Sunday, October 14, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2004

Part 43 of our 50-year Wunderkind...
What is it: 2004 Topps #520, Jose Reyes

What makes it interesting: Not much from an aesthetic standpoint. If the '03s were a bad '83 rehash, then the '04s are a nightmare revisit of the '88s. The '88s worked from a simplistic standpoint. This has the team name emblazoned across the top, but the name is small, the position is even smaller and then there's this ridiculous etch-a-sketch figure in the lower left corner...ugh.

Jose Reyes was, as Mets come and go, probably the most mercurial of their home-grown players. Signed at 16 in 1999, Reyes made a mad dash through the Mets system, arriving in 2003 just as the Mets were beginning to turn the team over completely. He had the tag of future star, unlimited upside, incredible excitement. Anointed a savior before he ever played a Major League Game, Reyes' major league debut on June 10, 2003 was one day before his 20th Birthday. Though his game had some holes, he rarely took a walk and often seemed to jump out of his shoes at any given moment, Reyes had as good a season as you could expect from a 20-year old, hitting .307 with 5 Home Runs, 32 RBI, 47 runs and 13 steals in just 69 games before an ankle injury ended his season. The potential was undeniable. Reyes even became the youngest player ever to switch-hit Home Runs in a game against Atlanta.

Switched to 2nd Base in an idiotic experiment caused by the Kaz Matsui signing before 2004, Reyes didn't see the field until June because of Hamstring issues. These issues continued throughout the season, and Reyes was limited to only 59 games, where he regressed to a .255 batting average, with 2 Home Runs and 14 RBI, and only walked 5 times for the season. Concerns about discipline and durability were abound. But switched back to his natural position of Shortstop for 2005, Reyes responded with a much better season. Though he did not draw his first walk of the season until early May, Reyes stayed healthy, playing in 161 games, and hit .273 with 7 HR and 58 RBI. His flair for the exciting also took a leap as well; his 17 Triples and 60 Stolen Bases both led the National League.

It was in 2006 when Reyes made the leap to stardom. Entrenched in the leadoff spot, Reyes had his best season to date, batting .300, hit 19 Homers and had an astounding 81 RBI for a leadoff hitter. His OBA jumped to .354, he scored 122 runs, and once again led the NL with 17 Triples and 64 Steals as he paced the Mets to a Division title. He also earned the first of 4 All Star selections, and a Silver Slugger award. Included in his outstanding season were a 3-Home Run game in Philadelphia, an electrifying Inside-the-Park HR, and a Cycle. The chants of "JOSE! JOSEJOSEJOSE! JOSE! JOSE!!!" at Shea Stadium were infectious. Reyes was the table setter for the great hitters behind him and had developed all the tools to change the game. In the postseason, Reyes had a chance to showcase his talents on a national stage. Though he only had two hits in the NLDS vs. Los Angeles, he was able to wreak havoc in other ways. A 7th inning walk in Game 1 led to a key steal and eventually scoring the winning run. He drove in 2 runs in the 2nd game, and singled and scored a run in a late rally in the clinching Game 3. His performance in the NLCS against St. Louis was middling for the first 5 games, but in Game 6, Reyes took control. His leadoff Home Run off Chris Carpenter set the tone, and he later scored a second run in the Mets 4-2 victory.

In 2007, Reyes started off at an even hotter pace, hitting .307 over the first half of the season as the Mets raced out to another lead in the division. But in the second half, Reyes tailed off sharply, inexplicably. The Mets did as well. We know how the season played out. Reyes hit a paltry .256 over the second half of the season, and questions about his attitude and desire began to surface. Reyes was pulled from a game in July for not running out a ground ball, and seemed to spend a good deal of time sulking, or celebrating when he shouldn't have been. Reyes was given credit for the team's success in '06, but when things went bad in '07, Reyes also took a heap of the blame. By season's end, though he once again led the league and set a team record with 78 steals, many were useless, and his numbers tumbled to .280 with 12 HR and 57 RBI. Reyes seemed to be unnecessarily swinging for the fences a lot of the time, thinking he had 25 HR power when he should have been using his speed to leg out hits. Reyes would ultimately finish the season getting booed off the field in disgrace.

