David Wright did it all for the love of the game.
Those grueling weeks, months and years of rehabilitation aimed at making it back to the Mets didn’t pan out the way he’d hoped, but at least he got the chance to finish a remarkable 15-year career on his own terms. The Mets’ captain goes out holding the No. 1 spot in numerous team statistical categories, including hits, runs and doubles, and — with 1,585 after his Saturday farewell — is behind only Ed Kranepool’s 1,853 in games played.
“David Wright is one of the greatest players in our franchise’s history. You can measure his batting average, home runs and RBIs, but what you can’t measure is what he’s meant to this organization and our fans,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement, “He created his own foundation to help those in need, represents all the best values a captain should and is giving of his time. David is an iconic Met, but his kindness and generosity far outweigh any baseball statistic.”
The Mets’ 2018 season officially ends after Sunday’s game against the Marlins. On Monday, No. 5 — the third baseman who gave his heart and soul to the team for 15 seasons — will be a 35-year-old ex-ballplayer.
Wright has an invitation to remain with the Mets in some capacity, assistant general manager Omar Minaya said. “I don’t know what he wants to do,“ Minaya said. “My guess is that whatever he wants to do, he will be able to do.’’
Wright, the 38th player taken in the 2001 draft, started his professional career at Kingsport, Tennessee. He made the jump to New York on July 21, 2004, going 0-for-4 against the Expos. He had a double and a single the next day and hit his first home run July 26 in Montreal. He finished his rookie season hitting .293 with 14 home runs and 40 RBIs in 69 games.
Cliff Floyd, now an analyst for MLB Network, was Wright’s teammate then.
“He made the transition from the minor leagues quick,’’ Floyd said. “I felt like watching him take on New York, take on the bright lights, take on the responsibility of being a superstar and all the expectations, he took them in stride.’’
And, Floyd said wistfully, “All he had to do is stay on the field and be healthy.’’
Wright’s best years occurred from 2006-08, when he averaged 29 homers and 115 RBIs.
“When I first got there, he was a great player,’’ said Terry Collins, who took over from Jerry Manuel as Mets manager in 2011. “I was shocked that people kept pitching to him. People kept pitching, he just kept hitting. He said, ‘Hop on, guys, I’ll drive the bus this time.’ ”
Wright was named Mets captain in 2013, the same year he hit .438 for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, where he was dubbed Captain America.
“I knew he wasn’t a real rah- rah guy,’’ Collins said, “but I knew the players had such respect for him that if he went to them individually, they listened, done deal.’’
In 2015, Wright drew raves from Collins and his teammates after he lectured Noah Syndergaard for eating lunch in the clubhouse during an intrasquad scrimmage at spring training.
On April 14, 2015, Wright went on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. That was the precursor for the later diagnosis of spinal stenosis, and he was limited to 38 regular-season games that season. After a four-month stay on the disabled list that year, Wright met the team in a hotel room in full uniform and hit a monster home run against the Phillies in his first at-bat. He was able to participate in the 2015 World Series and homered against the Royals in Game 3, the only Mets victory.
In 2016, Wright played in only 36 games, the result of a herniated disc in his neck that would require surgery. In 2017, he had right shoulder impingement, which eventually led to rotator cuff surgery. Wright has said all of his injuries can be traced back to 2011, when he tried to make a diving tag at third on the Astros’ Carlos Lee. That resulted in a stress fracture in Wright’s lower back, but he tried to play through it.
During the extended rehabs, Collins often was asked about Wright’s possible return. “He did his best to stay positive around his teammates,’’ Collins said, “but you could see the anguish in his face. He said to me, ‘There’s mornings I wake up, I just hope I can get out of bed.’ And yet he never slowed down.
“The hardest thing to do is manage a star that is starting to fall,’’ Collins added. “It’s really difficult to see.’’
Collins, an adviser to the Mets, watched Wright’s most recent rehab efforts in Port St. Lucie.
