Mined from the notebooks, Thursday night, October 4, 2018. Posted Saturday morning, October 6.
The Captain says goodbye: Mets great David Wright walks off the field to tremendous applause and not a few tears after his making his final appearance as a player, Saturday night, September 29, 2018. Photo by Demtrius Freeman, courtesy of the New York Times.
Last Saturday night, when we got home from running some errands, I absent-mindedly turned on the Mets game. I hadn’t been paying them much attention the last week. The only interesting thing left to their season was whether de Grom was going to finish with a winning record. (He did. 10-9. Increases his chances of winning the Cy Young. Apparently some of the baseball writers who’ll be voting on the Award aren’t easy with the idea of giving it to a pitcher with a losing record even though they know a pitcher doesn’t actually win games, he keeps the other team from scoring enough runs to win them while his team scores enough to win. De Grom did the job this season better than any other pitcher in baseball. The Mets hitters didn't do their job in return.) I didn’t even know for sure the Mets were playing or who their opponent would be or if de Grom was pitching. They were. It was the Marlins. He wasn’t, Matz was. And I didn’t know this was happening.
David Wright, the Captain, the best position player the Mets have had over the last ten years, their best hitter since Piazza left in 2005, their best all-around human being maybe of all time, was playing his last game.
Wright only played in two games this season. Saturday night’s and Friday’s, when he just had one plate appearance as a pinch hitter. He hadn’t played much the two seasons previous. Spinal stenosis and operations on his back, shoulder, and neck took too much of a toll. He was determined to return to the field but his body just wouldn’t heal well enough.
Wright played four innings at third. He got one last at bat in the bottom of the fourth.
Wright swung at a 1-0 fastball from the rookie Trevor Richards. He smiled as the ball climbed higher and higher, but not far enough to fall into the stands. First baseman Peter O’Brien drifted over — somewhat reluctantly, it seemed — and caught it for the out. That would be the moment that ended Wright’s career, and the fans booed O’Brien with gusto the next time he batted.
Mets manager Micky Callaway let Wright take the field at the top of the fifth then…
He fielded one last warm-up grounder before the top of the fifth, and made one last sidearm throw to pitcher Steven Matz. Then he hugged Reyes and shook hands with the third base umpire Mike Winters as Manager Mickey Callaway switched Amed Rosario into the game.
Wright waved to the Marlins, who cheered him from their dugout. His eyes looked moist, but he never stopped smiling, embracing Rosario as he crossed the foul line and then hugging each of his teammates and coaches. It was over.
The hometown crowd went wild. No other great Mets player in the team’s fifty-six year history got a moment like this---Not Seaver. Not Keith. Not Carter. Not Doc or Straw. Not Piazza or Fonzie. Not even Mookie, who is probably still the most beloved Met ever after Wright. Maybe even ahead of Wright. By one smile wattage at most, though. That’s because no other great Met played the final season of his career with the Mets so he didn’t play last game ever at Shea or CitiField. Odds are it won’t ever happen again, not any time soon, unless the Mets keep Reyes on for next season and he retires at the end of it instead of seeking his last at bats elsewhere. If one of the other current Mets gets such a moment, it’s likely going to be one of the kids---Conforto, Nimmo, McNeil, or Rosario---but that could be fifteen or so years from now and I may not be here to see it. I expect de Grom and Syndergaard will be lost to free agency sooner rather than later, Wright only got the moment because he finally admitted to himself he couldn’t play anymore.
He’s thirty-five. If his body hadn’t betrayed him he could have probably played five more years. He might have played them all with the Mets. Might have. But he was only signed through 2020. The way the economics of the game work, the Mets probably wouldn’t have made a serious enough effort to re-sign him and he’d have taken a better offer from some other team looking for a DH or clutch pinch hitter or a mentor for their young infielders. His last game at CitiField he’d have worn that other team’s uniform. Mets fan would have cheered for him by way of a goodbye, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Even so, fans---and Wright himself most of all---would rather have had those two extra years.
The other thing that made the moment bittersweet was that he was having the moment at CitiField that he won’t be having at Cooperstown.
As our friend and former boss and fellow and more long-suffering Mets fan Tom Watson---I think he enjoys the suffering. Me, I’m happy to take what I can get from the Amazins’---pointed out, the years of playing hurt and the last two seasons not playing at all cost him the home runs and RBIs that would have earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame third basemen are expected to hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em often, and hit ‘em with effect. Wright finished with a .296 average but with only 242 home runs and 970 batted in. 300 HRs and 1000 RBIs and he’d have had a better chance to see his plaque.
Still, it was quite a moment.
Saturday night the applause and the cheers and the tears went on for I lost track of how many mintues. I stood up from the couch here and cheered and applauded and cried right along.
I was crying for the Captain, of course. And like all aging fans do at moments like this, I was crying for my own lost youth. But mainly I was crying because my first impulse when I realized the moment was going to happen was to call Pop Mannion and make sure he was watching…
I have many happy memories of Pop but usually when I just think of him I see him and I and watching a ball game together, and usually it’s a specific game. It’s the summer of ‘86, August 27, and I’m home on a visit from Indiana. The Mets, on their way to winning 110 games and headed for the World Series, are playing the Padres out in San Diego. Game goes into extra innings. Bottom of the 11th. Mets up now, 6-5, but the Padres are threatening, with men on second and third. I forget who was at bat for San Diego but he lines a grounder into center field where Lenny Dykstra picks it up on the run and without breaking stride throws a bullet to John Gibbons whose catching in place of Gary Carter. Gibbons gets knocked down by the runner coming home but tags him for the out, then scrambles to his feet and fires it to third baseman Howard Johnson to get the runner trying to take third from second for the third and final out. This happens in seconds. Game over like that. Mets win. “Just your routine double play,” deadpans Mets announcer Tim McCarver.
Watching baseball together seems to define my relationship with Pop. This goes way back, to the 1967 World Series. They played every game in the afternoon back then. Sister Mary Carmel let us watch the first few innings of each game on a portable TV she had rolled into the classroom when she told us we could put our books away. As soon as school let out, I'd rush home to catch the rest of the game, taking detailed notes so that I could tell Pop what he missed when he got home from work, having left the office early so he could watch the last couple of innings. I was proud of my reporting and Pop seemed appreciative. It didn’t occur to me until some years later that he’d have been listening on the car radio on the drive home and I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. Of course, he never let on.
We watched baseball together even after I moved out of the house, whenever I came home to visit, of course, but also virtually, keeping each other abreast by phone of whatever we were each watching. It still surprises me every time I realize we won’t be doing this anymore.
I’d have called him Saturday if I could have, but he wouldn’t have needed the call. He’d have been watching. He’d have known what was coming. He always did a much better job than I did of keeping track of what the Mets were up to. It’s one of my minor regrets that we never got the chance to talk about de Grom and whether he should win the Cy Young.
But the Mets were Pop’s second team. First and always he rooted for the Dodgers. He just couldn’t watch them as often as he’d have liked. If he has any minor regrets, it’s that he won’t get to root the Dodgers on to the World Series. He’d have especially enjoyed a Dodgers-Red Sox series, the Sox being his American League team. I can’t decide if he’d been dismayed or excited if it turns out to be another Dodgers-Yankees series.
The Dodgers have started their playoff run against the Braves tonight. I’m not watching. I can’t. The game’s on MLB TV and I don’t subscribe. It’s just as well.
All game long there’d be moments when I’d get the urge to call Pop. Mood I’m in, I’m not sure I could stand the disappointment every time it hit me he wouldn’t be there to answer.