s which changed its name to Wright’s for the weekend
Reyes led off with double, McNeil moved him to third with sac bunt, setting up Wright for first-inning RBI opportunity, but he walked; Mets didn’t score (nobody scored for thirteen innings)
Reyes led off, Wright batted third
Gates opened at 4:30, half-hour earlier than usual, to allow fans to watch BP; Wright signed plenty of autographs, posed for many pictures
SNY simulcasted with Channel 11 (which originally had the game); SNY aired “The Wright Stuff” in leadup to pregame show, mostly Mets Classics featuring the Captain, starting with his first game from 2004
David Wright’s two-year-old daughter Olivia Shea throws out first pitch to her father with rest of family on field
Mayor Bill de Blasio declares September 29, 2018, David Wright Day in the City of New York
Simon had his Garfunkel. Wright had his Reyes. “The sounds of the city sifting through the trees/settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends.” Their first game for 5 and 7 on the scoreboard as 5 and 6 in your scorecard was August 4, 2004. After the Matsui experiment was declared less than a smashing success, Wright at third, Reyes at short became the rule. They set the record for most games composing the Mets’ left side in the summer of 2007 when they were still in their young and starry phase. It didn’t take them three years to forge a mutual longevity mark. Part of that was on the franchise. The Mets didn’t do longevity much in the forty-one years before either of them showed up. But mostly it was a credit to the pair for sticking together and excelling together.
Somewhere amidst their seemingly endless days as the starting shortstop and third base tandem, Jose and David grew a little less young, which is to say maybe they got older. It doesn’t fit what we knew about them. In the mind’s eye, they are the future — 2005, 2006, surrounded by veterans whose travel itineraries brought them to New York for a fee. Everybody else of import on those Mets was an import. That was fine. That was business. These kids, though, were ours, nurtured in our system. We’d receive bulletins now and then alerting us to their progress, providing us with ETAs that were never soon enough. It took savvy trades and pricey free agents to build the Mets into a legitimate contender. But it was legitimate because we built from those two blocks.
Maybe the collapses aged them. Maybe it was the demise of Shea Stadium and the cynicism of Citi Field. Injuries, which mostly left them alone from ’05 through ’08, began to make their place on the left side a little less assumed. Jose was out from the third week of May to the end of 2009 and a little in and out in 2010. David took a fastball off the helmet in August of ’09 and missed a couple of weeks (he probably should have sat a while longer). Wright’s back first felt something in 2011 and he had to sit out a couple of months. Jose’s hamstrings were sensitive even as he pursued and achieved a batting title. On September 28, 2011, they ran to their positions as one for the 859th and apparently final time.
What came after was also business. Jose the free agent. Jose the Marlin. Unimaginable to this reporter as late as the moment it was reported as happening. My guy was gone in December 2011. The other guy, honorable and admirable, remained. Wright the company man in my mind. It didn’t occur to me he was losing an old friend. I had the opportunity to ask him about it at one of those events the Mets used to invite bloggers to. At that instant, in November of ’11, the smart money had at least one of Jose’s Under Armour Yard cleats out the door, so I asked David for his thoughts on transitioning from Reyes to Ruben Tejada. I fully expected a preprocessed statement about Ruben being a good teammate and that they’d work together to make the Mets the best team they could possibly be, yada, yada, yada.
David said nothing of the sort. Instead, he looked me in the eye and referred to Jose as his baseball brother, telling me that he’d miss him terribly, that he wasn’t giving up on him staying, that he’d keep texting him to convince him not to go. Then, because he didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, he allowed that if Jose was gone, sure, Tejada was a good player, too, and of course playing with him would be swell. No yada. No company man. A real person giving a stranger a real answer.
As the Mets trudged further and further from their lone David & Jose postseason appearance, I tended to think of Wright as the Daveotronic 5000, someone who would cheerfully read a public service announcement on behalf of mosquitoes if asked by management. He almost always had a measured response for everything. The answers were inevitably modest, vaguely upbeat and avoided pot-stirring. There was “nothing about you that is controversial,” as Lester Bangs told babyfaced William Miller in Almost Famous. Nevertheless, a little up-close glimpse convinced me David wasn’t the way David was because somebody programmed him that way. He really was the way he was. Low-key authenticity, question after question, year after year. I came to understand and appreciate him beyond his endurance and statistics. The parts around him were, by necessity, interchangeable. His sentiments weren’t.
