New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran is the owner of a wonderful career that will likely land him on the cusp of Cooperstown five years after retirement. Over the last 17 years, Beltran has enamored the fans of Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco and St. Louis.
In New York, however, adoration from Mets fans was fleeting during a dynamic near seven-year run in Queens, replaced at times by hatred that never came with proper justification.
On a yearly basis, the Subway Series has a way of invigorating New York baseball fans. Regardless of records, standings or impending fate of the summer months, it's a big deal when the Yankees and Mets play.
This week, the teams are in the midst of the yearly four-game series. The series will shift back to Citi Field Wednesday night, a place Carlos Beltran played for three seasons before a July 2011 trade to San Francisco ended his Mets career.
Due to an elbow spur, Beltran's availability for a true New York homecoming to Citi Field could be on hold until next season. Yet, when Beltran suits up at Citi Field and within shouting distance from a clubhouse he once occupied, it's hard to imagine good memories flooding back.
During an introductory press conference with the Yankees in December, Beltran was critical of how the Mets organization treated him during the end of his tenure there, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
“It wasn’t right, put it that way,” Beltran said.
When, or if, Beltran strolls to the plate, Citi Field should erupt in applause for a player that provided immense value, high-end production and helped make the Mets relevant upon arriving as a free agent after the 2004 season.
Of course, that likely won't occur. While some fans wisely appreciate the player Beltran was for the Mets, many have let one at-bat jade their thinking or expected more from a player that signed a seven-year, $119 million deal to patrol center field at Shea Stadium.
Not only is that type of thinking unjustified, it's lunacy. When looking at Beltran's full career, a potential Hall of Famer emerges. Furthermore, when looking just at Beltran's six-plus years as a Met, one of the greatest players in franchise history stands out.
|Tale of the Tape: Beltran's Place in Mets History|
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Let's start with the raw, unfiltered numbers. As one of baseball's first wave of $100-million players, Beltran's contract status mattered and big production was expected. In this area, the switch-hitting dynamo didn't disappoint.
Across 839 games in a Mets uniform, Beltran owned a .280/.369/.500 slash line, hit 149 home runs, stole 100 bases, scored 551 runs and drove in 559 runs. From 2005-2011, here's a complete list of players that posted 100 HR, 100 SB, .500 SLG, 500 runs and 500 RBI: Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Alfonso Soriano, David Wright and Beltran.
In 2006, Beltran slugged 41 homers, posted a .982 OPS, won a Gold Glove and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote—behind only Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman—as the Mets won 97 games and entered October baseball for the first time since 2000.
Of course, it's there—not in the other 800-plus brilliant games played as a Met—that Beltran's legacy in Queens was determined. When Adam Wainwright's curveball landed in Yadier Molina's glove for the final out of the 2006 NLCS, Beltran was down looking.
With that, his legacy never recovered, and a talented Mets team never came closer to glory. On the surface, it's a moment easily labeled with a word like "choke." With a chance to help the Mets win a pennant, Beltran failed.
Dig deeper, though, and it's easy to realize that the Mets wouldn't have even been in a Game 7 if not for Beltran's October genius, including the .978 OPS, 3 HR and 10 runs scored throughout that postseason. One of the greatest postseason hitters in baseball history lived up to his billing, despite the memories that one highlight can evoke.
Unfortunately for Beltran's plight during his first New York tenure, the center fielder served as a symbol for all that was wrong with a downtrodden franchise.
At first, his rise helped spur the rise of the Mets into New York's best baseball team. When the dream of a Mets championship fizzled out, it was Beltran's strikeout that became a lasting memory in the minds of so many.
Later, as the Mets fell from World Series contender to injury-prone disappointment, Beltran's personal injury issues—179 missed games from 2009-2010—became another negative symbol for a team searching for answers.
Ironically, Beltran's continued excellence and ability helped net the Mets a young building block, Zack Wheeler, in the 2011 trade with the Giants. Even upon his exit, the former star helped the Mets win games for the foreseeable future.
It's a fool's errand to tell fans how to act, which players to adore and how to emote during or after highly emotional games. That being said, the hatred and vitriol towards Beltran has never been justified or been rooted in logic.
Over the next decade, Beltran's career will end, and his Hall of Fame credentials will allow the Baseball Writers' Association of America to consider Beltran for enshrinement. If that distinction does arrive for the former five-tool star, an awkward moment could commence: Beltran sporting a Met cap on his Coopersotwn bust.
Maybe then a legion of fans will realize what kind of player was hated for years.
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