New York is loud. It's brash. It's in your face. Between jackhammers, car alarms, police and ambulance sirens, not to mention arguments, raised voices and the occasional gun shot, the city is a tumultuous, clamorous place. But there is a pair of outfielders roaming the field for the two local teams who are very un-New-York-like: Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson. They stand as a quiet, classy and humble juxtaposition to big, bad, boisterous New York. And yet they fit right in.
Unfortunately, Beltran will always be remembered for taking a called third strike, which ended the 2006 season, and after signing a giant seven-year contract his tenure has been filled with ups and downs. But he played with a broken face after his horrific collision with Mike Cameron and even came back in September of 2009 when he could have packed it in because, as he said, he's a "baseball player." It was his job, and he's a true professional. But there's no doubt that he's the best center fielder in franchise history. As Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up" (though James Thurber said it first -- I looked it up).
Unlike Beltran, Granderson came to New York in an old-fashioned baseball trade. But like his New York Mets counterpart, the New York Yankees center fielder struggled in his first season in New York, but he bounced back and has thrived. The Big City has no affect on either player. New York might as well be Cedar Falls, Iowa. Granderson is the anti-Alex Rodriguez. While controversy and the spotlight find A-Rod wherever he goes and whatever he does, Granderson quietly does his job, flying under the radar without making waves. He can fit right in anywhere, living in the shadows, whether it's the Bronx with its multitudes of media or back in Detroit with the Tigers.
Though Granderson is a little more herky-jerky than Beltran, both have a smooth elegance to their game. They make everything look so easy, and maybe they're misunderstood at times because of that naturalness to their game (especially Beltran), but one shouldn't mistake gracefulness for lack of passion or effort. The two are Duke Ellington and jazz as opposed to today's hip-hop. They have an old-fashioned dignity and gentility straight out of the 1940s. Or maybe they're timeless, with ancestors such as the suave Joe DiMaggio, Garry Maddox, covering acres out in center with his long, loping strides, and, of course, the classy Bernie Williams.
Granderson and Beltran are both humble, team-first players. This spring Beltran made life easy for new manager Terry Collins by volunteering to move to right field, sidestepping any long-drawn-out melodrama. And that decision eased any nervousness Angel Pagan may have felt replacing his friend and teammate in center. And you'll never hear a peep out of Granderson, wherever he's placed in the lineup, whether it's second or ninth.
The Yankees surely have featured many bellicose, egotistical figures such as Babe Ruth, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner and David Wells, but Granderson is cut from the same cloth as Lou Gehrig, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss and the aforementioned Williams. And while Met rosters have been filled with wild characters like Marvelous Marv Throneberry, Tug McGraw, Lenny Dykstra and Turk Wendell, Beltran fits in with the Jerry Koosmans, Mookie Wilsons, Kevin McReynolds and John Oleruds of the past. The duo is a tranquil, placid and calm presence in the chaos of New York.
What is it about these two players that we like? Sure, one has to produce to stay above water in New York, and they've surely been producing this season: Granderson has a .949 OPS (.280/.356/.593), 21 home runs, 54 RBIs, 11 doubles, six triples, 11 stolen bases, along with a WAR of 2.6 and an OPS+ of 152, while Beltran's OPS is .875 (.288/.375/.500), with 10 home runs, 44 RBIs, 21 doubles, one triple and two stolen bases, with a WAR of 2.5 and an OPS+ of 144. But besides their statistics, what makes us want to root for them? Why are they special? Maybe it's because they are more than statistics and home runs, more than stolen bases and WAR. They're poetry on a baseball diamond. They're an improvised saxophone solo. They're players from another time. And they don't tell us how good they are. They show us. Quietly and effortlessly chasing down a long fly ball or pulling another home run into the stands in right with a sweet, smooth swing speaks for itself. Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson will leave the bragging, boasting and complaining to everyone else.