David Wright and Eli Manning are two of the most successful and popular players in New York today. And yet there is a perception attached to both of them that whatever they've achieved or accomplished just isn't quite good enough. The criticism follows them with every analysis of their play. There's usually a "yeah, but" linked to them. The difference, though, is that Wright's naysayers come from Met fans, while Manning's generally come from outside of the New York area. They're the face of their respective teams (for good or bad), but their flaws are nitpicked and exposed, overshadowing their greatness (or at least "very goodness").
David Wright is the all-time Met leader in batting average. He's second on the franchise list in on-base percentage to Keith Hernandez's .387 (Wright stands at .384 today, so that can change daily). He's third in slugging to Mike Piazza's .542 and Darryl Strawberry's .520, with a .514 mark. And he's second in OPS, behind Piazza's .915, at .898 at this moment. He's at or near the top of many other Met lists as well. So what's wrong? Why all the criticism of the golden boy? Well, he strikes out too much, he doesn't come through late in games, he suffers through long slumps and he doesn't hit in the clutch. At least that's the perception. Ok, the perception may be true, at least this year. He's closing in the Mets' single-season whiffs record (156), held by Dave Kingman (1982) and Tommie Agee (1970). And sure, he drives in a lot of runs, but he does it at the wrong time in the game. He does his damage at the beginning and not the end, which isn't satisfying the Wright critics that abound (maybe if the Mets weren't always losing, it wouldn't stand out so much). Was this always true of Wright? Or is it even true now?
We'll skip Wright's partial 2004 season and first full year in 2005 since he was just getting his feet wet. In 2006, when the Mets won the division handily (was that actually in this lifetime?), Wright had a .990 OPS (.352/.426/.564) in the seventh through ninth innings, .983 OPS (.348/.433/.551) in late and close situations, a whopping 1.060 OPS with runners in scoring position (.365/.449/.611) and a .975 OPS (.371/.424/.551) in September and October regular-season games. Any way you slice it, there were no complaints about Wright's "clutchness" that season. The next year was more of the same: A .976 OPS with RISP, an .886 OPS in the seventh through ninth innings, a 1.037 OPS in late and close situations and, with the team fighting for their lives in September/October, Wright batted .352, with a .432 OBP and a .602 slugging percentage, for a Babe Ruth-like 1.034 OPS. If the bullpen didn't melt down, he would have snared his first MVP award. 2008, with the Mets clawing for survival yet again? September/October: .993 OPS; late and close: .876 OPS; seventh through ninth: .849 OPS; RISP: .703 OPS (ok, not so good there). 2009 and 2010 is where he went off the rails. September/October 2009 (though meaningless): .656 OPS; late and close: .747 OPS; seventh through ninth: .829 OPS; RISP: .827 OPS. And his numbers so far this year are similar: September: .731 OPS; late and close: .649 OPS; seventh through ninth: .676 OPS; RISP: .818 OPS.
So what does it all mean for Wright? Either he's regressing and getting worse, or that the better the team is and with more on the line, he's a better player. In 2006 through 2008, he was as clutch as could be when the team was contending (except for that one memorable strikeout against the Cubs), but when they're awful like 2009 and this season, and everything is dumped into his lap, he doesn't do so well. Put a better team and lineup around him, and he'll produce when it counts. Or so it seems.
Eli Manning, on the other hand, is accepted and loved byfans (at least he should be by now). It's the rest of the nation's NFL fans that still seem to question whether he's a franchise quarterback, or is even good at all for that matter. And it all stems from three issues: Fantasy football, his early struggles and comparisons to his brother. Manning's stats don't pop out at you. He doesn't compile outrageous passing yards (though he did surpass 4,000 last year) and QB ratings, but the Giants have always been built on defense and running. And he's built on winning games, not racking up numbers. When fans judge players on their fantasy draft rankings, Manning's going to come up short. But fantasy football is just that: Fantasy. Eli Manning plays the real version, and unlike Wright's reputation, the Giant QB is known for coming through in the clutch, while maybe not putting up big overall numbers. He's a humble, team player above all else.
Another reason for fans' confusion about him is the fact that he wasn't an instant star. Manning was thrown into the deep end of the pool halfway through his rookie season, and learned on the fly, with Ray Lewis and others of his ilk trying to kill the young signal caller. He led the league in interceptions as recently as 2007, and had a handful of standout, truly awful games. But he has since turned himself into one of the most cerebral, durable, tough, unflappable quarterbacks in the NFL, who's been through every situation there is. Need a playoff win in Dallas? Check. An NFC Championship victory in 10-below temperatures in Green Bay? Check. Beat one of the greatest teams in football history in the Super Bowl while being only one of two QBs in Super Bowl history to lead his team to two come-from-behind, fourth-quarter scoring drives (Joe Montana being the other)? Check. A win against the Colts in Indianapolis? Ok, forget about that one. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection last year, the best of his career (and whittled his interceptions down to 10 and 14 the past two seasons), while playing through a foot injury for most of 2009.
Lastly, he's not his brother. If Eli's name was, he'd be more highly rated and thought of than he is now. Peyton is arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football. If not at the top of the list, he's at least near the top. And Eli just can't compare, and fell to 0-2 in Manning Bowls. Peyton has all the numbers and is a fantasy owner's dream come true. But they've both won the same amount of Super Bowls. Though Peyton has appeared in more commercials than any human being on the face of the earth.
David Wright has a somewhat similar problem, too. He doesn't have a big brother, but he has Mr. Clutch, Derek Jeter, across town with his five World Series rings. They're the face of their respective franchises, but while the Yankees compete for championships every year, Wright's Mets . . . well . . . don't. Manning has a Super Bowl win under his belt and came through when it counted most, so he's in like Flynn with Giant fans, though much of America doesn't see eye-to-eye with Big Blue's followers. Maybe Wright's not the best thing since sliced bread, Pie Traynor or Pepper Martin, and unrealistic expectations to be perfect are clouding our judgment of him. But until he leads the Amazin's to the promised land, there will be a segment of Mets fans who will cry, "Trade the bum!" And if that ever happened, well, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, it might just come true. In any case, whatever Manning and Wright accomplish, it's just never quite good enough.