On Tuesday, reports surfaced that the Mets were seriously considering bringing back embattled shortstop Jose Reyes–one of the team’s most popular and productive players during the 00s–to fill the team’s offensive and infield void. While this might normally be newsworthy for baseball reasons, Reyes’s actions off the field have made him a well-deserved target of criticism and anger.
As reported through numerous outlets, Reyes was arrested on domestic violence charges over the offseason in Hawai’i. Though the charges were later dropped (due to a lack of cooperation from the victim), reports indicated that he had grabbed his wife by the throat, pushed her through a sliding glass door, and inflicted injury enough to result in a trip to the emergency room. While the nature of the dropped charges require us to use terms like “allegedly” and “reportedly” when talking about the actions of that night, there’s little debate over the fact that what occurred was a bleak example of domestic violence–a continued problem in professional sports–and truly abhorrent personal behavior.
The Colorado Rockies unceremoniously dumped Reyes as soon as his league-mandated suspension (51 games) ended, making him a free agent able to be signed for the league minimum. With the Mets struggling, missing team captain David Wright, and looking for an offensive burst, it seems as if any improvement at the hot corner would be invaluable. Now 33 years old, Reyes is a far cry from the superstar speedster he was when he began his Mets career, but there’s a chance he could still be productive in a diminished role on a team like the Mets. The decision to add Reyes could–possibly–be a good one from a pure performance and value perspective.
So this is the part of one of my articles where I’d normally look at the PECOTA or Steamer or ZiPS projections and try to suss out just how good he might be at Citi Field. I could try to come up with whether he’d be an upgrade or not over the myriad options the Mets have in their infield. But I’m not going to do that today, because doing that brings me face-to-face with an uncomfortable truth: that kind of performance analysis actually may matter.
Let’s get into the realm of the hypothetical for a moment. If Reyes isn’t a dramatic upgrade over Wilmer Flores or Ty Kelly or whomever else the Mets run out in their infield, then most people’s inclination would probably be to ignore him. The Mets have no real reason to add a player who would invoke a public relations nightmare or alienate the team’s fans. At the same time, baseball teams have a history of ignoring personal issues–criminal, civil, and otherwise–in order to field the best possible baseball team.
Here’s where I come to the hardest thing to grapple with–personally–in this discussion: I hate the fact that I have a different visceral reaction about the acquisition of Reyes depending on his performance. I am, at least theoretically, one of the persons most likely to give Reyes “a pass” and embrace him back as a member of the New York Mets. I’m male, have been fortunate enough to live a life never touched directly by domestic violence, and once counted Reyes as my favorite player (2003-2007). I believe in statistical analysis of player performance.
But I also have empathy and a conscience and sense of right and wrong, and the idea of Reyes’s actions in Hawai’i nauseate me. This is not how men–how humans–should conduct themselves. On a basic level, I want nothing to do with a person who commits acts of violence and disrespect like this, whose behavior stands counter to what I believe to be right. On another basic level, I recognize that if Reyes were to be the caliber of player of a Nolan Arenado or Manny Machado, I may feel differently about the Mets acquiring him. I care (too) deeply about this team’s success, despite myself.
My gut tells me that I’d find a way to root for him because I found a way to root for Daniel Murphy last year, despite comments about same-sex relationships that I found odious and repugnant. Of course, Murphy’s homophobia is an opinion and not a violent, criminal behavior; the behaviors of those two former Mets aren’t at all the same thing, though they might inspire similar feelings of disgust and discomfort in me as a fan. I rooted for Murphy’s on-field performance–not loudly, not without conflicting feelings–because I found a way to separate the man from the actions on the field. And if Reyes were the next coming of Evan Longoria, perhaps that same thing might happen again.
But we’re more than our guts. We’re more than our worst actions, and we have the capacity to improve and to change. Although I’m an optimist and believe in redemption and recovery, although I recognize that Mets fandom makes me strange and irrational, I don’t want to be morally conflicted when I watch a ballgame. I don’t want to see and hear and read short-sighted profiles on Reyes’ “redemption” and how the clubhouse has embraced their former friend. I’d be a hypocrite to say I don’t believe in second chances, or that Reyes may not eventually deserve some level of forgiveness for his actions. But I also don’t believe that the redemption he may or may not seek could ever, possibly, be found on a baseball diamond. That kind of redemption would come from a life led better than most, of a full understanding of the nature of his crime, and a lifelong, heartfelt, and impassioned attempt to prevent similar actions from ever taking place. It would not come from two triples and a Web Gem.
I want to be better than my ingrained desire to root for the Mets. I believe that not every bad act needs to be forgiven or forgotten so easily. I believe that the Mets–who already have a complicated history with women and female fans–should take the path away from Reyes, and not diminish the seriousness of his offenses by granting him another platform to achieve glory.
So as much as I want the Mets to chase down the Nationals, return to the World Series, and finally win a championship that I can remember (sorry, 1986–I was four), I don’t want this team to sign Jose Reyes. I don’t want them to trade for Aroldis Chapman. And if Noah Syndergaard or Yoenis Cespedes or a freshly-signed Bryce Harper ever commit a similar act, I’d want them to cut bait on that player too.
We have to be more than our worst actions, our impulses to win (or even just have fun) over everything, and our desire to neglect the bad in favor of the “good.” I’d like to continue to be that person. I’d like the Mets to start being that team.
Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports