Some athletes blow into New York and the city was seemingly made for them. While some arrive and get eaten alive. Whether one is a star, a role player or a backup, some get it and some don't. Some succeed while others get run out of town. The New York Mets finally released Luis Castillo, wanting to dump him so badly they were willing to pay him $6 million dollars to disappear. Carmelo Anthony swept into town with fanfare and the rousing welcome of an anticipated hero who would make the New York Knicks a top contender. The shine is fading quickly from that transaction, though, punctuated by his behavior during and after Friday night's loss to the Detroit Pistons.
While Met fans danced in the streets when news of Castillo's release hit the newswires on Friday, a sentiment started to build throughout the day that the second baseman might have gotten a raw deal, or even, as Daily News scribe Andy Martino somewhat ridiculously claimed, that racism may have had something to do with his departure. Did Met fans want Castillo off the team? Of course. Did Sandy Alderson allude to the second baseman's past and relationship with his team's supporters as one of a number of reasons why Castillo was let go? Yes. Did New Yorkers dislike Castillo because he made one of the biggest blunders in franchise history when he dropped a pop-up to lose a game to the hated New York Yankees? Sure (though to his credit, he didn't run away and hide after the game, but instead he stood at his locker and took it like a man). Did their view of him sour after the Walter Reed kerfuffle? Without a doubt. Do they scoff at the little guy because he can barely hit the ball out of the infield and presently has the range of a statue in the field? Absolutely.
But is a race a huge factor in the animosity felt toward the Mets' former second baseman? No way. Of course there are racist fans lingering out there; all we have to do is go back to a certain segment of fans' overreaction to Omar Minaya's "Los Mets" concept and identity. But to single out Castillo while plenty of Latinos and African-Americans have been universally beloved by Met fans--Edgardo Alfonzo, Cliff Floyd, Johan Santana, Mookie Wilson--is off base. And certain pundits, Martino among them, seem to have some fantasy that Castillo "played hard." Which games were they watching? Met fans loath Castillo because he sulks, gives off a feeling of entitlement and he is just not that good of a player anymore, but mainly because--he never came close to living up to his giant contract and he NEVER hustles. Sure, he's battled injuries and his natural gait happens to be of the gimpy variety, but how many times did he happy-ass his way around the bases, leisurely jog to first or couldn't be bothered to cover a base? More times than we can count. Castillo didn't get a raw deal. He got what he deserved. And he's better off, as well, getting a fresh start somewhere else.
While Castillo is history, Anthony has just shown up. And he's already pointing fingers at his coach, moping on the court and on the bench while storming out of the locker room after the loss to the Pistons. He may have been angry at the refs, but he left his teammates to answer for his poor performance. That's no way to begin a career in New York. Who did things the right way upon his arrival to New York? Amar'e Stoudemire. The former Sun embraced all things New York, stepped up his game, which doesn't necessarily mean scoring more points but playing defense, being a leader and espousing a team-first attitude, and he has sat in front of his locker after every game being the spokesman for his team through good and bad. Before Anthony digs himself a boo-filled hole with the fans, he needs to look to Stoudemire and others who have thrived in New York. Derek Jeter always plays hard and never ducks the media. Over the last half decade, the Mets have been a version of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but through it all David Wright is standing there, respectfully answering questions from the media after every game. And he never complains. The two local star quarterbacks have faced their share of criticism and have had ups and downs personally and with their teams, but Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez have handled the limelight with grace and class. A group of players have slipped into town, and New York City might as well have been Des Moines, Iowa, for all it affected them. I'm thinking of guys like Scott Brosius and John Olerud. New York? Big deal. Was Anthony wrong in throwing Mike D'Antoni under the bus with his critique of the Knicks' defense? Well, ask Tiki Barber how that works out in the end. It's way too early to call the Anthony trade or Anthony himself a bust, but he needs to consult with a round table of the above players to learn how things work around here before he's thrown onto the pile like just another Randy Johnson.
New York is a tough town, but the rules are easy: Don't whine. Don't make excuses. Don't point fingers. Don't insult the fans. Play hard. That's it. (Of course, producing always helps.) And no matter what race, creed or color, whether you're a superstar or a bench player, you will be accepted. It's too late for Castillo, but there's still time for Anthony.