Thursday, September 29, 2011

Please Stay, Jose

Last night the Mets were simultaneously wiped from the history books as the biggest chokers of all time, and entered the record book with their first ever batting champ.  In typical Mets fashion, both moves left a bit of a sour taste.

First things first: Yes, Jose Reyes sat to preserve his lead in the batting title.  No, he wasn't the first, as others astutely pointed out. No, he won't be the last either.  Maybe he's no Jeter, but I'd rather watch him flying around the bases, hair braids bouncing while he dives headfirst into second than watch Jeter adjust his batting gloves and try to sell me a Ford Focus for three hours.  If this was Reyes' last game as a Met, and I have a terrible feeling it is, it is somewhat bittersweet to see a player we've all watched since he was 19 reach his peak just as he is about to walk out the door.

But batting average is overrated anyway, so who cares.

Forget the whole batting title thing, which in FutureBaseball™ will go to the player with the most WAR or highest OPS or most laser doubles.  Focus on Reyes the player, and what he has meant to the Mets for the last nine years: a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of hope and a lot of unfulfilled promise.

There were times when Reyes looked to be playing himself to the bench, and times when he was starting the All Star Game.  There were times when he was stealing bases like Rickey Henderson circa the Oakland A's, and days when he was pulling up lame like Rickey Henderson circa the Newark Bears.  He was an enigma, and even in a season when he finally put it all together, he still missed significant time with injuries.  Jose Reyes was one of the top five players in baseball this year - when he was on the field.

The Mets were in an untenable position this year.  If Reyes had played just a little worse, they could have traded him and gotten a semblance of fair value in return.  But he was SO good and SO valuable to the team that there was nothing on the trade market that would have made sense.  If he had another year on his contract, he could have netted three or four top prospects from a contending team.  But as a rental on a team with money problems, the other GMs knew better than to overpay.

In a sense, Reyes was always more valuable to the Mets than he would have been to any other team. He was marketable and exciting on a team that is a constant second fiddle to the most recognizable team in sports.  He outshined the more consistent David Wright, who is a terrific player with a winning smile but is not exactly charismatic.  He took the superstar mantle from the reluctant Carlos Beltran, he energized a heavily Spanish-speaking fan base and looked awesome on the sides of buses and billboards across the city.  He was the heart and soul of the Mets in the abstract, gooey way, but he was the heart and soul of their marketing in a much more tangible sense.

If he actually leaves and heads to another town, he'll never be embraced like he was in New York.  In San Francisco, he'd be a second fiddle to the pot smoking, granola messiah Tim Lincecum.  In Philly, he'd be too flashy for a town that prefers its former Mets of the Dykstra variety.  If he went to the Yankees, God forbid, he'd constantly be in the shadow of Jeter and would have to trim his braids to conform to the "Yankee Way."

The Mets need Jose, and Jose needs them back.  It makes so much sense for him to stay - too much sense, in fact.  And that's why it'll never happen.  Enjoy your winter, Mets fans.

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