Carlos Delgado and the missed chance to be a legend in New York

imageIf Carlos Beltran took one more swing in the 2006 NLCS, Carlos Delgado could have become an immortal in the Pantheon of New York October heroes. Instead, he retired this week with little fanfare. Mets fans and the New York press have been respectful of Delgado and his career, but there has hardly been a huge emotional outpouring regarding his career.

His Hall of Fame clock will start retroactively in 2009, but he doesn’t have much of a chance to get in. In another era, his 473 homers and .929 career OPS might be enough. But his numbers paled in comparison to others in the post-strike era.

Delgado was never accused of or linked with any steroids; maybe that will eventually help his cause. Between 1996 and 2003, the height of the Steroid Era, Delgado hit 292 homers, tied with Ken Griffey Jr. Only eight other players hit more: Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez, and almost all of them have been linked to steroids or there is great suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use. (Thome has so far totally eluded connection or strong suspicion.)

He was also one of the true good guys in the world of baseball. A Roberto Clemente Award winner, he raised millions through his Extra Bases. And his protests of the naval bombings of Vieques in Puerto Rico and his opposition of the Iraq War showed he is a man of principles.

His timing for his career was not ideal in terms of postseason play. He was a September call-up for the 1993 World Champion Blue Jays but was not on the playoff roster. (He may have received a World Series ring anyway. I am not sure.)

Delgado arrived and blossomed just as the bloom went out in Toronto. When he arrived in Toronto, World Series heroes such as Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Pat Borders, Ed Sprague, Devon White, Pat Hentfen, Juan Guzman and Todd Stottlemyre were all still there. By the time he left Toronto after 2004, Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay were his teammates.

He was courted by the Mets after the 2004 season but seemed turned off by Omar Minaya’s pitch for Latin players. Instead he went to Florida and made a wonderful 1-2 punch with Miguel Cabrera. He landed in Queens anyway due to a fire sale in Miami. The Marlins netted Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit and someone named Grant Psomas who should be thrilled that he is being mentioned in this article.

The 2006 Mets had all the potential of being a truly special team in New York sports history. Willie Randolph, who grew up in New York, was manager. Minaya, another New Yorker, put the team together. The team had two Puerto Ricans named Carlos at the heart of their line up (Carlos Beltran was the other). David Wright seemed like he was going to be the new prince of the city. Jose Reyes was a flashy style option for those bored with Derek Jeter’s predictable substance. And for a while it looked like a Subway Series was in the cards as the Yankees won the division title and the Mets finally dethroned the Braves.

Given his first taste of postseason play against Los Angeles in the Division Series, Delgado did not disappoint. He went 4-for-5 in the first game, including a home run and the game-winning hit in the seventh inning. He finished the three-game sweep with a .429 average and an OPS of 1.072. If there was a Division Series MVP, he would have won it.

The Mets went to the NLCS, but a strange thing happened on the way to the 2006 Subway Series. The Yankees were shockingly eliminated by the Tigers. Suddenly the Mets were the only game in town.

In the National League Championship Series against a beleaguered Cardinals team, Delgado’s bat remained hot. He batted .304. His OPS was 1.274. He drove in nine runs over the seven-game series. With the Mets down 2-1 in the series and forced to send Oliver Perez to the mound for Game 4, Delgado went to town. He broke a fifth-inning tie with a three-run homer and drove in five runs all together as the Mets won big, 12-5.

By the time the series went the full seven games, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wasn’t confronting Delgado. He drew three walks in Game 7 but the other Mets batters couldn’t drive him in.

During the heart-stopping ninth inning, Adam Wainwright loaded the bases with two outs and clinging to a 3-1 lead. Carlos Beltran, who was having a fine series of his own, was at the plate. Delgado was on deck. All Beltran had to do was not make an out and Delgado would have been at the plate with a chance to win the pennant with one swing of his bat. That swing of course never came and Carlos Beltran struck out looking.

