Curtis Granderson Is Your Favorite Met
The New York Mets are having a special season, and while Curtis Granderson isn't the team's best player, he's the one who seems to be enjoying it the most. It shows.
Photo by Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
You are a child who loves baseball. Heredity, geography or simple bad luck have saddled you with the New York Mets. You do not gripe, because being a Met fan does not seem such a bad thing. When they play, you pace the room. When they lose, you scream into your pillow. You're a kid, so you don't know. You don't know how strange it is that, now, they are winning more than they lose.
You do not remember Mike Piazza; you do not remember the playoffs. Jose Reyes and Johan Santana are hazy memories. The only Mets you have ever known are the Mets playing today. You see Matt Harvey as a bully, and David Wright as an action figure brought to life by some wizard's curse. Because you watch the Mets with maximum feeling, because to you baseball is still something to love unthinkingly, your favorite Met is Curtis Granderson. You have made an excellent choice.
This is Granderson's second year of a $60 million contract with the Mets that seemed doomed before the ink was dry. At the time, it seemed a puzzling move for a team that's was widely understood to be near broke. After all, Granderson was a 33-year-old slugger who had been playing in the Yankees' marble-encased Little League ballpark who was moving to the capacious CitiField. It looked like Jason Bay all over again—not that you remember Jason Bay, you lucky kid.
To make the deal worthwhile, Granderson needed to be like the hitter he was before he got older, and got hurt. That would require a great deal of good luck. A Good Thing would have to happen to the Mets. And until 2015, good things did not happen for this team when they gambled this big. But, of course, you don't know that. You're just a kid. And you know what? Granderson hasn't been so bad. He has a respectable .766 OPS in his two seasons with the Mets.
On June 11, when the Mets were still flirting with awfulness, I snagged cheap seats in right field. The Mets had just been no-hit by the Giants, and had belatedly slipped out of first. The team was floundering, and seemed unsure if they cared enough—or could spend enough—to take advantage of the Washington Nationals' mediocrity. On that night, from the moment he sprinted out to right field, Curtis Granderson clearly cared, and appeared to be willing to give whatever he could.
He looked as he always does, which is like a kid transformed by '90s movie magic into a big league player. (The film, by the logic of boring '90s baseball titles, would be called either Grand Slam or Deep To Right.) That night, Granderson singled home the go-ahead run in the fifth with the kind of nifty slicing single that he uses to fill the space between home runs. When that run didn't hold up, he scored the tying run in the seventh and then the winner in the tenth.
It was a good night, but it wasn't his night. Michael Cuddyer—the team's latest doomed biggish-dollar free agent—delivered the game-tying and -winning hits. But Cuddyer, bless his heart, is not the player who stood out. It was Granderson, zipping from first to home on a double, like he he was running because he dumped ten pixie sticks into his mouth while mom wasn't looking.
Starting in the first inning, I felt a creeping urge to scream nice things at Curtis Granderson. I was about to start bellowing, "I love you, Curtis!" when someone a few rows closer beat me to it. Granderson smiled quickly, and flicked his glove in recognition—a subtle gesture that said, "Thanks so much, but actually I'm at work right now so I have to get back to that, but really—thanks so much." (The man has a very expressive glove.)
It happened over and over again that night. "I love you, Curtis!" would sound out from the seats and be answered with a quick smile and a glove flick. I've been thinking about that all summer, as I and everyone else have watched the Mets figure things out and grow up into something like a very good baseball team. Every day during this metamorphosis, so many strangers have screamed "I love you!" at Curtis Granderson that he has been forced to develop a fast way to say thanks. Those New York crowds are murder.
You can see Curtis Granderson flicking his glove to say, "I love you too." You see him leaning back in the box, smiling of embarrassment on behalf of an ump who made a bad strike call. He legs out a double, leaping into second with his arms in the air like he's holding onto an invisible parachute. He slides into foul territory, chasing down a pop-up that a younger man might have caught easily. Whether he catches it or not, he looks fantastic. When handed a microphone for dugout interviews during Spring Training, he answered anodyne questions with a deft, back-scratching ease that any national politician would envy, and which few could match.
To watch Granderson is to be confronted, confoundingly, with what appears to be joy, which is a thing that Mets fans have seldom sensed amid the scar tissue and financial malfeasance and off-the-record venom of the Wilpon years, and have perhaps not seen at all since Jose Reyes left town. That's a strange thing since the Mets have mostly been a joyful, if not terribly successful, franchise. They gave us Mr. Met and banner day and a scowling Casey Stengel spraying gibberish curses at the hapless boys of 1962. They gave us the shoe polish game and the black cat game and hot foots and the imperfect game and Johan Santana's no-hitter. In this gap-toothed continuum, Curtis Granderson is just another gift.
For years, he'd been the only tolerable Yankee, objectively too fun to be working for the stuffy sourpusses in the Bronx. Granderson played an absurdly shallow center field then—played it badly, as it happens, but looked great doing it—and there was no way to watch him chase a pop fly without seeing a kid conjuring Willie Mays. Curtis Granderson has spent his whole life impersonating Willie Mays, and there are many worse ways to spend a life.
When Granderson signed in 2014, he seemed a consolation prize for a team locked into a weird and unconvincing performance of contention. He would probably never hit, really, but the Mets would never contend, so what did it matter? Granderson started 2014 as badly as we feared—hitting .136 in April with one lonely home run—but he rebounded. In 2015, he's having his best season in years, with a solid OPS bolstered by a sneaky-steady ability to take walks. For those ugly months before Yoenis Cespedes, when David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud were out and the Mets scored five times a week, Granderson was all we had.
In a gruesome July game against the Cardinals, Granderson was given an off-day that was cut short in the eighth inning. After pinch-hitting, he wound up staying in the game until the 18th. On his day off, amid a team of zombified quad-A players, Granderson ran like he'd been electrified, stealing two bases, stretching a single into a double, and doing everything possible to euthanize an awful game. Once again, he didn't get the winning hit, although his single set it up. It's a Bugs Bunny bit: every time Granderson steps towards the spotlight, the spotlight swings away.
But, suddenly, the Mets don't need consolation prizes. Last week, the Mets delivered the kind of body blow to the Washington Nationals that Mets fans have absorbed without answer for decades. In a three game series that the Nationals desperately needed to sweep, the Mets came from behind to win every game. Granderson was never the best player in any game, but he was always second or third or fourth most important. In three vital games, Granderson went 4-for-9, walked five times, and hit two doubles and a triple; he scored three runs. By no measure is Granderson the MVP of this increasingly-remarkable team. But your favorite player? Sure. Excellent choice.
So, say you are a child who loves the Mets. Or you were a child once, and for the last six weeks, you have been again. The Mets are probably going to make the playoffs this year; in October, they will probably break your heart. This team, really every team, does that. They will break your heart, again and again, until all those hot-weather weeks of joy are as faded as old newsprint. But Curtis Granderson will still be on the field or in your memory, having as much fun as he possibly can. Kids know enough to see that for what it's really worth. Everyone else is, by this point, probably coming around.