By Jason Keidel
On Sunday, The New York Times ran an interesting piece on Jose Reyes’s return to New York City. The headline read: ‘Mets May Be Best Equipped to Make Reyes a Better Person.’
What a clever way to flip the script. Who can argue with self-help? Instead of hiring an alleged wife-beater, the Mets are now Father Flanagan, or Tony Robbins 2.0. The Mets are no longer a baseball club but rather a cluster of life coaches. In an age when we are allegedly more aware of and sensitive to the plague of domestic violence, we really pay little more than lip service.
Indeed, if you’re wondering how long the Mets’ brass brooded over the decision to bring back troubled former star Jose Reyes, it took 75 minutes. The Mets were that eager to land a player that so disgusted his employer, the Colorado Rockies, that they devoured the $38 million left on his deal just to get rid of him.
Reyes was arrested in Hawaii on charges that he assaulted his wife in a hotel. The incident, says the Times, “adds a layer of complexity to his return.”
That’s one way of putting it.
Another way is saying the Mets, like most teams, don’t care how bad you are off the field as long as you produce on it. The Mets are banking on the solemn reality that just about any misdeed will blow away like a foul ball over Wrigley Field.
In the zero-sum calculus of pro sports, an athlete’s charm is solely commensurate with his ability to produce. The Mets could sign John Wayne Gacy and half the ballpark would cheer him if he hit 30 home runs. There has to be some middle ground between the blissful indifference of the ’50s, when just a handful of reporters nuzzled up to star athletes, and today’s TMZ world, where nothing is private or sacred.
Back in the day we had no idea of a player’s malfeasance. Everything was swept under the “boys will be boys” rug. Sadly, we haven’t evolved as much as we think. Now we give a player second, third and fourth chances under the guise of penance and repentance. We wrap pro players in the American flag and belch some bromides about forgiveness.
The Mets were the Big Apple’s core last year because of their run and the fun they so clearly had. The combination of a hot streak and the youthful innocence (and accompanying ignorance) was infectious.
The Mets have been a team of character and characters. David Wright and Curtis Granderson are great leaders and great guys, gifted and giving of their time. The team has the requisite goofballs, from Bartolo Colon to Noah Syndergaard, who pays comical homage to his handle, Thor, by thanking Odin after wins.
And they were easy to root for. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Cespedes with his comic book heroics, Daniel Murphy with his autumn thunder were all good and goofy guys, creating an alchemy that can’t be planned.
Now the Mets take a chance by bringing back a bad guy who used to be good, whose wide, bright smile lit up Shea Stadium for years. These days, of course, Reyes spends more time on the police blotter than in the lineup.
This isn’t 2003, when Reyes broke into baseball, or 2011, when he left New York as batting champ. This is 2016, the season before which Jose Reyes was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife. MLB thought there was enough proof to suspend him for 51 games.
We can toss around recycled caveats like “allegedly” and “reportedly,” but the Mets know darn well they’re getting damaged goods, which could exact some karmic tax on a team that heretofore has worn the white hat. It seems we need more than an arrest and suspension to sour us on someone. We need a video. We need graphic and gruesome crime scene photos.
Ray Rice is the new standard. The irony is that Ray Rice seems most repentant of all, yet he won’t ever get another shot because his crime was shot on video.
The Mets and their media minions will paint some pastoral tableau of the native son coming home. Don’t buy it. Jose Reyes isn’t getting another shot because the Mets care about him or have any desire to make him a better person. The Mets can’t hit and have holes all around the diamond. Signing Reyes was cold, calculated business.
This story happens to be in New York, but it’s hardly a New York story. This is a national narrative, and crisis. As we just learned (again) from the atrocities committed at Baylor, players so often aren’t punished, persecuted or imprisoned for assaulting women. It’s a somber exception to the penal code.
And the more we try to discard our lives and lose ourselves in the blissful oasis of baseball, the more we’re reminded it’s a business, a sad, bad business like any other.
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.