There was no World Series trip for the Mets. No chance at pennant-winning immortality for Delgado. Even if Beltran connected for a walkoff home run or a bases-clearing pennant-winning double, Delgado would have probably been MVP of the Series.

The 2006 Mets would have clobbered the 2006 Tigers. With the Joe Torre era winding down, who knows what the confidence of a 2006 World Series would have brought to Flushing?

They probably don’t collapse down the stretch in 2007 and 2008. No doubt both Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya would be untouchable beloved Mets figures. Perhaps the Mets take advantage of a weak National League field in 2007. Or go all the way instead of the Phillies in 2008.

But it would have been Delgado who led them to the World Series. Had his hitting continued against Detroit, he would have been a cinch for the Babe Ruth Award. And winning a championship in New York and having October highlights means a special immortality.

Don Larsen played only five of his 15 seasons for the Yankees. He never won more than 11 games in a season and was essentially a mediocre swingman. But he still gets standing ovations and is considered a Yankee legend for his World Series perfect game 55 years ago.

Len Dykstra’s popularity far exceeds the value of his regular season production. But he was the spark of the 1986 Mets. Players like Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez can have the confusing title of “Real Yankee” bestowed on them despite not being home grown and playing huge chunks of their careers elsewhere.

Reggie Jackson spent just five seasons in the Bronx and yet is often mentioned as a Yankee legend alongside DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle and Gehrig.

So imagine what the love for Delgado would have been had the Mets won that final game. He could have been celebrated for all time in New York baseball lore. Instead he will be remembered as a good player, a good man and will no doubt receive a warm reception in Toronto and New York for Old Timer’s Day.

That, and universal respect, a career devoid of steroid scandal and over $146 million in salaries earned, makes for a nice consolation prize. But it is not the same as immortality.

References & Resources
Sports Illustrated, Baseball Reference, Toronto Sun, New York Newsday

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Comments

  1. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Oh of course I don’t know for sure if the Mets would have beaten them. I suppose the Tigers pitching could have shut them down.

    I am basing it a little on how they looked down the stretch and in the World Series which wasn’t pretty.

    Either way, it’s all hypothetical. I think if the Mets won an emotional NLCS, they would have faced a flat Tigers team and won.

    I guess that’s why God created http://www.whatifsports.com

  2. MikeS said...

    How can you assume the 2006 Mets would have “clobbered” the 2006 Tigers? The best team doesn’t always win. Just ask the 2006 Tigers.

  3. Marc Schneider said...

    It doesn’t make any sense to say that, if the Mets had won the World Series in 2006, they would not have collapsed in 2007-2008.  Those collapses resulted from poor bullpens, not from some psychological deficiency.  I don’t think one has anything to do with the other—given the same players, the results would likely have been the same even if the Mets had won in 2006.

  4. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    Marc Schneider,

    I can’t say I agree with your laying the blame of the 2007 collapse on the feet of the Mets bullpen.

    Yes, the pen lost the first two games in Philadelphia in the middle of September.

    But down the stretch, when they were still up by 4 in the loss column with 14 games to play, you could point the finger at the starting staff, bullpen AND to a lesser degree the line up.

    After the sweep by the Phillies, the Mets went on to face a bunch of tomato cans, and basically looked like a team panicking.

    They lost 12-4 to the Nats on Sept. 17th when starter Brian Lawrence couldn’t get out of the 4th and the Mets bats were dead after the 3 run first.

    On Sept 18th, they lost 9-8 in Washington when once again the bats went silent after a strong first inning and John Maine let up 8 runs and couldn’t make it out of the 5th. That made the losing streak at 5.

    After breaking the streak the next day, they lost the extra inning game in Miami on September 20th where the bullpen did indeed implode.

    After winning the next 3, the Mets got thumped at home by Washington on September 24th as Mike Pelfrey let up 7 runs (6 earned) in less than 6 innings.

    The Mets were still up by 2 games with 6 to play when they lost 10-9 to Washington. Tom Glavine got THUMPED that game and the Mets nearly tied the game in the 9th with 6 runs but fell just short.

