By Jason Keidel
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Call it what you wish. Bromance. Man Crush. Stalker.
Give it some sardonic handle. But I freely confess that I’ve always admired Curtis Granderson.
While I don’t pretend to be Studs Terkel, I’ve interviewed more than one athlete of some renown. And I’ve never spoken with someone more articulate, intelligent and thoughtful. He’s socially aware without the noxious air of activism. He recently supported his hometown Little League club, the first all-black team to reach the LLWS finals since 1981.
They are appropriately referred to as Jackie Robinson West, and Granderson knows what the name means to the game. He recently wore their jersey while warming up before a game. He’s also funded Little League teams from his native Windy City.
Yet he supports a cause without coming off as a crusader. He probably has strong views on Ferguson, global warming, immigration and the rest of the rainbow of topics. But like his game on the field, his persona is smooth, underrated and understated.
But is he now a bust?
The Mets have a woeful habit of plucking bad parts from the MLB recycle bin. Jason Bay bears the flag as perhaps the worst free-agent signing in franchise history. But he wasn’t the first or the last. We have luminaries like Bobby Bonilla, Carlos Baerga, Luis Castillo, Kaz Matsui, Vince Coleman and Ollie Perez. While those are enough to stain several teams for decades, the Mets have an almost endless red carpet of failed free agents.
Signing Granderson, of course, was supposed to have a hybrid impact. You get an articulate, meticulous and experienced leader who could be the face of any franchise. But the zero-sum reality of sports only provides for leadership if you produce on the diamond.
And if numbers are the main metric, Granderson hasn’t lived up to the four-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Mets. He’s painfully close to the Mendoza Line (.217 BA), and his power numbers (16 HR, 49 RBIs) stand in haunting contrast to his recent years across the river.
Three seasons ago, Granderson bashed 41 homers and led the American League with 119 RBIs. And two years ago, he smashed 43 home runs with 106 RBIs. And, at agge 33, you would think Ganderson is still in his prime, or at least close enough to carbon copy his Yankees stats.
And it raises an interesting question, even if the answer is elusive or impossible to provide. What happens to free agents in Flushing? Is it just a matter of a more cavernous park? If so, that doesn’t explain Shea Stadium, whose contours were pretty neutral.
So if it’s not just a matter of the physical, what about the metaphysical? Do the Mets foster a losing culture? Do new players arrive as optimists and leave as cynics? And even if the Mets burn the bloom off their best free agents, how does it carry over to each regime? The franchise has been through a slew of general managers, yet the results are identical.
There are too many examples to just say it’s a coincidence or bad luck. Granted, the Mets have signed players on the wrong side of their primes, but not all free agents were geriatrics when they landed at LaGuardia. Bay was 31. Bonilla was 29. Coleman was 29. Matsui was 28. Perez was 24.
Sure, Matsui was more of a variable because he hadn’t played in America, and Perez didn’t have a robust back of his baseball card like Coleman, Bonilla, and Bay. But how can all of them bomb?
The best Mets of the last 30 years are almost exclusively spawned by the farm. Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Jose Reyes, David Wright and Matt Harvey all emerged from the Mets’ minor leagues. Since the Frank Cashen epoch of the ’80s, which enjoyed iconic free agents like Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Ron Darling, the Mets have forgotten how to scout or study. Or something. The Mets just can’t catch a break. And it’s easier to be lucky when you’re good. It’s hard to remember the last time the Mets were both.
Though it’s ideal to produce your stars from your own system, no team can be expected to field an entire team, every year, exclusively from the draft. How many Core Fours have their been since the ’90s Yankees? That base of glittering youth was an impossible confluence of timing and talent.
So maybe Granderson is just swallowed up in the black hole of bad karma that is the New York Mets. He’s always registered many strikeouts and a relatively low average, but he’s also had hefty power numbers. Now he’s just a shadow of his former Tiger and Yankee aplomb.
This is the first time in a long time that the Mets have a fertile future. Once Harvey returns they will have a venomous pitching staff. But they still have to hit, and if Granderson wants to be part of the movement he has to figure out what went wrong once he crossed the Harlem River.
Maybe he should talk to the former failed Mets. Maybe he should just plug away and pray it gets better. Lord knows that few teams are more due for a comeback than the Mets.
And fewer players deserve a comeback more than Granderson.
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