David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
The smartest thing the Mets did Thursday in trying to put their own spin on the Carlos Beltran controversy was dial up assistant general manager John Ricco as the team's point man for the conference call with reporters.
But even Ricco, as deftly as he handled every question during the 30-minute call, failed to deflect any of the blame from where it actually belonged: right back on the Mets.
Despite all the talk of "legal ramifications" and contract language, of whether Beltran followed the correct procedure or not, there was no covering up the fact that the centerfielder actually needed the surgery.
How do we know?
Ricco said so himself.
"The doctor went in to clear out inflammation," Ricco said. "He removed flaking cartilage and trimmed off bone spurs. It was a general cleanup of the knee to alleviate the symptoms and make him pain-free."
Beltran, under the direction of agent Scott Boras - and with the approval of the Mets - visited Steadman for a second opinion this week after team physician David Altchek, also widely respected, suggested that he simply rest and cut back on the intensity of his workouts.
That was the same prognosis given to a number of Mets last season - Beltran included - as they tried to play through injuries that became even more severe and ultimately required surgery anyway. It didn't work then and it apparently wasn't going to work now with Beltran, who must have became fed up with the Mets' decision-making process as it pertains to medical issues.
During the season is different. Players will put off surgery for as long as possible if they can remain helpful to the team. In some cases last year, the Mets may have exploited that to their detriment. Beltran was a prime example, grinding it out as the bone bruise, a symptom of the chronic osteoarthritis in his right knee, worsened.
But now, in January, what was the point of waiting? To get some third opinion? To keep the illusion of a healthy Beltran alive for another month, only to have him need the surgery at the start of spring training? That would have put more than half of the regular season at risk - if Beltran were able to return at all.
Another indisputable fact, as explained by Ricco: Beltran's knee was getting worse, not better. Beltran was optimistic during a November visit to New York and said he had recovered from the bone bruise that limited him to 81 games last season. But as soon as he began to "ramp up" his conditioning in Puerto Rico, Beltran felt discomfort again. He returned to New York for an MRI Dec. 10.
That test showed the damage in the knee - Ricco emphasized Thursday that the symptoms were new - and that's when Beltran's future began to darken.
Up until that point, the Mets had done all they could for Beltran, who by all accounts had shown significant improvement by the end of the regular season.
The team continued to closely monitor his rehab in Puerto Rico, and trainer Ray Ramirez visited him to make sure everything was OK. Finally, it seemed the Mets were ready to put the nightmare of 2009 behind them.
But as soon as the calendar flipped and Beltran was faced with the team's first major setback of the new year, the Mets showed that nothing really had changed.
Although team officials did a good job disseminating the medical update and timetable for Beltran after the surgery was performed - something the Mets never did last season - the confusion over his surgery was unsettling.
And now the club's shell-shocked fan base, scarred by watching their stars collapse one by one last season, can only wonder who's next.