By Jason Keidel » More Columns
Where were you 13 years ago?
While we’d all like to think our worlds improve exponentially with time, follows that golden arc up to our respective peaks, it doesn’t always shake out that way.
But that’s almost always the case with high-end pro athletes. Especially those at the apex of American team sports.
In 2003, Jose Reyes was more than a precocious prospect for the Mets. He was the baby-faced future of the franchise. He and David Wright were pulling open the curtain on a new, glittering era. The left side of the Mets infield was set for the next 15 years.
While the Wright/Reyes tandem didn’t yield the expected rings – thanks in part to Yadier Molina in 2006 – Reyes still had a heralded career, including a batting title in his final season.
But not even that ended well, with Reyes removing himself from the final game, after his first at-bat, to secure his batting crown with a .337 average. It chaffed more than a few faithful, including Jerry Seinfeld, who griped to WFAN host Steve Somers. Jerry echoed the sentiment of the masses, who got the sense that Jose was becoming about Jose.
Over his entire time in Gotham, Reyes batted .292, with 370 steals and 740 runs scored. He was great at times, but left New York with a sense of loss, if not a void in his resume. Reyes dazzled us with his bat, glove, legs, and looks. He was not supposed to leave at 28, if ever.
Between Reyes’s appetite for money and the Mets’ allergy to spending it, most of Gotham realized that would be the last they would see of their beloved shortstop, who fled to Florida in the winter of 2011.
But Reyes got a fraction of what he expected from the open market in Miami. And he played for a team renowned for imploding and then detonating the club nearly every leap year. Hence Reyes was shipped to Toronto, where he complained of the concrete surface of the infield.
Then Reyes was shipped to Colorado. Then, of course, Toronto took off as soon as he left, winning 20 of their next 22 games behind Troy Tulowitzki. The Blue Jays came within a whisker of the World Series, while Reyes rotted in the Rockies. Indeed, if that weren’t bad enough, his old Mets came to town, during which their newest import, Yoenis Cespedes had a game for the ages, whacking three homers and driving in double-digit runs.
The ignominy didn’t end there with Reyes, who has since been arrested for a domestic violence incident, which is still being adjudicated. But MLB has made it clear that Reyes isn’t welcome back to the club until his case runs its course. And that comes from on high, by edict of commissioner Rob Manfred, which gives you a sense of how haunting this issue is.
In a turn of terrible symmetry, Reyes will stand trial on April 4 for allegedly assaulting his wife at a hotel in Hawaii in October. That’s also the day the Rockies begin the regular season.
Of course, if Reyes is convicted, then that trumps any of his misdeeds on the field, and there will be little reason to root for him, and thus his career will end on several sad footnotes.
His old mate, Wright, may be struggling with injuries, particularly a bad case of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that precludes Wright from playing every day.
But still, Wright got a lifetime achievement contract from the Mets, significantly larger and longer than the deal Reyes got from the Marlins. And while he’s not the same player, he’s on a better team, in the town that drafted, developed, and adores him.
It’s surely not lost on Reyes that the Mets were in the World Series last year, and are favored to contend for another pennant.
Reyes is toiling in Colorado, about 2,000 miles from Flushing. But while the new Kings of Queens are basking in Broadway’s glow, Reyes may as well be a continent away. Even worse, he’s likely to end his career well short of a World Series, and galaxies away from Cooperstown – two places he was all but assured in 2003, when he and Wright were primed to put a dent into the back-page eminence and dominance of the Yankees. It was the Mets who were set to bogart the bold ink from the Bronx Bombers.
Yet it never happened.
For all the years, teams and towns he’s in which he’s played, he still leaves you with a sense of loss or longing. He turns 33 in June, clearly deep on the back-nine of his career. And if he retired tomorrow, he would leave the game with 118 HR, 621 RBI, 337 doubles, and a robust, but not iconic, .290 batting average. His 479 steals are lovely, but not commensurate to his talent.
With an anemic, .339 on-base percentage – including 747 strikeouts and just 494 walks – he just wasn’t on the basepaths enough to ring up epic numbers, especially for a leadoff hitter. And while four All-Star appearances would satisfy most players, Reyes should have been draped in midsummer classics.
Maybe you had to be in New York City to see and feel his talent, and his palpable potential. He only played in at least 150 games five times in 13 seasons, and played in fewer than 100 games four times. It started with back problems, which then spread like weeds all over his body. Despite the hype you find in America’s media vortex, Reyes’s talent was never overstated. He was that good. Or should have been that good.
Reyes was always something of an enigma, even in NYC, where characters are as embraced as gleefully as character. Young, handsome, and absurdly gifted, his megawatt smile beaming like Broadway, he seemed to have more than the Big Apple in his glove.
Some of his poor career turns were happenstance. But he’s well on the wrong side of 30 and on the wrong side of the law. New York is accustomed to biblical falls from grace. From Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry to Mike Tyson to Lawrence Taylor, the soap operatic plunge from penthouse to outhouse is common. Page Six is swathed with failure.
Sadly, it seems Jose Reyes is about to join them.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.