Come Back, Carlos Beltran, All Is Forgiven

I wonder what kind of reaction Carlos Beltran will get when he comes to bat tonight at Citifield? Will fans respond to him as if he was, perhaps, the best all-around player the Mets had over 7 seasons?

I can't blame Mets fans if they don't remember it that way. I didn't even remember Beltran myself a couple of weeks back when talking about David Wright as the Mets' best all-around player. Wright has been a great, great player, but Beltran was better. I don't think you'd get too much argument from most baseball analysts if you said that Beltran was the most underrated player from 1999 (his first full season in the majors, when he hit 22 home runs, drove in 108 runs, and stole 27 bases) to this year.

What a long, strange trip it's been for Carlos. After playing with the Kansas City Royals for 6 full years -- driving in over 100 runs in 5 of those -- it was common to read baseball writers claiming that "If this guy played in New York, everyone would know how great he is." Well, in 2005 he came to New York, where, in 839 games he hit 149 home runs, stole 100 bases, and played a terrific centerfield - and remained the most underrated player in baseball. (He still holds the Mets record for the most home runs in a season with 41 - or rather, is tied with Todd Hundley, who hit 41 in 1996. I'll bet you didn't know Hundley had half that record; I didn't know it myself until I looked it up.)

Then, in the big Mets shakeup of 2011, he was sent to the Giants, where all he did was hit .323 in 44 games, and then he went to the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, where, going into tonight's game, he leads the National League in home runs with 15 and is second in RBIs, 42. (Those numbers have done much to ease the hurt St. Louis fans must feel over losing Albert Pujols.)

A few questions that have been sitting in my notebook for a couple of years: One: Why, oh why, didn't the Yankees spring for this guy at least once during the four times he was available over the years? Since his knee surgery in 20102, he hasn't played centerfield, but he's played a terrific right field, and I bet the Yankees could have talked him into playing left field. Where do you think the Yankees would be right now if they had him there?

Two: Do fans who watch Carlos Beltran understand that they are looking at a viable Hall of Fame candidate? At age 34 he isn't likely to get far over 400 home runs - he has 317 now - and the next base he steals will put him over .300 career-wise. The career batting average, .284, doesn't overwhelm. But his OBP for 15 seasons, .362, is excellent, as is his slugging percentage, .500. If he drives in more than 100 runs this season, it will be for the 8th time.

So what will fans think of when he comes to bat tonight in a Cardinals uniform? Will they remember the called strike to end the 2006 National League Championship series against the same Cardinals? Or will they recall him as the guys whose 3 home runs propelled the Mets into that final game?

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