Carlos Beltran: Remembering a Great Career

It's a shame that Carlos Beltran couldn't have delivered something more fitting than a soft fly ball to left in his final at-bat as a Met. But the fans at Citi Field yesterday didn't seem to care. In fact, the twin chants of "Car-los Bel-tran" and "Fare-well, Carlos" wafted through the stands and followed him back to the dugout.

No one believes that Beltran will still be a Met when the team returns home from its 10-day road trip, which begins tonight against the Florida Marlins (and ends in Washington).

Before he's gone, let's take time to appreciate what Mets fans are only now beginning to understand has been one of the greatest careers in team history. For Beltran's 14 seasons -- seven with the Mets -- he might have been the best all-around player in the big leagues.

Because he's never hit for a particularly high batting average - just .282 with the Mets and .280 overall - this has seldom been noticed. But he will finish this season with over 300 home runs lifetime and just under 300 stolen bases, and he has won three Gold Gloves in centerfield, all with the Mets. It's far from inconceivable that a couple more good seasons would make him a clear Hall of Fame candidate.

Unfortunately, Carlos will be remembered by many for two very unfortunate things. The first, of course, is taking that called strike three against the Cardinals in the final game of the 2006 National League Championship Series - we even read about Mets owner Fred Wilpon mocking him for it in the New Yorker profile by Jeffrey Toobin. It's absolutely astonishing that a player with such a fabulous postseason record - a .366 BA in 22 postseason games with 11 home runs and eight stolen bases in eight attempts - would be remembered by so many for a single called strike.

The other is the way he angered Mets management when he chose to go ahead with knee surgery during the off-season against the wishes of the front office. In this call, the Mets' brass were way, way off base: No team has the right to tell a player to act against the recommendation of his own personal physician. And in retrospect, it must be said, Beltran made the right decision, as Chris Cwik wrote a few days ago on Fangraphs:

Beltran has proved the doubters wrong this season. While he may no longer be a threat to steal bases, he's actually been alright on the base paths this year . . . that could be an indication that his knee isn't bothering him as much as it did last season. At the plate, it's been more of the same for Beltran. All of his peripherals are in line with his career averages - with the slash line actually being slightly better than usual . . .

A final note on Carlos: There are ways of calculating the statistic "wins above replacement," which attempts to measure a player's overall contribution to his team at bat, in the field, and on the bases. Baseball Reference, for instance, rates Beltran as the second most valuable Mets regular, only after Darryl Strawberry; Fangraphs rates him third behind David Wright and Strawberry.

For what it's worth, I'm going to rate him - among Mets regulars here for at least seven seasons - as the third best, after Mike Piazza and Darryl. And I hope that when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame he chooses to forgive the shortsightedness of the Mets' front office and wear a blue cap with an orange NY on it.


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