‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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With one year and an option year remaining on his $66 million contract, there is still time for Jason Bay to turn things around.
Most likely, though, he will become an ex-Met after the 2013 season, if not before, and fall into the ranks of all the other good, hard-working guys who busted fences and won pitching duels in other cities who simply could not play under the glare of the New York spotlight.
That would be a good thing, considering the idiocy that occurred Friday night when Bay slammed the base of the Citi Field wall with his noggin and suffered a concussion. No matter the motivation behind it — and there have been many theories — there was simply no call for jeering an injured player.
That, however, is another subject. The purpose here is to say that Bay may never return to the form that saw the left fielder become a 30-plus home run hitter in both Pittsburgh and Boston. The 22 total homers he’s compiled in his first three seasons here aren’t just a function of the injuries he’s suffered — that meeting with the wall in Dodger Stadium that cost him 63 games in 2010, the ribs, this concussion. He wasn’t all that productive during his healthy times either.
Nothing has seemed to go right for the guy, so maybe it’s time the Mets consider moving him to his next stop. It’s time, just like it was for a few others in his shoes.
He’s not the first to fail in New York, you know. In fact, his New York flameout is not even the flamiest this town has seen. Not that he ever would, but at least Bay could present his many injuries as mitigating factors.
The same couldn’t be said of Ed Whitson, whose year-and-a-half in Yankees pinstripes resembled the result from putting a gallon of kerosene and a Bunsen burner in the same vicinity. That poor guy came as an injury-free and perfectly serviceable free agent pitcher, touted as the top righty available for 1985 by no less than George Steinbrenner. And maybe that was the gentlemanly Tennessean’s problem.
He was coming off a 14-8 season in San Diego, only his second double-digit win production in eight years. The pressure of living up to a five-year, $4.4 million contract — pretty big money in those days — was simply too much for him, and it torpedoed his pitching from the get-go.
And then the booing started.
This was a nice man. One of the nicest guys in the league, and a guy who worked as hard as anyone. And yet, the thoughts of having to leave his wife and little girl at home because of the relentless razzing they received in the stands haunted him. The thought of coming back to their Cleveland residence, seeing the TV covered with lip marks because his two-year-old daughter would kiss the screen every time the camera caught daddy on the mound brought him close to tears during one interview on the road.
Still, he managed to go 10-8 his first year here despite a then-career high 4.88 ERA. He even went 9-1, 2.27 in his last 16 starts. But that endeared him to neither the fans nor manager Billy Martin. In fact, Whitson’s biggest accomplishment of that season may have been his punchout of Martin in the hotel bar in Baltimore which facilitated the pugnacious manager’s firing after the season.
Whitson desperately wanted out of New York, and the Yanks obliged him by trading him back to the Padres after 14 appearances in 1986. A death threat greeted is return to the area in a start against the Mets. But he returned to his old serviceability after that, winning 57 games from 1987 to his retirement in 1991.
Doyle Alexander, Jim Fregosi, and now Bay were perfectly good elsewhere. They all came here much desired, their expectations heightened as free agents or, in the All-Star shortstop Fregosi’s case, a December, 1971 trade for Nolan Ryan.
They all watched their careers implode here; all to rise again after they left.
Maybe the same thing will happen for Bay; a good guy, a star in two other cities.
A player who deserved so much better.
Mets fans, are you ready to say goodbye to Bay? Be heard in the comments below…