Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Is David Wright becoming a tragic figure?
By David Schoenfield
In 2006, a couple friends of mine started a 30-team Diamond Mind simulation league. If you're not familiar with leagues like this, they're like fantasy baseball on a Mountain Dew bender. Alex Rodriguez was the first pick in the dispersal draft. I had the second pick and chose David Wright. Over Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
Hey, at the time, Wright was coming off first full season in the majors, when he was just 22. He already displayed a well-rounded game: He hit for power (27 home runs, 42 doubles), hit .306, drew walks, didn't strike out excessively, played good defense and ran a little bit. He was young, dynamic, skilled and would only get better.
Over the next three seasons, he didn't improve a lot from there, but he was still one of the best players in baseball with three top-10 MVP finishes. He may have won the award in 2007 if the Mets hadn't blown a seven-game lead over their final 17 games. Don't blame Wright; he hit .352 with six home runs in September, including .397 over those final 17 games.
He had another big season in 2008, setting career-highs with 33 home runs and 124 RBIs. At that point, he was 25 years old, a three-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner and the face of a successful franchise. His career Baseball-Reference WAR was 24.8, 18th-best among position players since the expansion era began in 1961. The only third basemen with more wins above replacement through on the list are Dick Allen and George Brett. Five of the players ahead of Wright are already in the Hall of Fame; others include Rodriguez, Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds.
In 2009, the Mets moved into Citi Field, their sparkling new ballpark. Wright hit .307, but with just 10 home runs. His strikeouts rose. On Aug. 15, Matt Cain hit him in the head with a 94-mph fastball, Wright suffered a concussion and went on the disabled list. He returned in September but hit just .239. The Mets lost 92 games. Citi Field was put under attack for ruining the team's star.
In 2010, he hit 29 home runs, but Wright's average and walks were down and his strikeouts up to 161. The Mets feuded with star outfielder Carlos Beltran, owner Fred Wilpon got implicated in the Bernie Madoff scandal, Johan Santana had a civil suit filed against him and later injured his elbow, Francisco Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting his children's grandfather and the Mets lost 83 games. Wright was often left to face the media alone, the face of a troubled franchise. Some believed it wore him out.
In 2011, Wright tried to play through a stress fracture in his back but eventually missed two months. He hit .254, struck out 97 times in 102 games and the Mets lost 85 games.
OK, the headline above is admittedly over-dramatic. There's nothing tragic, of course, about a baseball player making $15 million this season. But in a baseball sense, we're left wondering if the gods have bet against Wright in some mythological game of Strat-o-Matic played on Mount Olympus, especially after he now says he's torn an abdominal muscle. Wright says he'll be ready for Opening Day on April; we'll wait and see.
Let's hope he is. Wright is still a young man. He should be challenging for MVP awards and toasted in a city that loves its baseball. Instead, the Mets have become the Mess, with an owner in financial convulsion, a fan base that can barely stand to cheer for its team, and a star player who can't seem to catch a break. Baseball has had stories like this one before. I want this one to have a happier ending.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.