Is David Wright the Next Chipper Jones?
Michael Baron - MetsBlog.com
This 2012 season has been one big farewell tour for Chipper Jones, arguably one of the greatest third baseman to ever play the game. At every ballpark he’s entered for the last time, he has received parting gifts and a huge standing ovation from fans. Even so in Flushing a few weeks back, despite nineteen years of tormenting the Mets and their fans.
Part of the mystique and respect surrounding the 40 year old is watching him at the same position and in the same uniform since he broke in the league as a youngster way back in 1993. His career is being celebrated throughout the big leagues not only because he is one of the greats of the game, but because he is someone who never left.
It doesn’t get much more special than doing it all for one team, especially in a day and age when money trumps loyalty. Look around baseball, other than Chipper Jones only Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Todd Helton, and Paul Konerko are with the same organization since the 90’s. Ever so rarely do franchise players come around, and it’s even rarer that they stick around. Just think Albert Pujols.
But David Wright has the unique chance to wear a Met uniform for life, and be able to grow great and old at his craft for the only organization he has ever known. That organization just so happens to be the same one that he cheered for as a kid growing up in Chesapeake, Virginia. At just 29 years old, he holds numerous club records.
He is well on his way to being the greatest Met to ever don the uniform, and on Wednesday night he added to his legacy, passing longtime Met Ed Kranepool’s mark of 1,418 hits. Since debuting as a 21 year old kid, the same age when Jones first dawned a Braves uniform, he has already become the franchise leader in hits, runs batted in, doubles, total bases, and runs. The whole time he has done so quietly and humbly, while playing in the shadow of the numerous stars on Broadway.
The Big Apple is home to Derek Jeter, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Eli Manning, Amar'e Stoudemire, Darrelle Revis, and a slew of other players who consume the headlines in papers. Yet Wright, who is arguably the best third baseman in the game, is rarely spoken about, as the media would rather talk about second-string quarterback Tim Tebow.
One big reason for that is the Mets lack of success, as Wright got his only taste of the postseason during the 2006 campaign. The following two seasons the Metropolitans ended in historic late season collapses. They haven’t finished with a winning record since 2008.
But that shouldn’t lessen what Wright means to the Mets, and what he has done in his short time in Flushing. He has made six All-Star appearances, and has won two Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. He has also won the Mets Heart and Hustle Award twice, and the New Jersey Writers Associations "Sports Humanitarian of the Year" award in 2008.
He is an All-Star on and off the field, and one of the most genuinely nice guys in the game. He leads by example and lets his play do all the talking, similar to the way Jones has gone about business for the past two decades.
The only thing that matters to both of them is winning, but unlike Jones he hasn't been surrounded by many good teams and has a World Series ring under his belt, which is why it is no guarantee that he becomes one of the few to stay.
Meanwhile, Wright has endured a fourth straight season with almost no hope of reaching the playoffs, and once again will have to watch the postseason from home. The Mets are expected to pick up his $16 million option for 2013 when the season concludes, and then have the winter to negotiate a long-term contract with the face of the franchise, who is poised to test free agency if he doesn’t have a deal in place by March.
Mets brass remains optimistic that a deal will get struck, but they will have to not only show him the money, but convince him that there are brighter days ahead in Citi Field. In August the modest Wright said, “The money issue for me, I don’t think that will be the deciding factor.” For the majority of the summer he avoided the topic of his next contract, but made it clear that he is tired of losing.
For Wright, winning a World Series will trump any dollar sign, but he too remains optimistic that he will be a lifelong Met, and eventually reach that goal here. “You want to be able to win, and I’ve only experienced a little bit of that here,” Wright said. “In a perfect world, we get this thing turned around and going in the right direction and ultimately I get to experience the bad, the ugly and the good here, which includes winning.”
After a strong first half in which the team went 46-40 and had their name in the mix for a possible wild card, they had another second half free fall for the ages. This time they weren’t eliminated on the final day like a few years ago, instead they looked pitiful for months.
They currently sit eleven games under .500, good for fourth in the division, and fans stopped coming to Citi Field months ago. But in the final home game of the season on Thursday with R.A. Dickey going for his 20th victory, the Mets fateful showed up in droves, and were loud as they’ve been in a long time, reaffirming that Citi Field will be a hell of a place for October baseball someday.
That day is hopefully soon, as things are looking up for Terry Collins’ team. Over the last week Wright has mentioned the Baltimore Orioles, who won 11 of their last 16 games, which has perhaps helped propel them to the magical season they’ve had so far.
Maybe he’s on to something as the Mets have won seven of their last eight, and have some solid building blocks for the future. Dickey is in line to win Cy Young, Ike Davis has more homers and RBI’s than the Yankees Robinson Cano, southpaw Jon Niese had 22 quality outings, Matt Harvey looks like the real deal, and the highly touted Zach Wheeler is inching closer to the bigs.
The organization is in good hands with Manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson, as the two great baseball minds crave to win just as much as Wright does. They also both know that winning will only come if they lock up their leader.
In Jones last visit to Queens, he said that the Mets better treat their longest tenured player right, which means never letting him hit the open market. Since the Braves made Jones the first pick of the 1990 draft, he has never smelled free agency, which is why the marriage has been so successful.
Jones will be enshrined in Cooperstown five years from now, and when it’s all said and done go down alongside Mike Schmidt, and George Brett, as one of the three best players to ever play the hot-corner. The three legends are all symbolic of their respective franchises, and all played their entire career in one city, and perhaps Wright will do the same.
No matter what happens his name will one day be mentioned among them, and other greats to play third, such as Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, and Ron Santo. Despite only turning 30 in December, he has already accumulated 204 home-runs, 816 RBI’s, 1422 hits, and career .301 average.
Ironically, yesterday Wright and his Met teammates were on hand for Chipper Jones night in Turner Field, as his farewell tour is nearing its end. He was showered with more gifts, honored with a video tribute, and the governor of Georgia even declared it "Chipper Jones Day" in the state.
But most importantly, he was thanked for all he’s done for the organization, because the days of people staying and remaining loyal are long gone. Out of the active players who have played for one team only Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Todd Helton, Michael Young, and Jimmy Rollins have played in more games with their respective team than Wright.
While Wright watched last night on the top step of the dugout, nobody knows if he pondered his own mortality, because one day years from now he may have a celebration of his own in Citi Field for being a great one who stayed.