By Brad Kallet, CBSNewYork.com Staff
NEW YORK (WFAN) – Oh, Jason Bay. What can be said about the Mets’ left fielder that hasn’t already been said since his first season in Flushing in 2010?
Every Mets fan knows that the one-time slugger has been a tremendous disappointment since inking a four-year, $66 million contract with New York in 2009. There’s really no need to get into that at the moment. Numbers are numbers, and this much is unquestionably clear: Bay hasn’t been very productive as a member of the New York Metropolitans.
But my take on Bay is not that cut and dry, you see. And in honor of his hit on Wednesday night — his first since returning from the disabled list — this column is devoted to Mets fans’ public enemy number one (at least within the 40-man roster, that is).
I was recently having a conversation with my much older and wiser brother, Greg, and we decided to take a closer look into the man that is Jason Bay. We both decided that — and this is undisputed — there may be a select few, if any, ballplayers in the league that play harder than the veteran outfielder. He simply brings it every day and every night, period. Just think back to his running catch at the wall in Los Angeles in 2010 that sidelined him for months if you want proof of that.
He also seems like an incredibly likeable human being. Watch an interview with the British Columbia native and you’ll quickly find that you would most definitely enjoy drinking a beer and devouring a burger with him. Just delightful. You can’t help but root for him and want him to succeed, and I think that most Mets fans would agree that seeing Bay start to deliver would be very, very satisfying — not solely for the reason that Mets fans want the team to score runs, but because Bay plays the game the right away, and that means something to real baseball fans.
And lastly, and maybe most importantly, he possesses an impeccable taste in music.
My brother is an attorney, so he’s quite perceptive and observant by nature. As all Mets fans know — or at least the ones that go to Citi Field these days, which at the moment may not be many of you — Bay’s walk-up song each time he steps to the dish, without fail, is a Pearl Jam tune. Bay is admittedly a huge Pearl Jam fan, as Vancouver is a mere three-hour drive from Seattle, where grunge music was born and is idolized. The 33-year-old grew up listening to the sounds of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, and Bay acknowledges that he and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder will text back on forth on occasion.
Where is all this going, you ask?
My brother and I — lifelong Mets fans and ardent Bay supporters despite his maddening strikeout rate and lack of production with runners in scoring position — believe that the three-time All-Star’s walk-up songs have meaning. Do we know this for sure? Absolutely not. Might it be an absolutely ridiculous theory? Maybe so. But it’s worth delving into.
EXHIBIT A: 2010 – The Fixer
When Bay was first signed by the Mets, he was looked upon as a power bat that would help solidify the middle of the Mets’ lineup. Think back to 2010. In the preceding years leading up to his signing, the Mets lost to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, suffered two heart-wrenching back-to-back playoff collapses — each culminating on the final game of the season — and a disastrous season in which seemingly every player on the roster got hurt and the Mets managed to eke out 70 wins.
Cue the arrival of Bay.
In the season prior to joining the Amazins’, Bay put up an MVP-like season in Boston. The 2004 National League Rookie of the Year belted 36 home runs, had 119 RBIs and scored 103 times. Granted, he was playing in Fenway Park in a loaded Red Sox lineup, but those monster numbers can’t be ignored.
So even though Bay appears to be quite modest, I also believe that he has a quiet confidence about him. And that’s why I think he came out to Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” in 2010. The Gonzaga University alum knew that he was brought in to do some damage offensively, and he thought he had the ability to help “fix” the downward-spiraling Mets.
Well that didn’t work out quite the way everybody hoped it would.
Unfortunately for Bay and for Mets fans, the right-hander hit .259 with an embarrassing six home runs and 47 RBIs in just 95 games. He had two multi-homer games — one against the Yankees at Citi Field (both off of C.C. Sabathia, no less!), and one in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where the dimensions are so ridiculous that I think I could go deep there (and I’m five-foot-seven, 145 pounds). So to sum it all up, Bay missed 67 games due to injury, homered on only four different nights and the Mets won 79 games. Nope, he didn’t fix much of anything.
EXHIBIT B: 2011 – Alive
In the offseason following Bay’s debut in Queens, the media and fans alike decided to pick on the outfielder for his forgettable maiden season as a Met. The talk was that his signing was a dreadful one, that he could never deliver in Citi Field — the dimensions and absurdly high left-field wall (which has since been lowered) are not kind — like he could in Fenway Park. Radio hosts and writers continually derided Bay, and ridiculed at-the-time general manager Omar Minaya for making an incredibly costly mistake. Still, there was a contingent of analysts and diehards that still believed in Bay, that held out hope that his dismal first season was simply a fluke.