In the offseason, a contrite Reyes admitted to losing focus and came into '08 determined to erase the bad memories of  '07. Reyes also had to deal with several jabs from opponents, who criticized Reyes' penchant for dancing around and celebrating on the field and in the dugout during games, although he wasn't the only one around Baseball who did that. Reyes went out and kept quiet for a little while early in the season, but ultimately was encouraged by teammates to just be who he was. And if opponents didn't like it, then so what. So, the dancing was back. In 2008, Reyes had a fine season. The Mets ultimately fell short again, and Reyes' finish was somewhat hot and cold, but overall, he had a fine season, hitting .297 with 16 HRs, 68 RBI, 56 Steals and led the league with 204 hits and 19 triples. He hit the last Double in Shea Stadium. Going forward, though Reyes certainly had his share of critics, and though he was often infuriating to watch, Reyes was clearly the most important player the Mets had, and they were ultimately much better off with him than without him.

Then came 2009.

After a so-so start, Reyes was placed on the DL in Mid-May with a calf injury. Though it was initially thought that Reyes would miss a couple of weeks, eventually Reyes kept getting re-injured and re-examined, and eventually he ended up missing the remainder of the season. The diagnoses of torn calf muscles and torn hamstrings once again called Reyes' durability into question, and some thought he may have just been jaking it with the Mets plodding through a miserable season. Whatever it was, after 4 straight seasons of playing no less than 153 games, Reyes was limited to just 36 games in '09. Reyes' season in 2010 got off to a late start as well, after a thyroid problem limited him in Spring Training. With many of the veterans  Reyes played with early in his career now gone, Reyes and David Wright were now the clear faces of the team. Although he never was the power threat he thought he was, Reyes actually found himself hitting 3rd for a stretch, and he did respond with an All Star season in '10 as the Mets overachieved in the first half of the season. But, the Mets and Reyes fell off miserably in the second half, and Reyes ended up with a rather unexciting .282 average, with 11 HR, 55 RBI and only 30 steals in 133 games, as he appeared to be stealing less in order to protect his legs.

The questions about Reyes remained into 2011. 2011 would be Reyes' walk year, and the fan base seemed completely torn as to what to do. Resign him? Trade him? Let him play out the year and see what happens? Though at the outset, Reyes appeared to be cast as the villain, his hot start eventually won the fans back over. In another All Star season, Reyes hit .354 with 15 triples over the 1st half of the season. Come the trading deadline, Reyes was not dealt, leading fans to believe that efforts would be made to retain him following the season. But yet another second half slide, combined with multiple leg injuries undercut the Mets and Reyes. Once again, Reyes appeared to be playing scared and conservative baseball, not the kind of Baseball we were used to him playing. Reyes tailed off to .305 in the 2nd half of the season, playing in only 46 games and stealing 9 bases with 1 triple. But his hot start had made his numbers respectable, his 16 triples led the NL, and he scored 101 runs. He also became the first Met ever to win a Batting Title with his .337 average. But even that came under questionable circumstances. In the season's final game, Reyes laid down a first inning bunt for a base hit, and immediately came out of the game. Nobody knew how to react. Reyes apparently had planned this himself, and his critics had a field day. And what if that was to be his final game with the team? Was that a way to say goodbye?

The answer to that Whatif was ultimately yes, as Reyes would sign a multi-year contract with the Mickey Mouse Marlins in December. The Mets, though they said they would make him an offer, never did, and Reyes was gone. He left behind one of the more controversial legacies of any Mets player ever. In his 9 seasons with the Mets, he hit .292 with 81 Home Runs and 423 RBI. He had 1300 hits, good enough for 3rd all time. His 370 steals and 99 Triples are club records. Along the way, he provided electrifying moments and great memories all the way around. But many Mets fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths. It could have been so much more. What if Reyes had played up to the performance level he'd shown in 2006? What would that have meant in 2007? 2008? What if he walked more? What if he'd been able to stay healthy? Ultimately, the money Florida gave him was far more than he'd proven himself worth to the Mets. Given the financial situation the Mets find themselves in now, it didn't make much sense to try to match it. Particularly given all the criticisms. Reyes returned to Citi Field with the Marlins late in April 2012 and was booed thoroughly and heartily all season long. Some, myself included, clapped for Reyes. True, he was a case of unfulfilled promise and he appears to symbolize an era of teams that underachieved, but he was a great Met and that does deserve recognition. Then again, he plays for the Fucking Marlins now, so screw him.

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