For much of the last few years, Mets fans have been asking for someone to stand up in the New York Mets’ clubhouse, take charge, and lead the team. Now that he’s been designated as the “Face of the Franchise”, some would say that David Wright is that guy, and has always been destined to be that guy. He plays hard, plays hurt, and is accountable. But in the past David has not shown — to the public at least — that he’s willing to demand the same accountibility of his teammates. Mike Piazza was much the same way, letting his talents and supreme effort do his talking for him. While it isn’t fair to criticize either player for this approach, I think it is fair to wonder whether a vocal, emotional player can make a difference on a team that lacks a true veteran presence.
Compounding that lack of a “holler guy” is a front office that doesn’t seem to value those qualities in players and a manager who as reluctant as Wright o hold the players publicly accountable. That’s probably how the Mets themselves like things, nice, easy, loose, etc. And there are fans who like that as well, preferring the positive outlook and “small-town” approach.
But there’s also another portion of the Mets fan base that feels differently. Those who miss the emphatic curtain calls, the chip on their shoulder Mets who didn’t care if the rest of the league hated their guts. And as much as they like their new state of the art ballpark, there are those who miss the days of a noisy, rocking crowd that made visiting teams loathe playing in Flushing.
The Mets are young, and if David Wright is going to continue to be a quiet man, a leader is needed, and has been for some time.
Some might argue that Carlos Delgado was that leader, but others would say he was a failed and divisive one. Impact bat? Hell yes. But a leader? Leaders don’t manipulate the clubhouse, play politics behind the manager’s back, or encourage other players to do the same.
One very amiable sportswriter who covered the 2005-2008 Mets told me recently that he was very shocked at Delgado’s , “Based on what I heard about Carlos Delgado, I thought I was going to love the guy. He was progressive (referring to Delgado’s activism), was interested in politics and had the reputation of being a real stand-up guy. The reality? He was easily the biggest (bleeping) asshole I’ve ever met in baseball.”
Many would say, and I would agree with them, that one of the biggest differences between the 2007 Mets that blew one of the biggest divion leads in history anf the 2006 Mets team that dominated the NL East until falling to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS was the absence of Cliff Floyd. Though no longer a full-time player, he was a valuable bench player for the Chicago Cubs in 2007. And in 2008, a lot of folks cited his leadership skills as of of several factors in the Rays getting to the World Series.
I interviewed Cliff Floyd more than a few times during his career, and the following is an excerpt from a article I posted on the old Gotham Baseball on February 26, 2006 (thanks to WayBackMachine.com for the link)
“This is New York, man. If you try to figure it out (alone), you will get in trouble.” – Cliff Floyd
In the past few days, the word out of spring training at Port St. Lucie is that Mets’ outfielder Cliff Floyd has had a very positive influence on David Wright’s young career, serving as a mentor of sorts to the third baseman. I chuckled quietly to myself when I heard someone say “so he makes [Wright] carry his bags, and that’s serving as his mentor? [Bleep].”
Fact of the matter is, it’s not the first time Floyd has played mentor it in his career, definitely not the first time he’s done it as a Met, and not even the first time he’s done it for the left side of the infield.
It was only a year ago around this time when the questions surrounding Jose Reyes were about his ability to stay on the field, not his on-base percentage. Injuries had taken most of his first two years with the Mets, and Reyes fielded questions all last spring about his hamstrings, not his walk total.
Floyd wasn’t worried about his young teammate.
“As long as he’s in the lineup,” added left-fielder Floyd said, “good things will happen.”
Though the team’s veteran players had all been effusive in their praise for Reyes, it was Floyd who really understood what Reyes was going through.
In 1993, while in the Expos’ system, Floyd was picked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. The ranking got him the cover of the publication, and created a high level of expectation for the young first baseman. Tagged with star potential from the day he joined the Montreal organization, Floyd’s early career was stalled by a seemingly endless series of physical challenges, not only hampering his output, but threatening the career of the kid with the “Can’t Miss” label.
A wrist injury in 1995 that left him with six of the hand’s eight bones either broken or dislocated, nearly ended what was a potentially star-filled career after a collision at first base with then-Met Todd Hundley. Floyd said the injury may have caused doubts in others, but it allowed him to attack his rehab in a ferocious manner.
“I learned a lot about myself then,” Floyd said. “[Reyes] just needs to separate himself from the perception, and concentrate on his game. This is New York, man. If you try to figure it out [alone], you will get in trouble.”
Exactly 10 years later, the 2003 Top 25 prospect rankings by BA Listed Reyes as the No. 3 top minor league prospect, a fact not lost on the now-veteran Mets outfielder.
“It can be difficult [to have all of that expectation],” said Floyd. “He’s got a lot of talent, but you have to learn how to know your limits. We need him to be in the lineup every day.””I think he’s handled everything really well, the way he’s battled back [after all the setbacks].”
For Reyes, having an accomplished All-Star caliber player like Floyd encourage him and assist him in his transition back into the Mets clubhouse was priceless.
“He has been so great.” said a beaming Reyes. “He’s been talking to me so much about how to take care of myself properly and how to keep the energy in my legs.”
“He says to take it day by day, and when I feel better, everything will be OK.”
(Editor’s Note – In 2006, Reyes had arguable the best season of his career; .300 AVG, 19 HRs, 81 RBIs, 64 SBs, .841 OPS)