The last days of David Wright couldn’t help but be substantially about David Wright and Jose Reyes, reunited. David Wright deserved everything to go his way after being inundated with so much physical misfortune. He should have his choice of shortstops. Jose Reyes was gleefully reincarnated at the end of a difficult campaign as lovable sidekick to the man of the hour. Tennille to his Captain. Love had kept them together. Or as Thin Lizzy might have pegged it more raucously, the boys were back in town.
Realizing they’d be starting a game together for the 860th time brought me back to another September series, in 2003, Expos at Mets. The telecast was anchored for the first several innings by Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. Murph had announced his retirement, effective the end of that season. He and Ralph had been assigned different booths since 1982. Not tonight. Bob moved over from the radio side and he and Ralph were partners one final time. That it was exactly as it should have been didn’t make it not sad as hell.
Kiner and Murphy. Wright and Reyes. How did that comparison get apt? How did the kids from 2005 and 2006 become the veterans? The Last Veterans, I decided they were sometime in 2018. I’d never again look at any Mets the way I looked at these two now. I didn’t grow up with them (I was 40 when Reyes debuted, 41 when Wright came along), but their active status couldn’t keep them from a past that seemed almost inaccessible from the present. Nobody played in Shea anymore, but David and Jose had. Nobody wore black jerseys and black caps with blue brims anymore, but David and Jose had. Nobody high-fived John Franco or Al Leiter anymore, but David and Jose had. No current Met was 23 and on the precipice of the first of presumably many championships in 2006, but David and Jose were.
It wasn’t just the chronological distance from the early prime of Messrs. Wright and Reyes. The age deduced from David’s birth certificate was less telling than the age he emanated from. Watching him and listening to him as he reluctantly accepted the spotlight that fell on him reminded you what he’d been all along: a gentleman. How many ballplayers — how many fellows, regardless of profession — evoke that kind of sensation? Team first. Teammates first. Respect for everybody who touched his career, fans included. David was the object of many well-meaning messages on social media from his peers. Curtis Granderson tweeted lovingly. So did Johan Santana. I hoped somebody pointed the kinds words out to David. He wasn’t gonna see them otherwise. He talked about Twitter and the like as something that came along after him, as if a communications innovation that spread when he was in his late twenties was simply too newfangled for someone set in his old-timey ways.
Jacob deGrom had recently turned 30 and, if we were lucky, would be a Met for so many more years and Cy Youngs that I’d eventually revise my estimation for who the Last Veteran was. Maybe he and Syndergaard and the other pitchers would maintain a bond and I’d get misty in my sixties for when the world was young, when Jake and Thor and Matz were winning us a flag and now everything is different, but at least we still have those kids from 2015 and 2016. It could very well play out as such.
But at the end of September 2018, I wasn’t looking ahead. I was licensed to look back. I didn’t have to pay lip service to the future. Nobody was demanding valuable starts be given over to the latest callups from Las Vegas. Nobody was insisting the old guys chronically clogging our roster must have two cheeks on the bench, one foot out the door. The past was being planted firmly in the present.
My kind of last homestand.
Writing in Reyes at shortstop and Wright at third for the 860th time fell to Mickey Callaway, a man who could turn filling out a lineup card into the hardest of Double Jeopardy challenges (“Who is batting where?”). Mickey was the fifth manager David Wright played for. Hard to believe there weren’t more. The first was Art Howe, whose last name should have been affixed to a question mark. Then came Willie Randolph, whose penchant for professionalism meshed nicely with David’s fealty to chain of command. When Willie’s law and orderly ways dissolved into a puddle of underachievement, Jerry Manuel emerged as precisely the breath of fresh air this organization needed. When the Mets eventually revealed themselves thoroughly disorganized under Manuel, Terry Collins was brought out of managerial purgatory. Collins, who had last skippered in Anaheim at the end of the previous century, was an object lesson in hanging in there. He managed Wright’s teams nowhere for four seasons, but Terry went nowhere. Finally, climate change overtook Citi Field in 2015 and Collins was still running the show. You felt wonderful first and foremost in ’15 for Wright making a World Series (and for yourself getting to experience it), but no matter your views on his moves, you had to love that the manager few figured would last beyond a de facto caretaker period had persevered to a pennant.
