Curtain call

“These guys are having me do things I’ve never done before in the game, like this,” [Beltran] said, raising his arm above his head to demonstrate his own version of the claw.

David Waldstein, N.Y. Times.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

John Greenleaf Whitter, “Maud Muller.”

No one really blames Carlos Beltran for anything anymore.

A joke that started as backlash to a pesky, ill-conceived idea forwarded in many corners of the fanbase and media has become a tired cliche, embraced now even by many of the same talking heads and columnists whose unsubstantiated insinuations prompted it in the first place.

And sure, a few stubborn fools maintain that Beltran is somehow at fault for all the Mets’ troubles, and in weak times we may turn to their blogs or Twitter feeds to see how their warped minds will twist his latest contributions to fit with their nonsensical narratives. But it is only a macabre appeal, like peeking through our hands at a train wreck. Anyone still blaming Carlos Beltran has long since careened off the rails.

Beltran has quieted his detractors. Quietly, of course. Now the last man standing among the Mets’ elite hitters — and I type this with fingers and toes crossed while knocking on wood — Beltran leads the teams in doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks, and, most surprisingly, games played.

His .283/.372/.502 line almost exactly matches the one he posted in his last fully healthy year in 2008. The arthritic knees have cost him some stolen bases and some range in the outfield, but Beltran is playing like Beltran. And people finally seem to recognize it as awesome.

Plus, there’s more to appreciate than the on-field performance. There’s Beltran relinquishing center field to Angel Pagan in Spring Training. Beltran instilling confidence in a struggling Pedro Beato. Beltran stopping Ruben Tejada in the dugout after he failed to run out a pop-up. Even Beltran doing the claw when we know it runs counter to everything in his dignified disposition. All those familiar, Phillipsian accusations — Beltran is selfish, not a leader, playing in his own world — appear handily disproved when examined under the microscope afforded by a new manager, a fresh set of teammates and the final year of his contract with the Mets.

Ah, but therein lies the rub. It looks entirely likely that sometime soon — either later this month, sometime next month or in late September — Beltran will play his last game for the Mets.

Many now argue the Mets should try to bring Beltran back on a new, short contract, but it probably won’t happen. Beltran likely presents more value for an American League team that can use him as a designated hitter at the back end of his next deal, and, though it pains me to write this, signing a 34-year-old outfielder with 40-year-old knees to a multi-year contract doesn’t seem like the type of prudent move favored by the Mets’ current front office.

So we’re left watching Beltran enjoying a grand season and enjoying himself in a lineup full of decent players some 10 years his junior, and wondering what could have been if the Mets had only managed to field better clubs around him for the bulk of his seven-year stint in Flushing. If only, if only.

But during Beltran’s extended curtain call, we can take solace in knowing that it now seems the best center fielder in Mets’ history will be recognized and remembered as such, and in realizing that though Beltran’s subtle grace and understated excellence proved to be an acquired taste for many, many ultimately did acquire it.

That’s not worth as much as a World Series win, and for plenty of fans the way the hope attached to Beltran’s contract and the promise that came with the 2006 club never amounted to anything marks the whole era as a huge disappointment. I get that.

But watching great players play great is worth something too. And in Beltran, we got that. We still get that, for who knows how much longer. It’s pretty sweet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s