It doesn’t matter a bit if it’s fair or unfair. The lasting image of Carlos Beltran as a Mets player is the bat on his shoulder as he took a called third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
Never mind that the pitch was a hellacious curveball from Adam Wainwright that probably would have frozen Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams and anyone else you’d care to mention.
Never mind that Beltran’s 6½-year Mets career places him as one of the top three position players in franchise history. Never mind that as a Met, he made four All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, hit 149 of his 435 home runs, stole 100 of his 312 bases and was valuable enough at the end of his tenure to get traded in 2011 for Zack Wheeler, who has contributed 44 wins to the franchise during his five healthy big-league seasons.
When Beltran is introduced on Monday as the 22nd Mets manager, some fans still will not be over the final pitch of the 2006 NLCS. That’s probably a good sign that they’re never going to get over it.
It’s not the first time Beltran will be introduced to the Mets masses at a Flushing ballpark news conference. The first time was in January 2005, when he was introduced at Shea Stadium after signing a seven-year, $119 million free- agent contract, at the time a record contract for a Mets player.
Beltran was coming off a luminous postseason with the Houston Astros in which he hit eight home runs combined in two playoff series. The Mets also signed Pedro Martinez that offseason, and a World Series appearance was a realistic goal heading into 2005.
But Beltran had a subpar first season in New York, hitting .266 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs as the Mets went 83-79 and missed the playoffs. He was booed at Shea, which the sensitive Beltran admitted he didn’t appreciate.
The next year was much better. He had his best Mets season, hitting .275 with 41 home runs and 116 RBIs. He finished fourth in the NL MVP voting.
Then came two rounds of playoffs that ended one victory — and maybe one swing — short of the World Series.
Beltran continued for 4½ more seasons with the Mets. They were not always easy ones, which makes his return as manager all the more interesting.
Knee problems started sapping Beltran’s playing time after he appeared in 161 games in 2008. In 2009, he played in only 81 games.
In 2010, Beltran clashed with Mets management about the treatment of his knee injury. The strong-willed Beltran decided to have surgery without the team’s approval a month before spring training in 2010 and appeared in only 64 games that season.
With the Mets floundering in 2011, Beltran was traded to the Giants on July 28 for Wheeler, then a minor-leaguer. Beltran went on to play until 2017, when he won his only World Series ring as a member of the Astros, and he will merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame when he is eligible in 2023.
Beltran hit .280 with an .869 OPS as a Met. He is third all-time on the franchise WAR (Wins Above Replacement, baseballreference.com version) leaderboard at 31.1. David Wright is first at 50.4 and Darryl Strawberry is second at 36.6.
Is that enough for him to be remembered fondly as a Mets player? You make the call. Or maybe you already have.
Big Apple turnover
The hiring of Carlos Beltran means every major New York team has replaced its coach or manager since 2016:
Coach, Team, First year
Kenny Atkinson, Nets, 2016
David Fizdale, Knicks, 2018
Aaron Boone, Yankees, 2018
Pat Shurmur, Giants, 2018
Barry Trotz, Islanders, 2018
David Quinn, Rangers, 2018
Adam Gase, Jets, 2019
Carlos Beltran, Mets, 2020