Jose Reyes, the shortstop turned aspiring major-league third baseman, found himself in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, at a minor-league ballpark officially called Peoples Natural Gas Field, about to suit up for the Binghamton Mets, the New York Mets’ Class AA farm team.
Two weeks past his 33rd birthday, Reyes had played two games over the weekend for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season Class A affiliate on Coney Island, going hitless in five at-bats. His bat was not the reason the Mets had given him a chance to extend his career.
Reyes played nine years for the Mets, all but 43 of 1,050 games as a shortstop, and management brought him back as a potential replacement for David Wright, the stoic third baseman whose season, and perhaps his career, ended two weeks ago after neck surgery.
From simply a baseball perspective, it made perfect sense for the Mets to take a look at Reyes, who had floated from Miami to Toronto to Denver since leaving New York after a 2011 season in which he drove up his market value by batting .337 and stealing 39 bases.
But this was not a simple baseball decision. Major League Baseball had suspended Reyes, then with the Colorado Rockies, for the first two months of the 2016 season after he was arrested on charges of assaulting his wife, Katherine Ramirez, last October. The charges were later dropped after his wife did not cooperate with prosecutors.
When the Rockies designated Reyes for assignment on June 15, the Mets were reported to be uninterested in giving him a second chance. Wright underwent surgery two days later, and the Mets went looking for stopgaps.
A year after playing in the World Series, the Mets are a mess, riven by injuries, most notably to its superb young pitching staff. They could have, and probably should have, passed on Reyes, because he has played exactly zero games at third base in his big-league career. (The Mets tried him at second base for 43 games in his second season in 2004.)
But no. Sandy Alderson, the Mets general manager who once did a tour of duty in Vietnam as a US Marine, addressed Reyes’ personal issues in a conference call with reporters Saturday.
“Trying to put aside issues of performance and talent, which is sort of bottom line what this is all about, we have done everything we can to consider the other issues and make ourselves comfortable that Jose understands the mistake he made and has taken responsibility for it,” Alderson said.
“But at the same time, he doesn’t deserve to be ostracized. Other people will have a different point of view, where somebody makes a mistake and you can throw away the key. That’s not how we’ve chosen to address this. The fact is that I do believe that he is a good person at heart. A good person that made a huge mistake, and a good person who deserves a second chance with conditions. And that I think is what we’ve established.”
When Reyes took the field for his first game Sunday with the Cyclones, the crowd of 7,851 in Brooklyn, which included his wife and three children, and 2,500 people who had bought tickets at the last minute, chanted: “Jo-seee! Jo-se! Jo-se! Jo-se!,” as they did in the old days.
Reyes then addressed his personal life in a 12-minute news conference after the game. He sounded contrite. He labeled the domestic-violence episode in Hawaii, in which he allegedly grabbed his wife by the throat and shoved her into a glass hotel door, injuring her, “a huge mistake.”
Reyes said he would continue counseling, which had been mandated by MLB. He publicly apologized to his wife and family. He said he was thankful that Alderson and Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, had given him a chance to extend his career. He said he was unhappy with the Rockies, with whom he was to make $22m this season. (According to Baseballreference.com, Reyes’ career earnings top $92.7m.)
At one point Sunday, Reyes said: “I’m going to do everything that I can to try to get better, not only as a person, but on the field. Like I said, whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to be open to do it. I’m home. I’m happy.”
That was early Sunday evening. The interesting development came Monday, when a Mets spokesman told the Guardian that Reyes would be available to the media again after his second game in Brooklyn, but only to answer “baseball questions.” Only “baseball questions” would be permitted in Altoona, spokesmen for the Mets and Binghamton Mets said Tuesday.
A person can only say “I made a mistake” so many times, after all. But the use of the word “mistake” in this case by both Reyes and Alderson sanitizes an issue that rips lives apart. And it can’t be washed away that Reyes did something that Major League Baseball, after an investigation, warranted a suspension and apparently was a factor in the Rockies releasing Reyes.
When the Rockies designated Reyes for assignment, Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich told ESPN: “From the beginning, we’ve said that what’s gone on, what seemed to have gone on between Jose and his wife, is both extremely disappointing and unfortunate, noting the societal ramifications of all of it.”
The Mets’ plan, it appears, is to continue to have Reyes play minor-league games at third base until they think he is ready to be called up, perhaps soon. The team could use his help, and Reyes was well-liked in the Mets’ clubhouse his first time around.
But that was then. Giving Reyes a chance to replace Wright makes no sense from a baseball perspective, because Reyes has never played third base, and, beyond that, has a completely different skill set from Wright. More importantly the domestic violence issue sends out an even worse message. The Mets can, of course, employ whoever they wish, but many will see the signing as a signal that all can be forgiven with a few admissions of “a mistake”. Much of the world, though, just doesn’t work that way any more.
This article was written by Dave Caldwell, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th June 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010