Jose Reyes will re-join the New York Mets on Tuesday for their game against the Miami Marlins. Reyes last played for the team in 2011. While under contract with the Rockies this past November, Reyes allegedly grabbed his wife by the throat at a Hawaiian resort and threw her into a sliding glass door.
Initially charged with misdemeanor domestic-abuse charges, Reyes escaped prosecution when his wife proved an uncooperative witness. He earned a 51-game suspension from Major League Baseball under its new domestic-violence policy and ultimately lost his job in Colorado and became a free agent.
With little league-wide interest in Reyes’ services, the Mets inked him to a contract that will pay him the prorated MLB minimum for the remainder of the season with a club option for 2017. The Rockies will pay the remaining money still owed Reyes from the six-year, $110 million deal he signed with the Marlins in free agency before the 2012 season.
To hear it from Mets manager Terry Collins, Reyes seems likely to replace Wilmer Flores as the Mets’ everyday third baseman — though Collins hasn’t always used guys the way he has said he would use guys in the past. A baseball case could certainly be made on Reyes’ behalf: Reyes, after all, is a fairly proven Major League commodity. Before a woeful season split between Toronto and Colorado in 2015, he remained a fairly valuable player as recently as 2012 thanks to decent contact skills, some gap power and great base-running.
But a baseball case could also be made against Reyes playing regularly in Flushing: Flores, despite mediocre-at-best career numbers, is only 24 years old, always hit well in the minors, and appears to be flourishing thanks to more regular playing time since third baseman David Wright hit the disabled list. Flores has hit .315 with an .858 OPS in a small sample of 103 plate appearances since the start of June.
Also, and far more importantly, as far as we know, Wilmer Flores has not thrown anyone — no less a woman who loves him — by the throat into a glass door. Though, as with most pro athletes, we know only what Flores reveals of himself to the public, he seems like a generally good and likable person. Flores cried on the field last year when he thought he had been traded to the Brewers, a glimpse of humanity that made him extremely easy to root for.
Reyes had that too once, except magnified by about a million. An ever-exciting and emotional player full of hustle and flash and exuberance, Reyes first graduated to the big-league Mets as a teenager in 2003. Fans witnessed his growing pains as the team struggled through his first few years, then saw him develop into a viable star in time to help the Mets run away with their division in 2006.
Hamstrung by bad contracts and crippled by ownership’s financial woes following the Bernard Madoff scandal, the Mets fell apart around Reyes by the beginning of the next decade. But in 2011, despite a largely crummy cohort around him in the lineup, Reyes bloomed into the full-blown megastar the Mets and their fans had always hoped he’d become. He hit .337 that year and won the batting title, setting new career highs in on-base and slugging percentage as well, and along the way showed baseball fans in Flushing how unspeakably awesome it could be to watch a beloved homegrown player zooming around the ballpark with bright eyes and a big smile and a comet-tail of black locks flowing out the back of his helmet.
I need to say now that I bring up that 2011 season not despite the offseason charges against Reyes, but because of them. This will become clear by the end of this post, so this disclaimer exists only for the impatient: Nothing here aims to diminish whatsoever what Reyes allegedly did to his wife in November.
When it comes to judging athletes, I think, we often start with performance and backfill personalities. In baseball, especially, following a team over a 162-game season means spending so much time with that team’s players beaming out of your television in stunning high definition that you begin to think you actually know them and understand them. You celebrate along with them when they’re winning and you commiserate with them when they lose, and you — and by you, maybe, I mean “me,” here — get to believing you’d enjoy their company in real life and maybe they’d like hanging out with you, too.
I wrote about that very thing, especially as it pertained to Reyes, in an extremely personal post to a Mets blog I maintained for my old job back in the summer of 2011. I’m linking it here because I think it captures some of what it was like to watch Reyes that year, and because the point of the thing was ultimately that baseball greatness is always fleeting and beautiful:
We can lament the hand Reyes – and all of us, really – has been dealt, with so many of his best years wasted by a subpar front office, bad players around him, crappy bullpens, mishandled injuries, everything. Not to mention his contract coming up now, with the Mets in financial flux and hamstrung by a slew of bad deals. That all sucks, no doubt.
But we should celebrate, too, that we have this right now. No matter what happens with Reyes later this year or after the season, the special things Reyes has done and is doing every night this season are some we can carry forever. It is an awesome spectacle, a confluence of immense talent and pure joy on the baseball field, with the churning legs and flying dreadlocks and beaming smile. This is ours to keep.
The Jose Reyes of 2011 is gone for good now, lost first to free agency and time and injuries, then lost eternally to the hard human truth that the boyish and buoyant ballplayer so many fell in love with that year also turned out to be a man apparently capable of hurting the mother of his children. Reyes returns to the Mets neither the player he was in 2011 nor the man we hoped him to be.
That forever complicates the memories of his better days in Flushing, of course, but it should not erase them. That Jose Reyes (again, allegedly) beat up his wife in 2015 does not mean he was never any good at baseball, nor that the experience of watching him play was not incredible. But it does mean his second turn in this city, though perhaps engendered in part by fan nostalgia, will never bring the uncompromised heights of the first. It is hard to know how Mets fans and the baseball public will react if he succeeds this season, but easy to understand that life will be way simpler if Reyes just stinks.
In the absence of legal action against him, Reyes served the punishment deemed appropriate for his actions by Major League Baseball. I recognize that, and I suppose I understand that he now deserves the right to keep playing baseball if he wants to keep playing baseball and a team wants to let him play baseball. The idea of hurting my wife — or anyone not actively trying to hurt me, really — seems so completely horrifying and outlandish and foreign to me that I know I cannot begin to comprehend Reyes or his motivations, so now I must endure (and I suspect I’m not alone, here) the icky experience of watching a dude with whom I simply can not identify play baseball for my local club.
Back in 2011, I wrote that Reyes felt “almost like family” to those who had been watching the Mets in his tenure. I clarified, of course, the obvious difference between someone feeling like family and someone actually being family, and I don’t regret writing it, or feeling that way.
But we now know the grim and chasmic distinction between feeling like Jose Reyes the ballplayer is part of your family and actually being part of Jose Reyes the man’s family. The former was unbelievable, the latter unimaginable. Reyes the actual person is back with the Mets now, but the Reyes of 2011 will never return. And maybe some of that’s on those of us prone to expecting our baseball heroes to behave like actual heroes — or at least like decent human beings — but most of it is on Reyes, undoubtedly.
For The Win
Former fan favorite Jose Reyes returns to the Mets after domestic-violence suspension
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