When Carlos Beltran came to the Mets in 2005, he spent the season hearing more boos than cheers. This was because fans thought they were getting the best centerfielder in the game and instead got an overpaid Brian McRae. After all, if you look at the numbers posted by McRae in his first full season as a Met in 1998 and compare it to Beltran’s 2005 season, you can imagine why fans wanted a little more bang for their buck.
- McRae (1998): .264, 36 doubles, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 79 runs scored, 20 SB.
- Beltran (2005): .266, 34 doubles, 16 HR, 78 RBI, 83 runs scored, 17 SB.
The 1998 Mets were in the thick of the National League wild card race in September, but fell apart in the end. On the morning of September 8, the Mets were the wild card co-leaders with a record of 80-64. They then proceeded to go 8-10 over their final 18 games before being eliminated from wild card contention on the last day of the season. One of the main reasons for their collapse was Brian McRae. He was supposed to be the tablesetter at the top of the order for the Mets and instead ended up pulling the tablecloth off the table, shattering the hopes of Mets fans who were expecting their team to reach the postseason for the first time in a decade. Over the final 18 games, McRae hit a measly .188. For a man who was supposed to score runs and steal bases, McRae did none of that over the last three weeks of the season, scoring only six times and failing to register or even attempt a stolen base.
McRae’s poor stretch run in September carried over into the 1999 season. Through the end of July, B-Mac was hitting .221 with 8 HR, 36 RBI, 35 runs scored and only two stolen bases. Not surprisingly, the Mets and their fans lost their patience with McRae and he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. But what about Carlos Beltran? It’s true that he didn’t have a successful 2005 season, certainly not one expected of a $17 million per year outfielder, but his poor play in 2005 did not carry over to the 2006 season. In fact, the boos from the crowd quickly turned into MVP chants during the magical ’06 season.
However, despite the fact that Beltran tied the Mets’ single-season home run record by hitting a career-high 41 dingers and broke the franchise’s all-time runs scored record by crossing the plate 127 times, what do fans remember most about Beltran’s 2006 season? You got it. The visual burned into Mets’ fans brains is the one of Carlos watching Adam Wainwright’s curveball float by to give the Cardinals the National League pennant.
Never mind that Beltran scored eight runs in the seven games against St. Louis. Forget the fact that his two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLCS represented the only runs scored in the Mets’ 2-0 victory. All that mattered to fans was that he kept the bat on his shoulders on an 0-2 pitch from Cardinals’ rookie Adam Wainwright when the tying run was on second base and the pennant-winning run was on first base. Wainwright’s pitch was a Gooden-esque Lord Charles curveball taken straight out of Dwight’s 1985 repertoire. Any major leaguer would have a tough time swinging at that pitch, and if they did, odds are that they would have missed it. But no, because it was the $17 million man who took the pitch, that changed everything in the eyes of Mets fans.
Carlos Beltran followed up his 2006 season with equally impressive 2007 and 2008 seasons. In fact, it could be argued that Beltran’s three-year period from 2006 to 2008 are among the best in Mets history. The only other Mets hitters who could perhaps join the argument for best three-year stretch in franchise history are Mike Piazza and David Wright. Let’s compare the three:
- Mike Piazza (1999-2001): .309, 114 HR, 331 RBI, 271 runs scored, 6 SB
- David Wright (2006-2008): .312, 89 HR, 347 RBI, 324 runs scored, 69 SB
- Carlos Beltran (2006-2008): .278, 101 HR, 340 RBI, 336 runs scored, 66 SB
In addition to his outstanding hitting, Beltran has always been a standout defensive player. In fact, when Beltran won the National League Gold Glove in 2006, he became the first Mets outfielder in franchise history to win the prestigious award. He earned the Gold Glove in 2007 and 2008 as well, making Beltran one of only three Mets to win as many as three Gold Glove Awards (Keith Hernandez and Rey Ordoñez were the others).
But because the 2007 and 2008 seasons ended in disappointment for the Mets, Beltran’s achievements were overshadowed by the team’s performance, or lack thereof. The collapses of ’07 and ’08 were certainly not Beltran’s fault. In fact, Carlos stepped it up while the rest of the team was stepping off.
Both seasons were remembered for what the Mets accomplished in their final 17 games. What did Carlos Beltran do in each season’s final 17 games? In 2007, he blasted five home runs and drove in 17 runs (an average of one per game). The following season, he practically put the team on his back when everyone else started to fall apart. Over the final 17 games of 2008, he reached base 31 times (19 hits, 12 walks) for an on-base percentage of .419. He also produced a .305 batting average and a .581 slugging percentage. His OPS was an astonishing 1.000. Beltran produced the walk-off hit down the right field line against the Cubs during the season’s final week, one day after Daniel Murphy was stranded on third base representing the winning run with no one out in the bottom of the ninth inning (Carlos was intentionally walked in that inning). On the last day of the season, with Shea Stadium hosting its final game, it was Beltran who erased a 2-0 Marlins lead with a two-run homer into the bleachers.