Two seasons later, Terry Collins was done and Mickey Callaway was named his successor. Callaway had never managed before and it showed. He’d also never had cause to address the media on a nightly basis before and that showed. So often I’d hear him opine on the state of is team and the game it had just lost and think, “Mickey, why would you say that?” One of the less harmful but not brilliant things he mentioned as Met manager was when he equated the hubbub surrounding David Wright’s final game with that you’d find at a playoff series.
Mickey hadn’t been here in 2015, but he’d been to the playoffs as Cleveland’s pitching coach. Surely he recognized the difference. David was a playoff participant twice, nine years apart. No way he’d have mistaken one kind of excitable sellout crowd with another. Neither would I. Neither would any Mets fan who’d been lucky enough to interact with any Mets playoff game dating back to Saturday afternoon, October 4, 1969, when the Mets played the Braves for the first time in the first NLCS.
Yet on the Saturday that shaped up as the last game David Wright would ever play, when 43,928 jammed into Citi Field specifically because it was the last game David Wright would ever play, I did sort of align myself with Callaway’s misguided view of the world despite my disagreement with his assessment of the situation.
That is I went out for a clinching pizza. It’s what I went out for on the Saturday in September 2015 when the Mets clinched the National League East. It’s what I went out for on the Saturday in October 2016 when the Mets clinched a National League Wild Card. The difference then was I waited for the clinching. Late afternoon starts ensured dinnertime celebrations. Here, this September 2018 Saturday, when the first pitch was scheduled for 7:10 PM, there’d be no point in waiting to secure some dinner.
“You want pizza?” I asked Stephanie. “We oughta have pizza tonight.” She agreed. It wasn’t the playoffs, but it was something. It deserved pizza. Pizza from Franco’s (no relation to John, Matt or Julio, as far as we know), official playoff-clinching pizzeria to the Princes. If it was the playoffs actually about to be played, I doubt I could have eaten once the night was underway. My stomach tied itself in knots in the hours before playoff games in 2015 and the one we were allotted in 2016. No, Mickey, this wasn’t that. But pizza is pizza. I rushed off to Franco’s and scurried home with our pie just in time. I didn’t want to miss an iota of what was going to make this night pizzaworthy.
Avery was on notice to beware the Kleenex box.
The ceremonial first pitch, as delivered by the third baseman’s two-year-old daughter, was perfect in spirit if not a strike. The dash out by the third baseman to third base was perfect. The coupling with Jose? That was what I’d been dreaming of since 2016, maybe since 2011. Choose your analogous scene. Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck in the “People Get Ready” video. Andy and Red on that beach in Mexico after they’re both out of Shawshank State Prison. Paul and Artie in Central Park. From now on when we see old friends find each other at last, we’ll invoke David Wright and Jose Reyes on the left side of the Met infield, September 29, 2018. In a year of oddities and extremes — an 11-1 start; a 5-21 June; a 25-4 loss; a 24-4 win; the most Mets ever deployed in a single season — nothing could have been more normal than No. 5 taking his position at third. He’d run out there at Shea Stadium, at Citi Field and everywhere else the schedule sent him 1,570 times over thirteen seasons.
But how could you not be giddy that he was getting to do it a 1,571st?
Alas, you couldn’t do anything about arranging line drives when David batted. I’d maintained a fantasy that Don Mattingly would school Trevor Richards in the lore of Denny McLain serving one up on a room service platter to Mickey Mantle as Mantle was about to hang ’em up in 1968, but Trevor Richards was no 30-game winner and the Marlins have never been very good about cooperating with our late-September wishes. Despite not knowing the signs, David knew enough to draw a first-inning walk. Despite having to torture himself to prepare to stand around the diamond, David was able to bend for a ground ball, handle it cleanly and throw accurately to Jay Bruce at first base in the second. It was fundamentally sound, solid, unremarkable baseball being played by one of the most fundamentally sound, solid, remarkable baseball players the Mets ever had.
