Post-Traumatic Mets Disorder: Strongly Vaginal

“I bet you’re worried. I was worried. That’s why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them.” — Vagina Monologues

They never played on the same team.  But in their time, played for two of the same teams (Kansas City and the Mets, natch).  They played on division winners that didn’t win a World Championship.  They were both outfielders, but one played left field, the other center field.  They were later appreciated by their fan base, yet while playing some fans simply couldn’t relate to them because of what was perceived as a disassociated personality.

Two players I associate together and compare probably more than two players in Mets history, yet they never played a game together.

And those two players are Kevin McReynolds and Carlos Beltran.

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“The dunk contest is as exciting as Kevin McReynolds reading the vagina monologues.” – Dave Singer, concerned Mets fan

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Less than two months after the Mets won the World Series in 1986, Frank Cashen declared himself over Kevin Mitchell, and decided to spice things up…by trading one of the most colorful and stand-out characters on the team (on a team of characters, that in and of itself is a feat) for the “new guy.” There really was no other way to describe to McReynolds or “Big Mac” as we fans liked to call him.  Kevin Mitchell was a fan favorite, a guy who would play whatever position you put him at, a spark plug, the guy who famously went up to bat in the biggest comeback inning in baseball history without wearing a cup.

Kevin McReynolds?  Whatever.

On a team of bad boys, grizzled vets like Kid and Mex but young guys like HoJo, Straw and Doc, Kevin McReynolds’ personality didn’t really mesh with the rest of the team.  These guys would have taken a bullet for one another.  If they were playing the Cards, they’d go out with a limb hanging off before scratching themselves from a lineup.  Kevin McReynolds, famously, started getting dressed during a comeback inning in 1989, and Davey Johnson had to fine him for not being ready when they needed him.

Some of McReynolds’ time was bittersweet.  I remember him being incredibly clutch, winning an extra inning game in 1987 with a timely single.

He had such a great season in 1988 that he was in the top running for NL MVP.  Since his team was so solid, his votes were actually cancelled out with another teammate, Darryl Strawberry.

That same 1988 team were SO close to going to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.  McReynolds was second highest in team batting average (the team was led by, of course, the player who cancelled out his regular season MVP votes too), and I’m convinced had the Mets won the series, he’d had been NLCS MVP.

Though the team lost, and it was most certainly a team effort (or lack thereof) that had them fall short, McReynolds was made the scapegoat.  See, he made a comment about whether the Mets win or lose, he wins.  If they win, he gets to play in the World Series.  If they lose, he gets to go home and hunt.  So it’s a win-win.

Whether he was making a “funny,” as they say (and trust me…this guy doesn’t do funny), or whether he truly liked hunting as much as playing baseball, he gets paid for playing baseball…in a very passionate baseball city.

That was 1988’s version of “disappointed, not devastated.”

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“The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina.” – Maude Lebowski, The Big Lebowski

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I wrote last week about Pedro Martinez and how his signing actually set the Mets BACK several years, instead of helping them.  He certainly put a drain on resources and a drain on the team.  Yet, some Mets aficionados would argue that with no Pedro signing, a Carlos Beltran signing would have NEVER happened.

Call me crazy, I believe that Beltran would have gone where the money was.  And the Mets were certainly offering a lot of money, and most of all, the most in YEARS.

He had a lackluster first year in Queens, but then the whole “New York adjustment” excuse was used.  Meanwhile, that “adjustment year” bullshit doesn’t fly in the Bronx.  I mean, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia managed to win a goddamn ring in their “adjustment” year.  Beltran would have been MVP had he gone to the Bronx.

I digress.  But while he didn’t have the best year, he managed to make a web gem by smashing faces with Mike Cameron while diving for fly ball guided towards the outfield.  He played with a broken face basically.  But I still shrugged.  Someone told me Beltran had the opportunity to be the best player in baseball in a few years.  The Mets were lucky to have him.

^Shrug^ Whatever.

This led to 2006, and an unexpectedly fun season.  I remember sitting at Opening Day with Uncle Gene and Dad, and I remember when Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran didn’t have such a great game, and they said, “Two of the best hitters in baseball, and we want to cut them the first day of the season.”

When Beltran hit a home run a few days later, and Mets fans begged him for a curtain call in the second game of the season, Julio Franco coerced him to acknowledge fans.

When asked about it post-game, Beltran had this to say:

“Put it this way: I’m a friend not only when you’re doing well, I’m a friend when you’re not doing so well,” Beltran said.

I’ll be the first to admit, Beltran rubbed me the wrong way.  I didn’t think he played hard enough.  That when he struggled, he blamed phantom injuries that no one on the team’s brass seemed to be aware of.  He guesstimated to be about “85%.”  And I mean, aren’t baseball guys supposed to be TOUGH?  “I’m your friend.”  What kind of mushy-ass bullshit is that???

Despite my personal feelings about Beltran, it was a team effort that got them to win 97 games and the division in 2006.  I guess I’m the sort of rational fan who never held Aaron Heilman responsible for the Yadier Molina home run nor was the loss squarely on Beltran’s shoulders for taking strike three looking.  I mean, if he swung, would we have felt better about it?  Of course not.  I like to think I’m the rational fan who realized that the game was lost because Jose Valentin sucked and was lightning in a bottle that season.

Yet, I was loathe to come around on Beltran for reasons other than the curveball.  I thought he was a pussy, basically.  He always bitched about his legs.  There’s that whole “playing hard” image that comes to mind.  While I don’t think he particularly “loafed,” I felt like he begged out of critical games because he wasn’t “100%.”  Looking back, it wasn’t just him, some baseball players just feel like they can’t contribute.  However, it rubbed me the wrong way when he did it.  For one, he’d sit for one or two games at a time, and refuse to go on the DL.  While I understand that 15 days is a little different than one or two games.  But one game is fine, for a day of rest.  As Lou Brown said, even tough guys get sprains.  But two to three games?  Go on the goddamn DL.