As I mentioned earlier, Bay is not one to flaunt his abilities and boast about what he can do. He didn’t do it in Pittsburgh when he was an All-Star and he didn’t do it Boston when he was an All-Star. And he certainly hasn’t done it while playing in the National League East. Still, Bay comes off as a prideful individual, and it is this writer’s belief that the 2009 Silver Slugger Award winner wanted to prove both to New York and to the baseball world that he hadn’t lost a step, that he was still an offensive force and a power threat at the plate. And it is for that reason, I imagine, that Bay decided that his walk-up music for 2011 would be Pearl Jam’s “Alive” — arguably one of the band’s five most popular and well-known hits — off of the iconic 1991 album “Ten.”
Bay wanted to show that he wasn’t done — not by a long shot. And what better way to exemplify that notion than to hear Vedder scream, “Oh ahhhh, ohhhhh, I’m still alive!” every time you come to the batter’s box?
Bay didn’t start the season “alive” in 2011 — in baseball terms, that is — beginning the year on the disabled list with a rib injury that sidelined him until April 21st. He showed signs of life last season, but he still wasn’t close to the player that the Mets envisioned they were getting when they lured him off the open market. He played 28 more games in ’11 than he did in ’10, but he hit for a worse average (.245) and his on-base percentage dipped (from .347 to .329). He doubled his home-run total, but that isn’t saying much considering he connected for half-a-dozen dingers the year prior. And with more games played and more home runs on his stat sheet, naturally his RBI total went up a bit, from 47 to 57.
Yes, Bay was still breathing in 2011, but he certainly wasn’t alive in the metaphorical sense of the word.
Still, I’d like to think that when Bay was deciding his walk-up music prior to Spring Training or Opening Day (whenever these guys decide these things), it was the following clip of a performance from the 1992 Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands that inspired him. I’ve often said that I’ll never be happy in life because I never had the opportunity to experience the sheer energy and electricity of this show. (It would have been rather careless for my parents to let me fly from Bergen County to attend at age four.) I think you’ll understand what I mean when you watch it.
EXHIBIT C: 2012 – State of Love and Trust
In 2012 the soft-spoken outfielder opted to walk out to “State of Love and Trust,” a lesser-known tune off of the 1992 soundtrack for “Singles,” the cult-classic film starring a young Matt Dillon and featuring Pearl Jam themselves. I believe that Bay’s decision to choose this particular song was premeditated and methodical, again more for Vedder’s lyrics than for a hard riff or a catchy chorus. Following another disappointing season — yet one in which he showed that he still can physically hit balls out of Major League stadiums — I believe that Bay’s message with this uptempo song was as clear-cut as it’s title suggests.
Bay’s message to fans was to trust him, to stick it out for yet another year and I’ll somehow acquire your trust, and maybe someday, with a couple of 11-for-15 runs here and two-homer games there (please, lord!) — your love. Wouldn’t that be something? And contrary to the large sample size of two-plus seasons of mediocrity, it appears that Bay still believes that he can once again return to being the dynamic player that he once was in Boston.
Or maybe he’s just trying to convince himself of the fact.
“Production-wise, it hasn’t been on par, I understand that,” Bay told the New York Post on Tuesday “I still feel like I can do those things – that is the frustrating part. If I didn’t feel like I can do it, I think it wouldn’t be that tough. You wouldn’t be so hard on yourself, but I feel like I can do it and it’s just been a couple of years of searching for it.”
Unfortunately, as we all know, Bay hasn’t won anybody over in what has been a bit of a Cinderella season for the Mets in 2012. He showed a tad bit of promise and power (for him, at least) before suffering a non-displaced fracture of a rib on his left side on April 23. At the time, the left fielder was batting .240 with three homers through the first month of the schedule.
But since returning from the disabled list nearly a week ago against the Yankees in the Bronx, he’s been mired in a lowly 1-for-21 skid that has dropped his line to a disturbing .183 average with a .244 OBP in 71 at-bats (entering Thursday’s matinée with the Rays).
And now, in honor of J-Bay’s first single in his second season of 2012, here is a classic, unplugged performance of “State of Love and Trust.”
So what should Bay’s walk-up music be next season in the fourth and final year of his contract? Assuming that he inexplicably goes on an unprecedented tear and finishes the year with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs (all the while cracking the Mendoza Line), I would recommend the fierce, ferocious “Animal.” However, if his lack of production persists and he concludes the campaign with a line of .220, 7 and 46, I’d opt for the dark, depressing and gloomy “Black.”
As the Mets continue their improbable run towards a National League playoff berth and fight through a devastatingly difficult June stretch, I think I can speak for all Mets supporters when I say that we’re all hoping he ends up picking the former.
Brad Kallet is a web producer for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MiLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter here.
In light of Jason Bay’s production since arriving in Queens, what do you think his walk-up song should be? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…