If I could have choreographed the background, I would have placed every David Wright teammate in seats so they would have been visible to those of us watching at home. A decent contingent had traveled to Citi Field to bid him goodbye. Michael Cuddyer from Virginia and 2015. Cliff Floyd from 2006 and all those charming stories about how the veteran directed the budding star to carry his luggage. Todd Zeile on assignment for SNY. Zeile had received a warm sendoff at the end of ’04, one of the few the Mets had ever bothered conducting. Dedicating tonight to one player reaching his road’s end, was sui generis for an organization that studiously paid little attention to most of its memories. Maybe things were changing. Jay Horwitz was about to embark on a new phase of his career, reaching out to Mets alumni from 1962 forward to let them know they were Mets family. David Wright was also sui generis. In the runup to Saturday night, he kept shifting the spotlight to others who meant so much to him. He namechecked Brian Schneider, now a Marlins coach and thus in attendance, as a teammate who’d stayed his friend. I had a hunch no other Mets from 2008 or 2009 remained in touch with Schneider.
Even the Mets’ disabled list, where David languished for more than two years, came to life to honor its most distinguished alumnus. Lagares. d’Arnaud. Cespedes. You never saw them around as the season wore on without them. Maybe they were around but you never noticed them. They all showed up at Citi to see their Captain bring his ship into port. It wasn’t technically a retirement party. It couldn’t be, not with contractual issues and insurance payments at stake. Yet “the industry,” as it’s depressingly labeled, knew what was going on. David’s impromptu farewell tour on the last road trip — Boston, Philadelphia, Washington — was muted but sincere. A Mets fan could be forgiven for being surprised that a Met rated that kind of attention and affection away from Flushing. We saw that sort of thing as rarely as we saw Lagares, d’Arnaud and Cespedes in the second half. Opponents probably hadn’t honored retiring Mets before because the number of Mets who combined industrywide stature with a definitive conclusion to time in a Mets uniform was limited.
Fifty-seven seasons in, there was David Wright and nobody else.
Then, after a foul pop to Marlins first baseman and Mets fan instavillain Peter O’Brien leading off the home fourth, there wasn’t any more David Wright. His third plate appearance of 2018, his 6,872nd since 2004, would be his last. There’d be one more trot out to his position, then a choreographed exit. A handshake from third base umpire Mike Winters. A hug from Jose Reyes. A hug from Kevin Plawecki. Amed Rosario offered an embrace when he came out to replace him (bumping Reyes from short to third), as if anybody could replace David. A hug from everybody in orange and blue. The dugout turned into the hugout. I strained to see if maybe the current Mets had expanded their roster. I looked for Beltran, for Delgado, for Collins. Where the hell was Field of Dreams when you needed it?
Citi Field transformed into the House of David. The slugger who eschewed curtain calls now had to absorb and acknowledge the applause he merited. They stood in Queens. I stood in my living room. It would have been disrespectful to not salute the Captain. No, Mickey, this wasn’t the playoffs, but it definitely went perfectly with pizza.
When he was announcing his abbreviated comeback on September 13, David was very specific. He didn’t want to wear a uniform again. He wanted to put this uniform on again. Mets on the front. His name appearing on the back was probably incidental to him. Wearing Mets once more, Wright was in no rush to shed his threads. After leaving the game, he went on a tour of nearby broadcast media: the SNY TV booth, the WOR radio booth. He did it in uniform while the game progressed. He looked too good in it to comprehend that he wouldn’t be donning it any longer. No. 5 was his second skin.
But the game did progress. In the seventh, Steve Gelbs was keeping with the theme of the evening, interviewing Cuddyer, celebrating Wright with the Mets-Marlins action purely incidental. Brandon Nimmo, in the process of rounding first on a single, grabbed his hamstring and grabbed focus back from the past. Was Nimmo hurt? What was wrong exactly? How serious might it be?
The game kept progressing without Nimmo. Late innings became extra innings. David returned to the dugout, uniform still on. He was going to make a few remarks whenever the game ended, which we did not know when it would be. It was turning into a George Carlin special. Usually, Game 161 between two non-contenders would be rapidly hemorrhaging attendees once the line score needed to be cleared, scheduled postgame display of fireworks or not, but this Game 161 was most unusual. The third baseman batting .000 was still the main attraction.
Yet after he left the game, I could sort of feel the next generation coming into focus. We wouldn’t go to Spring Training anticipating Wright or depending on Wright or wondering when Wright might be ready. It was strange enough going into 2018 with Todd Frazier penciled in as third baseman, no David on the horizon. But at least he was in the shadows.
Twenty Nineteen would be about Conforto, Rosario and Nimmo, right hamstring willing. It would be about deGrom, Syndergaard and Wheeler. It would be about whoever the Mets signed or traded for. No Wright. No Reyes. The Last Veterans would take their shared era — or what remained of it — with them. Opening Day of 2006, the season when their present brimmed with possibility and their future never loomed brighter, now stood further away from the present than Opening Day of 2030. And it stood in the opposite direction of where we were inevitably going.