I was pretty hard on him.  I got truly annoyed in 2007, when one or two games would have made a world of difference in Mets history, and he planned on sitting for about five games.  If my memory serves, he did eventually go on the DL.  Too little, too late, in my opinion.

The narrative goes, the Mets lose the division by one game in 2007, and narrowly miss making a Wild Card position in 2008.

I saw something different in Carlos Beltran in 2008.

Prior to that season (and most importantly the end), I never had a problem with the numbers Beltran put up.  He won Gold Gloves for his defense, and his play was almost flawless.  It was what I perceived to be a flippant attitude.  It reminded me of Kevin McReynolds.  He treated the game (a game we fans have a passion and heart for) like a jay-oh-bee.  Alex Rodriguez is one of the most despised players in any sports, and that’s what he does.  Takes a talent he was born with and has a 24+1 mentality.

I realized that Beltran was a product of his time.  But something else:  the last game of 2008, I saw something different.  He hit a home run in the last game at Shea Stadium, and tied the game.  I screamed at my dad, “WE WILL NOT LOSE THIS GAME!!! WE WILL NOT LOSE THIS GAME!!!”

Uh.  Yeah.  About that…

But if the Mets lost that game (and they did), it was despite Beltran.  He did his best to put his team in a position to win.

Then I grew to love him, and probably became the biggest Beltran apologist outside of…well..my husband.  (who is a HUGE Beltran fan).

But like his effort I perceived in 2007, my love was too little too late.  I was too angry to appreciate his early years with the Mets.  And when the Mets moved to CitiField, I called Carlos Beltran a “Key To the Season” in my old blog, My Summer Family.

Carlos Beltran

I rarely picked “top” players in this series.  But Beltran made the cut especially.

Why?

Because I thought, finally, he had something to prove.  He was now a leader with his bat, and a leader on the team.  If 2008 never happened, then 2007 was the anomaly.  But 2007 and 2008 both happened.  It was on his watch.  It was payback.  I even projected him to be MVP of that season.

And MVP numbers put up, he did.  Until he got injured.  And was out the entire season.  Oh and the first half of 2010.

I don’t have post-traumatic Mets with Beltran, it’s more like Stockholm SyndroMets.  I despised him when he was healthy and playing, but when he got hurt, I defended him to the teeth.   When he returned, and the Mets had a shitty West Coast road trip in conjunction with his return, it was easy to #BlameBeltran with that underperformance.

Like 2006, it was a team effort.

See this picture?  I met Beltran at an event in the 2010 offseason.  Our friend, Kelly, is a HUGE Beltran fan who lives in Oklahoma.  We were planning on seeing her and him play in 2011 at the Ballpark at Arlington.  It was also one of the last stands I saw Beltran play in a Mets uniform.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  Mainly because I thought there was a good chance he’d be traded…but that I’d see him play again at CitiField.  It was odd timing, but I didn’t get to see him.

I had a tumultuous relationship with Beltran as a Met.  And I was so sad to see him go.  A big change from how I felt about him in 2006 – 2008.

Like many big trades or huge free agent signings, there is usually a dark side to them.  Like Robin Ventura is considered one of the best free agent signings; meanwhile, he gave the Mets only ONE good year.

Carlos Beltran had a back-loaded contract and could not be offered arbitration due to terms of his contract.  So they didn’t get value for him while he played, and they wouldn’t get a sandwich pick in the draft when he walked, which we all knew he would.  Beltran didn’t take to New York, and many fans didn’t take to him either.  But like Beltran’s time, I didn’t appreciate him until it was much too late.

And Beltran turned things around that season to the extent that the Mets were able to turn him into Zack Wheeler, who is projected to be a front line starter of the future.

Funny.  Like Beltran in 2011, many fans are hoping that Johan Santana gets off to a roaring start so that he can be traded prior to his contract ending.

But that’s another story for another time.

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Perhaps if the Mets had won either of those championship series that McReynolds or Beltran played, we wouldn’t even have these discussions.  Maybe Randy Myers would have won NLCS MVP since Strawberry and McReynolds both had a fantastic series.  Perhaps Beltran would have endeared himself to Mets fans had the Mets won, since Wainwright’s curve wouldn’t mean anything.

I see many similarities between McReynolds’ and Beltran’s time with the Mets.  They played on teams that overpromised but severely underdelivered.  They were very quiet underassuming men, and their perceived indifference rubbed some Mets fans the wrong way.  They played hard and flawlessly, yet it looked like they took it easy BECAUSE the game came so easy for them.  They both became scapegoats for team wrongdoings.   They got paid boatloads of money for doing an activity and entertaining crowds of tens of thousands.  But treated the role like it is: a job.

I can be very mean while writing about the Mets.  I can be very mean about certain players.  Loathing Beltran at first was something that came easily to me, and with the advent of social media, I was able to project that.  If only blogging existed when Kevin McReynolds played, perhaps I would have also made him part of the Big Pussy Posse.

Their strongly vaginal and sublime way of play allow me to comingle Kevin McReynolds and Carlos Beltran.  Two very underappreciated Mets players, two players that we don’t realize their value till much later.  But two players who, for better or worse, treat baseball as a job.  I think that’s something that fans need to understand to move on to future baseball generations.

Still doesn’t make it less sad.  Or less trauma-inducing.

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