If This Isn’t Farewell, David Wright, it Probably Should Be
At the time of this writing, David Wright has just completed surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck — the latest in a line of procedures for his rapidly declining spinal column. Leading to his latest stay on what has become an annual extended DL visit.
While Mets fans have come to expect these setbacks, there’s something about this one that feels … different.
This one feels like the end.
You know what else feels different? For the first time since David’s body began to fail him, I think fans are willing to say goodbye. He might be, as well.
Ailing, but never failing
I won’t mince words — it has been insanely difficult to watch David Wright’s play diminish at such an ungodly rate. The bad swings and worse fielding often made fans wonder why we ever pulled for the guy to begin with. A career that seemed destined to end in Cooperstown instead will end with more “what if“s than “remember when“s.
And that hurts.
David Wright never got into a drunken slapfight with a fan. He never turned down an autograph. And he sure as hell never left pre-made gift baskets for a queue of bedroom conquests. He was just a nice, wide-eyed kid who always seemed to find the positive in teams that rarely deserved such optimism.
In turn, few players could get away with such erratic performance over such an extended period, much less hold a team captaincy. But few players ingratiated themselves to the New York market quite like David Wright.
And few players could endure so many DL visits without casting overwhelming shadows of doubt, in and out of the clubhouse.
Ridiculous strikeout rates, lack of clutch hitting, and diminishing arm strength would have relegated any other individual to AAA. But David Wright’s possible last game in a Mets uniform saw him manning third base, and batting high in the order.
Because he earned it.
Sure, Wright’s “aw shucks,” good guy demeanor seems out of place in a market so driven by arrogance. And he never quite took the town by storm the same way as his crosstown counterparts, but David Wright was — and is — just as iconic.
Whereas other New York stars all exuded swagger befitting a premier-caliber team of celebrities, Wright instead displayed unwavering devotion and blind loyalty to a franchise that often failed him.
This is why, when free agency came calling, the Mets rewarded Wright with a contract few fans ever expected to see go the distance. But one we never thought it would be cut this short, either.
A back no longer capable of carrying the team
David’s numbers haven’t painted him as an offensive leader in some time, making it easy to forget just how “amazin'” he’s been for this franchise. For example:
- New York Mets all star leader
- New York Mets career RBI leader
- New York Mets career doubles leader
- New York Mets career total bases leader
- New York Mets career runs scored leader
- New York Mets career hits leader
- New York Mets career walks leader
- New York Mets career runs created leader
- New York Mets career extra base hits leader
- New York Mets career times on base leader
- New York Mets career sacrifice flies leader
Yet, his captaincy was never really about statistics. Emotional leader. Spiritual guide. Veteran presence. Whatever you want to call it, David had an intangible “it” that made him a natural choice to lead the Mets back to prominence.
But it’s impossible for him to do so when he can’t be on the field. And for that reason, part of me hopes this surgery represents the moment a still-young man makes a mature decision to step aside and let a young team find its new leader.
It would also be a decision to improve his own quality of life — something David so rarely worries about in favor of the team as a whole. But with the realistic threat of lifetime pain and wheelchair ramps looming, it’s a good time for David to be a little selfish.
Again, he’s earned it.
The elephant in the room
As always, sports editorial is mostly speculation — and I’m one of the worst offenders.
Next week, we could hear from doctors that David Wright will be back on the field by September. Or by 2017. And we know he’ll do everything short of PEDs to make it happen.
If this is the case, I — like most Mets fans — will alternately applaud his devotion, and then cringe when he lunges fruitlessly at another low-and-away slider.
We will learn more about spinal stenosis than we ever thought necessary. And we will gloss over the fact that David’s back will never get better, on or off the diamond. But we will still cheer. We will remain silent and pray for faith healing and fountains of youth.
We will ignore the obvious fact that David Wright needs to retire before his back makes the decision for him.
And, more importantly, before management makes a similar decision. Because it just wouldn’t be right to release arguably the best all-around player ever to wear a Mets uniform.
David Wright needs to think long and hard before he begins intensive training. He should end his on-field career the way he handled it throughout — on his own terms, and with the best interests of the team at heart.
His place in Mets lore is secured, a coaching spot likely, and a retired #5 at Citi Field all-but-guaranteed. Which is why a career that has been defined by grace, maturity and selflessness needs to end the exact same way.