This weekend was less the end of an era than one hauled out of storage.
In the thirteenth inning, Austin Jackson, a midsummer pickup I privately referred to as Awesome Jackson (an aspirational nickname at best), did something truly awesome. He drove in the winning run of this heretofore scoreless game. It had a score now: Mets 1 Marlins 0. David Wright would go out a winner. The Mets’ record when he played couldn’t say quite the same. They’d won 792, lost 793. There was probably something symbolic in there.
After Awesome Austin doubled home Conforto, I know what should have happened next. Jackson, starting pitcher Steven Matz and David should have crammed onto the set of Kiner’s Korner. Ralph should have asked Steven about his six innings of shutout ball and eight strikeouts. Austin and Ralph should have compared notes on game-winning hits. And oh-for-two David should have grinned with humility, wondering à la Marv Throneberry in those Lite beer commercials, what he was doing on a show featuring the real stars of the game.
Instead, David would be a solo act. No Ralph Kiner. No Steve Gelbs. The man who played with all those Mikes would pick one up for himself and address the adoring crowd. The “W” in Wright was silent, but this was no time for him to be reticent in expressing himself. “This is love,” he told his throng twice — a love for real, not fade away. “You had my back,” he mentioned four times. He thanked everybody as sincerely and heartily as he could, just as he had on TV and radio, just as he would in the press conference room a few minutes later. He straddled the line between completely understanding why this night and this crowd and this breed of fan was dedicated to him and being honestly baffled that anybody thought he deserved a fuss.
It was late in the evening, and he blew that room away. We talk about people who get it. Not only did David Wright get it every minute he spent as a New York Met, he defined it, he embodied it and he emitted it. He handled his farewell brilliantly. Never mind Paul Simon’s calculus; David found the singular way to leave his lovers.
We got him. We loved him. I’m not sure we had his back, though. If we had, would have fixed it for him.
Jose Reyes started at short and led off; after one AB, he was removed with a modicum of ceremony, though nothing like that which attended David Wright’s last appearance the night before
Reyes could be seen hugging Wright and others in the Mets dugout as Amed Rosario took his spot in the field. The “Jose!” song played and he emerged from the dugout to applause, which he heartily acknowledged
Reyes not necessarily retired but will clearly not be brought back by the Mets in 2019
Wright, with 1,777 hits, and Reyes, with 1,534, end their time as active Mets as the franchise leaders
Hit leaders among active Mets: Flores, 488; Lagares, 443; Conforto 350; d’Arnaud 327; Cespedes 322; Bruce 212.
David Wright in evidence at final game, but doesn’t play. Presents flag to Veteran of the Game to great applause; spends quality time with kid who gets his last jersey in Jerseys Off Our Backs postgame presentation
O’Brien continues to be booed for crime of catching David Wright’s final pop foul the night before
A slide show tribute to Wright airs (hard to call it a montage)
David Wright played in his 14th season as a Met; only Kranepool (18) played in more; Franco also played in 14
Wright becomes a non-recidivist Comma Met
Jose Reyes played in his 12th season as a Met
With the departures of Wright and Reyes, Juan Lagares is the longest-tenured Met
We may have been all cried out from Game 161, but the last days of David Wright weren’t sad. The sad part was before the last days, when he couldn’t put this uniform on again, when he couldn’t pinch-hit, when he couldn’t come out and play. We were happy because we were granted a few more fleeting, indelible glimpses.
The WRIGHT 5s who populate Citi Field’s Promenade, Excelsior and so forth won’t be quickly retired. There are too many in circulation. The 5 Wright himself wore is another matter. It should take no deliberation to raise his digit high above left field. Honor though it may be, that’s just scorekeeping. Even understanding the significance of joining 37, 14, 41 and 31, David Wright’s Met career and presence transcends something as mundane as number retirement. If you want a gesture that measures up to the man, issue an edict that the title of Captain will belong only to David Wright as long as there is a New York Mets.
Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco — great Mets all — were each appointed captain for a spell, but for none of them was the title synonymous with their essential being. David Wright was the Captain of the New York Mets so much that “Captain” rather than “Third Base” could have been listed as his position.