Even in 2009, when everyone and their mothers went down with injuries, who kept the team afloat during the early part of the season? Like I need to ask.
One by one, over the early part of the 2009 season, players were checking into the DL Hotel. Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado liked it so much, they decided to stay for the entire season. Other players who weren’t getting hurt were having subpar seasons, such as David Wright. However, despite the injuries and Wright leaving his power stroke in his penthouse apartment, Carlos Beltran almost single-handedly kept the Mets in contention. In fact, on May 29, the Mets found themselves in first place with a 27-20 record. The next day, the injury bug caught up to Beltran and he had to be removed from the game in the sixth inning of an eventual Mets loss. The National League batting leader at the time, Beltran missed the next three games before coming back on June 4. However, Beltran was not 100% ready to play, returning only because the lineup was devoid of good hitters and their grip on first place was slipping away. The early return ended up costing Beltran two and a half months of playing time, as he finally succumbed to the pull of the DL Hotel. At the time of his last game on June 21, the Mets were in second place, only two games behind the division-leading Phillies. When he returned on September 8, the Mets had dropped to fourth place and were 17 games out of first.
Fast forward to the 2010 season. Carlos Beltran again missed significant time due to injuries. When he finally returned after the All-Star Break, the Mets were still in contention. However, his return coincided with the Road Trip From Hell, a trip that saw the Mets lose nine of eleven games in San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles. Beltran’s slow start upon his return was viewed by fans as one of the reasons why the team faltered in the second half. Of course, no one seemed to notice that Beltran ended the season blazing hot. Over the last month of the season (Sept. 4 – Oct. 3), Beltran hit .353. Prior to this stretch, Carlos was only hitting .211 with two home runs and 15 RBI. In that last month, he ripped five home runs and drove in 12 runs.
Of course, that last month was also the month that Beltran, along with Mets pariahs Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, did not attend the Mets’ annual visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Because of the fans’ overwhelming hatred for Perez and Castillo, Beltran’s no-show lumped him into their group and made him the latest focus of the fans’ vitriol. The fans did not care that he had already visited a Veterans Hospital in New York with Fred Wilpon months before and had a prior commitment in Puerto Rico with his Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy. In the eyes of the fans, Beltran was now stuck on the Island of Misfit Toys with Perez and Castillo with no Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to save him.
So now Beltran is making the rounds on Twitter and appearing at Mets functions for the fans. He is still active with his baseball academy and in the community in his adopted city of New York. He claims he is ready to go and that he plans on having a great season in the final year of his contract. I tend to believe him. I was present at the Mets MVP Reception last week and witnessed the transformation of Carlos Beltran from quiet, unassuming, productive player (a la Kevin McReynolds) to vocal leader. He wanted Mets fans to believe not only in his ability to produce a solid season, but in the team itself. He wants to be here. He wants to produce for the team. He wants the fans to support him and especially the team.
Carlos Beltran is an intelligent man. He knows that if he wants another lucrative multi-year contract, he’ll have to shake off his injuries and produce an All-Star caliber season for the Mets in 2011. He did that in 2004 when he nearly had a 40-40 season for the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros, combining for 38 HR and 42 SB for the two teams. He upped the ante in the playoffs for Houston, having one of the most impressive postseasons in baseball history, which led to his seven-year deal with the Mets.
He will do everything he can to put up the season Mets fans expected of him when he signed with the team in 2005. He will try to approach his numbers from 2006 to 2008, numbers that gave him the best three-year stretch for any Mets outfielder in franchise history. Despite all this, some fans will always dislike Carlos Beltran. They will never forget his subpar 2005 season. They will never forget the called strike three against Adam Wainwright. They will never forget his inability to stay on the field for the most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. They will never forget his absence from the team trip to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. If they choose to remember Carlos Beltran for what he didn’t do, then they will miss out on everything he has done, and what he has done are the things that make him one of the greatest players ever to put on a Mets uniform.
There were fans who booed Mike Piazza when he first became a Met in 1998. Those fans came around and are now asking for his number to be retired. Carlos Beltran is a special player in his own right, both on and off the field. Do yourself a favor and look back at the entire Mets career of Carlos Beltran. I’m sure you’ll find that those boos you were ready to unleash upon him will turn into cheers in no time.