    On September 26th, the Nationals completed the sweep and once again the Mets starter was dreadful (Phillip Humber gave up 5 runs in 4 innings) and once again the Mets bats started hot and went silent, leaving the tying runs on base in the 5th, 6th and 7th.

    On September 27th, they got a good start from Pedro but the team was shut down by Cardinals Joel Pinero on 3 hits as they lost 3-0.

    On September 28th they lost to the Marlins when Oliver Perez let up 6 runs in 3 2/3 innings and the Mets left men on base in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th for the teams second 5 game losing streak in the month,

    After the Mets bats and pitching clicked for the second of last day of the season for a 13-0 win, the season ended with the 8-1 loss to the Marlins.

    Tom Glavine let up 7 runs in 1/3 of an inning, which is a bad start no matter what statistical criteria you use.

    So looking at those 9 losses down the stretch, you can lay the blame totally on the bullpen for a grand total of one game.

    Most of the time it was a combination of rotten starting pitching and bats going dead in the late innings… and while things like “emotion” and “human qualities” tend to be sneered at in baseball analysis, it sure looked to me watching those games and reviewing those games like they were pressing.

    If that is the case, then I don’t think it is a stretch to say that if this team had gone all the way the year before they might not have played in a similar manner for all of those games. After the humiliating series against the Phillies, it isn’t crazy to think a defending champion would have said “OK, that sucked. But we have a lead with 2 weeks to play. Let’s focus and beat the dreadful Marlins and Nationals.”

    We’ll never know of course, but to simply put the blame on the bullpen is simply not factual.

  5. Paul Francis Sullivan said...

    My dad taught me to never say “This is bad” or “this is wrong” but to explain why it is bad or where it is wrong. I could never just say “I didn’t like that movie” or “I didn’t like going to this place.” I had to give my reasons and articulate why.

    So, Jason S, when you say this article is a stretch, I will ask how is it a stretch?

    Was Carlos Delgado NOT an elite slugger during the 1990s and 2000s?
    Was there steroid rumors and allegations I was not aware of?
    Was he NOT a super respected player among other players and the media?
    Did he NOT have a very good Division Series and NLCS for the 2006 Mets?
    Would the Mets NOT have been favored over the 2006 Detroit Tigers?
    Do New Yorkers NOT hold post season heroes with an extremely high esteem?

    Which one of those points were wrong?
    If you disagree with me, then fine. I love disagreement. But how can I take your criticism constructively when there is nothing to work with?

  6. Marc Schneider said...

    “We’ll never know of course, but to simply put the blame on the bullpen is simply not factual.”

    Ok, maybe it wasn’t the bullpen but my point was the Mets collapsed because of specific problems with the team, not because of some psychological hangover from not winning in 2006.  They just played badly and they probably would have even if they had won in 2006.  No offense, but you are engaging in amateur psychoanalysis by seeming to say their play the next two years was affected by what happened in 2006.  That seems a real stretch to me.  It didn’t seem to bother them in 2007 when they were up by 7 with two weeks or whatever to play.  All of a sudden the ghost of 2006 started getting to them?

    “After the sweep by the Phillies, the Mets went on to face a bunch of tomato cans, and basically looked like a team panicking.”

    Fans always say things like that when their teams lose.  How do you possibly know that a team is panicing? Did Tom Glavine panic when he got shelled?  Even if they did panic, doesn’t that suggest that the team was weak-willed in the first place?  I just find it hard to buy that, whatever happened to the Mets, it was caused by not winning in 2006. 

    As for the Mets “pressing”, I’m sure they were.  Any team probably would start pressing when they are struggling.  But this happens to teams that have won too. The Braves won in 1995, were up 2-0 to the Yankees in 1996 and lost the next 4.  Winning in the previous year didn’t seem to help them.

  7. mikeinbrooklyn said...

    I’m to the point now where only one “what if?” matters: what if I’d grown up in a Yankee household and wouldn’t had to have lived the sado-masochistic life of a Met fan?

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