Standing in my in-laws’ kitchen on Saturday afternoon, I watched on my phone as David Wright delivered what very well might be the final Really Cool Thing he does in his 13-year big-league career. As Wright singled to right-center with the bases loaded (!) on a sweet inside-out slice (!!) on a 3-0 count (!!!), he bounded off the base path just around first and was promptly enveloped by a swarm of teammates and uncut joy. It was a classic Wright moment, delivering the dramatics when they were most needed, and the latest in a career that has formed the central nervous system of an entire generation of Mets fans.
This scene was both unexpected and very much in character for the Mets’ captain. The last couple of seasons have been a long string of sigh-inducing developments dotted by mini-blips of visceral happiness. He missed the 115 games last season with the spinal stenosis that still threatens to force an early retirement, but then came the home run in Philly the first night of his comeback. He hit a dreadful .185 in the 2015 playoffs, but it was his two-homer in early moments of Game 3 that led the team to its sole victory in the World Series. And he’d been mired in a .122 slump (5-for-41) before his walkoff strike over the weekend. It’s been a largely forgettable year for one of the most beloved Mets to ever put on the uniform, and if his heroics on Saturday mark the last legitimate moment of happiness his on-field play engenders, there’s nothing so tragic about that.
I don’t mean to bury Wright before his time is done, but his very apparent decline in baseball ability has cast a definite shadow on this season’s first couple of months. What started off as a simple question of whether he could reliably make throws from third to first—just think about that implication for a second—has morphed into the very legitimate possibility that his days as a contributing everyday player have effectively ended. For now, Wright’s biggest benefit is that the Mets don’t have anyone who could step right into the third base role. Hell, they don’t even have another first baseman ready to go and that’s suddenly a much more pressing concern.
It seems we’re getting a lot of this now, where good players from the mid-’00s are suddenly losing their battle against time. It comes in cycles, for sure, and we’re knee-deep in yet another go-around. Besides Wright, it’s also Josh Hamilton and Jered Weaver and Ichiro and more instances where the years of travel and wear have finally caught up to the now. This is the deal you make when you embark on this kind of career. For a long time, you think it’ll never come and you never see its approach and then one day it’s time.
Maybe this is Wright’s time and maybe it’s not, but it will come in one of these upcoming months. Yes, his contract runs through 2020, but you’re certifiable if you think he’s making it anywhere near that endpoint. What we’re witnessing is what all our sports heroes most fear: going out with a limp and not a sprint. Red Sox are (only semi-seriously) exhorting David Ortiz to stay another year because he’s still mashing baseballs with ease. Take that with you, I say. Eventually, the legends fall back on their humanness, and for as much as like to see certain players stand among us, we also appreciate the higher plane the great ones occupy simply because we can never hope to reach it.
That’s where I’m at right now. I’m not going to pretend I’ve completely worked through all of this—that should be pretty clear from the discussion Jeff, Jarrett, and I had on this very topic—but if it so happened that Wright called a hastily prepared press conference later this week and called it quits, gave up his roster spot, negotiated a buyout, etc., and let the Mets go on without him this season, I could live with that. He’s given the team so much. The Wright we see now is not the one we grew to know. The ephemeral flashes of the past, as we had on Saturday, are still enormously comforting but this slow slide is sad to witness. I wish there was a better way to say goodbye, but I’ll take every good moment left until one really is the last.
The three-run dinger against Washington last night was another Really Cool Thing. Maybe there’ll even be another to come.
Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports