By Stephon Johnson (@StephonJohnson8)
A cervical discectomy and fusion operation. That is the latest cause for pause in the career of New York Mets captain David Wright.
The third baseman’s career has been the best demonstration of what the Mets have been since the franchise became a laughingstock in the early ’90s despite brief runs of success that spectacularly flamed out in the late ’90s, late 2000s and last year’s amazing World Series run. Whenever there was a positive, there was a negative waiting to spoil the fun. In that instance, Wright’s career in Flushing models Mike Piazza’s years at the old Shea Stadium.
(It is also not a coincidence that the Mets, as we know them, became “the Mets” in the early ’90s when Fred Wilpon starting taking more of a major role in things. But I digress.)
Wright is essentially Mr. Met without the enormous baseball head. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in hits (1,777), doubles (390), RBI (970), walks (761), runs scored (949) and is second in home runs (242) behind Darryl Strawberry, who slugged 252 during his time in Queens. Consequently, he has met all of these marks despite missing extended periods of time in five of the last six seasons, only topping 140 games once since 2010.
Wright’s promise revealed itself late in 2004 when he recorded his first major league hit: a double down the third base line at Shea. The Mets weren’t going anywhere that year as a team, but there was hope. Wright’s first good season happened the very next year, but ended with a disappointing September as the team faltered down the stretch competing for a wild card spot.
Then came 2006. The Mets habitually line-stepped over the National League all season and make quick work of the Dodgers in the Division Series. Mets fans know what happened next: Guillermo Mota rejecting Paul Lo Duca’s initial pitch selection. So Taguchi. Beltran taking a called strike three. Another very good Wright season ended with a letdown. But then 2007 and 2008 came and, to borrow from the great Chappelle’s Show skit, “The Player Hater’s Ball”, what can be said about the ending to those two seasons that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan.
Wright was the first Met to hit a home run at the brand new Citi Field, but that game ended in a loss. His numbers took a hit in the pre-adjusted wall Citi, but despite it all, he was always the company man… even when Wilpon talked smack about him in that infamous New Yorker article.
Wright would then endure injury after injury whether he was getting plunked in the head by pitches, suffering stress fractures in his lower back and suffering spinal stenosis, there was always “something” to keep Wright away from professional joy.
When he hit a homer in his first at-bat after being cleared to play in Philadelphia last year, many fans felt like a pennant race and subsequent postseason run needed “the Captain” around to feel complete. When he got that hit in Game 1 against the Dodgers in last seasons National League Division Series, if felt necessary. When he hit the first World Series home run in Citi Field’s history, it felt necessary.
And when he took the ground ball away from Wilmer Flores, who had a better angle to throw to first, and started the play that ended with Lucas Duda’s errant throw, it also felt necessary.
“After trying every way to get back on the field, I’ve come to realize that it’s best for me, my teammates and the organization to proceed with surgery at this time,” Wright said in a statement released by the Mets last week. “My neck simply did not respond to any of the treatments of the past few weeks. While incredibly frustrating and disappointing, I am determined to make a full recovery and get back on the field as soon as I can to help the Mets win. I greatly appreciate the support of my teammates and our fans throughout the last few weeks.”
A fan knows better than to support an athlete that doesn’t know of your existence, but the reason I support Wright in his recovery is because I’m supporting a similar one at home. My wife had the same surgery in April that Wright had last week. It wasn’t her first back surgery either (her fourth different one in ten years). I’ve been around for the tears and the anger and the complaints of plans put on hold because the back decides not to cooperate. She is amazing and shows a display of strength that baffles me on a daily basis. Her just getting up to go to work every day is a miracle sometimes. I can’t imagine someone recovering to play a sport professionally.
Wright’s road is tough and his role should be diminished if he ever did make it back fully healthy. But I’m pulling for him not only as one of the Mets faithful, but as a man who sees his woman dealing with something similar and wants her to have more hope.
But Mets fans just want their captain back, for better or worse.
Writer. Reporter. New Yorker.