A Tribute To Carlos Beltran

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We're going to beat the Christmas rush and just assume that Carlos Beltran will be traded in the next few days, and do what news organizations do: Write a person of renown's obituary before he actually dies as to have it at the ready when the unfortunate deed takes place. So what follows may sound like a eulogy, but Beltran is, of course, alive and well. He just in all probability won't be playing for the New York Mets anymore. So in some ways, to Met fans, he will have died. They'll mourn his departure (though a few may not), and look longingly back on his body of work in Queens. But if he somehow ends up staying, well, we get to watch him play and produce for two more months.

When the Met outfielder came aboard for the 2005 season, he, along with Pedro Martinez, ushered in, to use Beltran's own words, "the New Mets." The outfielder's six-plus years with the Amazin's were a rocky road, with peaks and valleys, and the Mets weren't so "new" in that time as much as they were "the same old Mets" (to steal a phrase from their football brethren), meaning: They had some success (2006), but also crashed and burned with controversies and a few embarrassing moments along the way. The Mets have had a checkered, colorful 50-year history, and the Carlos Beltran Era was just as checkered and colorful.

The image of Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS will forever be etched in the minds of Met fans (though most have forgotten that he had an OPS of 1.054, with three home runs, four RBIs and eight runs scored in that series). And he has unfairly been labeled "soft" by a segment of diehards, partly due to his seemingly random use of percentages to evaluate how banged up he was when asked if he would be in the lineup the next day ("I'm around 83 percent healthy, when I reach 89 percent I'll play") instead of stoically nodding his head and playing. After his horrific collision with Mike Cameron, Beltran played with a broken face. That should have silenced any "soft" talk right then and there. But Beltran had many more positive moments in his time with the Mets than negative, and he's right up there with the greatest position players in franchise history: Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, Keith Hernandez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Howard Johnson, Cleon Jones, John Olerud, Gary Carter, Jose Reyes and David Wright. And with all due respect to Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Tommie Agee (and let's not forget Lance Johnson, Lee Mazzilli or Del Unser), Beltran is the greatest center fielder the team has ever had.

His 2006 season was one of the greatest single seasons ever recorded by a Met. He set the franchise record for runs scored (127) and tied Todd Hundley's home run mark (41) and Howard Johnson's extra-base-hit record (80), drove in 116 runs (sixth best in Met history), slugged .594 (ranked fourth best), had an OPS of .982 (fifth best), hit 40 doubles (seventh best), walked 95 times (sixth best) and had a WAR of 8.0, which stands as the third best mark in club history, only behind Bernard Gilkey's 8.1 in 1996 and John Olerud's 8.1 in 1998.

Beltran didn't play for the Mets long enough to stand atop any all-time offensive categories (with Ed Kranepool topping many lists, longevity counts a little more than quality when perusing the team's record book), but he's near the top in many: He's second in WAR (32), tied for third in Defensive WAR (4.2), sixth in OBP (.369), sixth in slugging (.500), fifth in OPS (.869), sixth in Adjusted OPS+ (128), eighth in runs scored (548), sixth in doubles (208), sixth in home runs (149) and sixth in RBIs (558). He had three consecutive seasons of 100-plus RBIs for the Mets, scored over 100 runs twice and slugged .500 or better five times (including this season). And let's not forget his fielding, which was Gold Glove caliber (he won three, in 2006, '07 and '08), not to mention making one of the most extraordinary regular-season catches in team history, with his over-the-shoulder grab in the bottom of the 14th inning while running up Tal's Hill in Houston to save a game back in 2007.

Carlos Beltran was quiet, smooth and graceful, which rubbed some fans the wrong way, as it may have seemed like he wasn't giving full effort. He didn't possess the manic, dirtied uniform persona of a Wally Backman, the intense competitiveness of a Hernandez, the fun-loving joie de vivre of a Tug McGraw or the people's choice charisma of a Rusty Staub, but he was a professional through and through, with many spectacular, clutch moments. And with his team often caught up in a circus-like atmosphere, Beltran himself avoided scandals, pettiness, selfishness and controversy along the way. He wasn't a rah-rah type of teammate, but his leadership grew with every passing season, as he mentored one young player after another. He may have had a few miscues here and a few misunderstandings there, and his $100-plus million contract never led to a World Series, but now that his Met career is most likely coming to an end, there's no doubt that Carlos Beltran is one of the greatest players in franchise history.

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