“He was the ultimate professional and he showed it this last month,’’ Collins said. “He wanted to make sure his body wasn’t going to be able to play, he had to prove it to himself. He said he felt he owed it to the Wilpons, the Mets, the Mets fans to give maximum effort. He’s never going to have to say I should have given it a shot. He gave it a shot.’’
JUST CALL HIM ‘MR. MET’
Wright was the face of the Mets from almost Day 1. “If you were trying to sell season tickets and the guy said I want to meet David Wright, David never blinked an eye,’’ Collins said.
Wright volunteered to attend events commemorating the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also privately and tearfully toured areas of Staten Island ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.
“He’s a pretty sincere, empathetic, intimate guy.’’ said former Mets general manager Steve Phillips, who hosts a show on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio. “And he let us into that in ways that star players don’t often do. And I think that’s what separated him and made him so special and beloved by fans. There’s a part of it that’s ‘what if’ for sure; if he had stayed healthy, where would the career numbers have gone. It certainly is something to celebrate because he’s at the top of most offensive categories for the organization. It’s sad because he’s been robbed of some years of production. It’s a celebration, but certainly, there’s some sadness in there.’’
Willie Randolph, who managed Wright from 2005-08, said, ”This reminds me a little bit of what happened to Don Mattingly,’’ whose career ended when he was 34 because of back issues. “David had it all, all the ingredients. If he had stayed healthy, he would have been in the conversation, I think, for the Hall of Fame. It’s a little bittersweet, but David didn’t leave anything on the field. Even to the end, he loves to compete.’’
FOR THE RECORD
David Wright’s key stats, through Thursday, and his alltime Mets ranking in each category:
Games 1,583 2
Batting Avg. .296 T3
Plate appearances 6,869 1
At-bat 5,996 1
Hits 1,777 1
Runs 949 1
On-base pct. .376 4
Total bases 2,945 1
Doubles 390 1
Triples 26 T8
Home runs 242 2
RBI 970 1
Hit by pitch 45 2
Walks 761 1
Intentional walks 73 5
Strikeouts 1,292 1
Stolen bases 196 4
DAVID WRIGHT: HIS WONDER YEARS
David Wright became smitten with baseball as a youth in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Steve Gedro, who would later become Wright’s coach at Hickory High School, first met the sixth grader at a summer camp. “Definitely saw he was a step above other guys, even at that age,’’ Gedro said. Wright stood out in an area rich in major league prospects such as Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman and Justin and Me
Wright became the team’s captain at Hickory. “He hit so many line drives, probably 50-plus doubles, every day was a great day having him,’’ Gedro said. “He was always focused and in tune with wanting to get better and he was better than the majority of the other players, if not all,’’ Gedro said. “And he was still willing to work hard.’’
By his senior year, Wright had attracted dozens of scouts. “David went out to hit for the scouts. We had all the kids stand against the fence and if hit one [out], someone would yell “incoming.’ ‘’
Teammate Brian Mansfield pitched batting practice to Wright. “Could I have looked at him then and said I bet he’s going to play for the Mets in one day, that he was potentially going to be a Hall of Famer and have a 12-15 year major league baseball career, probably not,’’ Mansfield said. “But it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. If he could go back to when he’s 17 years old taking batting practice on a field at Hickory High School, would you ever have imagined you would be sitting here today? I think he’d be pretty happy with the way things worked out. ‘’
After the Mets selected Wright as the 38th pick overall in the 2001 draft, Wright was invited to Shea Stadium. That’s where he met Joe McEwing, the popular utility player who would become Wright’s mentor. “I was in the batting cage getting my work done,’’ said McEwing, now bench coach for the White Sox. Wright wanted to take batting practice. “I said “sure, I’ll get out of the cage for an 18-year old kid that just signed.’ When he started hitting, I said `that’s a different sound, that’s a pretty special bat right there. From that moment on, we developed a friendship. It was like the brother that I did not have. Every person he came in contact with he made them better. The ultimate teammate, the ultimate friend. Those are the highest compliments you can ever get in this game.’’