David Wright Must Be Remembered as Elite Superstar, Not Mets Contract Disaster

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  David Wright #5 of the New York Mets looks on before the game Atlanta Braves on September 26, 2018 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

NEW YORK — The uniform was always there, in the last locker by the door leading to the New York Mets dugout. It was there even when David Wright couldn't be, the "Mets" script on the front, the No. "5" on the back and the invisible "C" that never had to be added because everyone just knew that Wright was the Mets captain.

It was hard to look at it the last couple of years, for anyone who remembered what Wright had been to this team and for everyone who lamented that injuries would never allow him to be that again. It was nice to see this week, when Wright finally put on that jersey again, something he would never let himself do during all the time on the disabled list.

He'll play one more game for the Mets, one more game for himself and for all of us who have enjoyed watching him, whether we're Mets fans or not. He'll play Saturday night at Citi Field against the Miami Marlins, and then that will be it.

At 35, his career will be done, although he'll still get paid through 2020 under terms of an eight-year, $138 million extension Wright signed after the 2012 season. It was a contract that never worked out for the team, even with insurance that will soften the blow.

But it shouldn't be the way to remember a guy who never expected his fine career to end this way.

"As a young player ... you think you can play forever," he said earlier this week. "For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen."

He'll never ask for your pity. He'd rather remember how fortunate he was to play for the team he grew up loving. He'd rather remember how often things were good, rather than how much it hurt physically and mentally when things began not being so good anymore.

We should, too. We will, too, because if it feels unfortunate that Wright never could recapture the high points he hit in his 20s, the truth is those high points will remain with us longer and more vividly than the injury struggles that followed.

He was one of the best players ever to wear a Mets uniform, possibly the best ever to spend his entire career as a Met. He was great to watch, great to be around, great to have as a representative of his team and his game.

"I respect everything about him," said Todd Frazier, who has taken over as the Mets third baseman but will give way to Wright for one night.

Jay Bruce came to the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008, a 21-year-old kid from Texas who saw Wright as the very model of what a major leaguer should be. He remembers asking Wright for his phone number back then, just for a chance to chat.

Wright, of course, was more than willing to talk.

He still is, willing to talk, willing to help, willing to lead. And willing to play, if only his body will allow it.

Asked this week if he was at peace with the end of his playing career, Wright grinned and responded: "No, of course not. I want to play."

Wright was already hurting by 2015, but he made it back and hit a home run in the World Series.
Wright was already hurting by 2015, but he made it back and hit a home run in the World Series.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Remember him that way, but also remember how he played at his best. Remember him as the seven-time All-Star, the guy who four times finished in the top 10 in voting for the National League's Most Valuable Player.

"For six or seven years, he was in the conversation for being the best player in the game," Bruce said. "He was really on his way."

He really was.

From 2006 to '10, Wright hit 128 home runs. Only two third basemen in the major leagues (Alex Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez) hit more. He had 522 RBI, second to A-Rod among third basemen. According to Baseball Reference, his WAR for those years was 25.2, third behind the totals of A-Rod and Adrian Beltre.

If not for his performance-enhancing-drug use, Rodriguez would sail into the Hall of Fame. Beltre, who may also be playing his final games this weekend, is a likely Hall of Famer, as well.

Wright was on that path through 2010, when he was still only 27 years old. He was an All-Star again in 2012 and in 2013, and while injuries limited his playing time to 38 regular-season games in 2015, he was able to return in time for the playoffs and World Series.

He homered in his first at-bat in the first World Series game played at Citi Field. He had a hit in the first All-Star Game played at Citi Field, too, in 2013.

"He was as good as there was," said Ruben Amaro Jr., now the Mets first base coach but in those years the general manager of the rival Philadelphia Phillies. "He was the best third baseman, I thought, in the game."

Amaro also called Wright "the Mets' version of Chase Utley," which may not help him with Mets fans but is the highest praise he could offer.

Another comparison Mets fans may not love would be to Don Mattingly, a New York Yankees captain who was among the game's best players in his 20s but suffered from back trouble that ultimately kept him from making it to the Hall of Fame.

When the All-Star Game came to Citi Field in 2013, Wright was there with the best in the National League.
When the All-Star Game came to Citi Field in 2013, Wright was there with the best in the National League.Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Mattingly's final game came in the 1995 playoffs, when he was 34 years old. Wright played no major league games when he was 34, unable to make it off the disabled list after three games in the minors. He'll play one more now—at 35—after 12 games in the minor leagues that pretty much proved to him that his body won't allow him to go on.

He had seven hits in 41 at-bats in those games at St. Lucie and Las Vegas, six singles and a double. He struck out 10 times.

His neck, his shoulder and his back were all still issues, just as they have been since Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis early in the 2015 season.

He wanted a chance to play a major league game in front of his older daughter, who was born in July 2016. He wanted a chance to go out on his own terms, as players like to say.

Wright would love to think he can summon up some of what once made him great, but he knows that may be asking too much. Listen to what he said when someone asked him about getting to perform in front of the Citi Field fans one more time.

"Hopefully perform is the right word," he said. "I hope to be able to do something that isn't going to embarrass myself. Contact is a goal right now, more than performance."

A friend from Boston was talking the other day about attending Carl Yastrzemski's final game, in 1983 at Fenway Park. All these years later, he remembers Yaz charging Jim Essian's single to left field. It looked like he'd have a play at the plate, one last chance to throw a runner out—until the grass under his feet gave way and the ball slipped out of his hand. He remembers Yaz's last at-bat, when he popped up swinging at a 3-0 pitch over his head.

My friend treasured that game, just as Mets fans will treasure Wright's final game Saturday night.

It's not about how he plays now. It's not about how much the Mets had to pay him for those years when he couldn't play.

It's about what Wright was at his best.

As one-time teammate Jeff Francoeur said, "He was just a hell of a ballplayer."

   

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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