Seriously, can you imagine ever calling anybody else Captain?
It was in his self-conceived job description to speak for his team. Before they made him Captain, a role he took seriously as death, he recognized that somebody had to explain the Mets when the Mets were at their most inexplicable. When the Mets were hopeless, circa the weeks that followed his July 2004 arrival. When the Mets were hopeful in 2005. When the Mets ascended toward the mountaintop in 2006. When the Mets stumbled, plunged and took their sweet time climbing back between 2007 and 2014. When the Mets neared the apogee again in 2015. He wasn’t around enough to explain the Mets’ fall from grace after 2016, their descent into terribleness in 2017 or their absolutely abysmal first half of 2018. He made it back just in time for a touch of conditional hopefulness, the kind that infected us when David was catching fly balls with his bare hand. The Mets had actually posted the best record in the National League East from July through September. They’d just have to learn to lead the division in stuff from the beginning to make our hopes stick.
But those would be hopes for next season and the seasons beyond and somebody else would have to explain them. The Captain had done his duty. When the Mets succumbed to Molina. When the Mets overcame Utley. When Jerry or Terry pushed buttons that didn’t connect to anything. When he connected with a game’s last pitch and drove in its winning run, forever crediting the batter ahead of him for getting on base. When he tried to offer timetables for the return he and we craved.
That’s the David Wright Era. He was attached to all of it. The unofficial spokesperson for the bulk of it, answering for so many crappy teams his skills and leadership made marginally less crappy. This is the Dave we know. Our bridge over the troubled waters that flooded the late 2000s and the first half of the 2010s. He also elaborated on its intermittent triumphs, its trips to the periphery of the promised land, its possibilities that maybe only he saw every spring. Barely a handful of Mets truly belong to the ages, plural. Wright is one of them.
He may not have swaggered like Namath, but David practically guaranteed the way he’d be remembered. The origin story he presented of himself was that of a Mets fan growing up near Norfolk, rolling with the Tides as his home team, and then getting drafted by the parent club. Like the qualities that merited his captaincy, his childhood affinity for the orange and blue wasn’t incidental to his adult self. It’s who he was. A Met. He wanted to be a Met and he got to be a Met. He took that seriously as death. Every hand he shook, every hug he exchanged, every gesture of goodwill he extended was not from the idolatry playbook. It was a Mets fan doing for another Mets fan. He didn’t need social media to link to Mets fans. The ballplayer he became kept a dignified distance from online chatter; the fan he always was didn’t need to tweet or post. He came to us one of us and he stayed one of us. The only difference was his WRIGHT 5 jersey was a little more gameworn than the ones in the stands.
When free agency hovered in the discernible distance, somebody who was in a position to make these judgments suggested to me David would at least have to test those waters. This was 2012, another Met year whose tentative promise melted into the familiar morass of Met failure. We were eons removed from 2006, while 2015 was nowhere in sight. Chipper Jones, this person noted, was retiring from the Braves and they’d have an opening at third base. David was a star in his prime and had to do due diligence. It made too much sense for a star nearing his thirtieth birthday to not at least contemplate trying on another uniform. Surely his fortune and his fortunes could both improve somewhere else.
Whatever thought David Wright gave the idea of leaving, he never acted on it. He signed to stay a Met for longer than his body would allow him. His heart was another matter. David Wright was and is a Met for life. His life. Our lives. As fans, we live for that sort of mythic figure, not just to cheer him, but to cherish him and nurture him from his first day to his last. Welcoming him; hanging in there with him through good days and bad; saying goodbye when he knows it is time for him to go. A career fully and properly shepherded by fans and franchise, beginning to end…even allowing for requisite Metsiness to occasionally interlope and step on the storyline. The David Wright story was sturdy enough to withstand a few bruised toes.
We never had that precise story before. We never had something so Wright. We have now.
FAITH AND FEAR’S PREVIOUS NIKON CAMERA PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2005 : The WFAN broadcast team of Gary Cohen and Howie Rose
2006 : Shea Stadium
2007 : Uncertainty
2008 : The 162-Game Schedule
2009 : Two Hands
2010 : Realization
2011 : Commitment
2012 : No-Hitter Nomenclature
2013 : Harvey Days
2014 : The Dudafly Effect
2015 : Precedent — Or The Lack Thereof
2016 : The Home Run
2017 : The Disabled List