By Jason Keidel
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You don’t have to be a slavish Mets devotee to scratch your head at recent events.
Forget the pitching, which is the lifeblood of any club, especially the Mets. But looking at their lineup, any baseball fan is likely bothered or bewildered by that skeleton crew they call a team.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to believe this is the same franchise that was in the World Series just two years ago, in the playoffs last year, and widely regarded as a contender for years to come.
It’s amazing how a few months can forever alter the arc of a franchise. The Mets (54-68) are in fourth place in a division with just one team holding a winning record, a cool 20 games behind the Washington Nationals.
On this date in 2015, the Mets were 64-56, in first place, four games ahead of the Nats.
Indeed, over the last month the Mets have unofficially yet loudly said goodbye to the club that came within a few blown saves of winning the 2015 World Series. This weekend the Chicago Cubs claimed catcher Rene Rivera, who joined outfielder Jay Bruce, second baseman Neil Walker, first baseman Lucas Duda and reliever Addison Reed as former Mets, many of whom were cornerstone players on a team we thought would contend for the 2017 playoffs.
And now the Mets have lost not only a foundation player, but also their finest person.
The latest casualty of this spoiled baseball stew of injury and incompetence was Curtis Granderson, who was just shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Granderson was more than just a fine baseball player. He was the face of the Mets’ revival in 2014. Along with their sudden influx of young, flame-throwing pitchers, Granderson was not only a veteran voice, but a mature man who handled himself properly on the diamond and flawlessly away from it.
And in the zero-sum calculus of sports, where production trumps character, those of us who cover sports for a living can assert with proud certainty that Granderson is as nice a human being as you’ll ever find in a high-end athlete, or celebrity of any stripe.
When Granderson was a Yankee, I spent a few summer nights at his locker, asking questions about his and the club’s status. If anyone had an excuse to big-time a reporter he never met, it was Granderson when I met him in 2011. He was having the best year of his career, a season in which he finished with 41 homers, while leading the AL in RBIs (119) and runs scored (136).
Yet each time, an interview morphed into a conversation, during which I learned much more than the state of his limbs. I learned how to be a professional. Ever since he entered the majors, Granderson was a spokesman, a symbol of dignity, decency, and intelligence. While most athletes wave you off or turn their back after a few questions, the more you speak to Granderson, the more engaged and engaging he becomes. Baseball just happens to be his profession. But he was a pro long before he grabbed a bat.
So it’s telling, if not fitting, that the Mets let him go. This is a franchise that has plunged from the top rungs of the sport to its familiar place as cellar-dwelling, excuse-making afterthoughts. The Mets are also second-class citizens in their own city, and truly haven’t owned this town since the 1980s.
Oddly enough, Granderson’s new team, the Dodgers, hasn’t won a championship since 1988. It’s hard to think of anyone in the dusk of their respective careers who deserves a World Series ring more than Granderson, a perfect fusion of the best team in the sport and the best person.
He doesn’t have the requisite numbers for a call to Cooperstown, but if there were a Hall of Fame for human beings Granderson would be first-ballot, the first unanimous choice in history.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel