This Sisyphean Ideal

Carlos Beltran has been traded to the other side of the country. His home for the next three months of baseball is San Francisco, and that fact should not sadden me, yet it does. Gone are the days of watching him glide about centerfield with an adept step and a glove that made the most Sisyphean task seem quotidian. That Greek king's fate seems very similar to what Carlos Beltran (and myriad other New York athletes) are confounded by during their tenures in New York.   


The Metropolitans are the team for whom Carlos Beltran has played the most games, surpassing that mark this season. He has spent nearly half his career in New York and sadly, if you ask me the team with whom I most associate Beltran, the original synapse fired off compels me to think of Kauffman Stadium and years of toiling in profound mediocrity and the victim of the soft bigotry of  shaming players who are exceedingly talented and productive caught in the midst of horrid pitching and equally horrid hitters (apologies to Mike Sweeney). That may sound terrible, but perhaps I became to accustomed to stellar play from him that his realized ceiling was merely the result of what was to be expected as he was drafted back in 1995.  

People cackle from the balconies, "You paid him money simply based upon that 2004 NLCS", as if that were an incisive insult. The irony lies in that during the 2004 playoffs, Sisyphus finally did push that boulder up the seemingly interminable and untraversable hill. The numbers from that postseason instill a sense of disbelief in those who are avid followers of statistics: .455/.500/1.091 in the Division Series and .415/.563/.958 in the Championship Series. Carlos Beltran was Roy Hobbs for 12 games in October 2004, and the probability during that period was that during any given at-bat, he was not going to make an out. The moment he signed with New York, however, the boulder began to slip back down the hill and Sisyphus' pacification was far too brief, Roy Hobbs was now a mere mortal, and the Grecian urn now had an indelible mark.  The compensation for the star's performances simply would add more diameter to absurd rock.

The first year the boulder never moved, and though Sisyphus was never troubled by the illusion and eventual despair of watching the rock come tumbling haphazardly back to the valley, the performance was troubling. Beltran's hitting was below average and the power numbers seemed nascent. This wasn't the man whom the Mets were promised, this was an impostor. The man who provided sterling defense was below-average in the field as well, providing no solace to his offensive woes. Naturally, the flippant comments ensued as to whether Beltran could handle the Sisyphean New York media and fanatics, whose ideals make Keats' odes for Grecian urns seem germane and even subdued.

Luminous times finally arrived in 2006, and Sisyphus finally began to push the boulder again now feeling like a symbol of triumph, not the elegiac challenge and condemnation it was meant to be. The Metropolitans won their division handily and dismantled the Dodgers in three games, albeit with merely below-average contributions to the success. Sisypheus was still close to the summit yet again. 


I am keenly aware that the above photo is what caused the boulder to topple and crush Sisyphus in the eyes of many people. For many, redemption would return only in the form of propelling two boulders to the summit, if redemption was even capable. In that moment, Adam Wainwright threw a stellar curveball and through the cosmic events and randomness that come with each game, Sisyphus so happened to be in the batter's box. The season was over, his prior brilliance in the series now rendered moot to those who loathed as a result of one mere pitch. If only Adam Wainwright possessed a slingshot and a rock, because he had slain our benign Goliath. 

The next two years would be clouded by team ineptitude late in the season, despite Sisyphus' best efforts to prevent the outcome both times. The great 8-win season of 2006 would have cured such ills, but such is the sick fate of sports, where brilliance can be outshined and deemed unimpressive by even the most minute and granular increases in brilliance. The game of comparison is like a specter's foot omnipresent around Sisyphus' rock ready to strike a cruel blow even when excellence has been achieved. The jesters who admonish merely state, "Indeed Beltran was brilliant, but there were those who were more brilliant than he, and had he been more brilliant this woe begotten fate would not have befallen upon his team." Such asinine logic is why I'm employing the Sisyphus metaphors so liberally in this piece. Why can there be so few brilliant players in the game? Why isn't brilliance on an individual level relished and cherished, but instead derided, as if the job wasn't even completed at all? I fail to see the rationale behind chastising brilliant efforts to put a team in a place to succeed, while leaving those who were far less productive unscathed. I guess it simply is easier to damn Sisyphus, whose contract is somehow akin to ostentatious hubris displayed by the Greek king, because he is consigned to moving that boulder as long as he remains a Met. 

2009 and 2010 were exceedingly difficult to watch as the boulder now has callused and bloodied his hands from excessive use and wear. By God, did Beltran still try to push that rock though. He was worth 4 wins in half a season, and two in just over a third. He was worth 6.3 wins in 148 games in that span, which would actually be his 4th best WAR season had they not occurred in stretches over two seasons. 

Now Sisyphus is gone. The rock is left uninhabited, and he has flown West where maybe he can arrive at the summit of World Series excellence and finally smash his personal boulder of anguish. All that persists are the numerous introspectives and gregarious tributes to the natural talent. The five-tool wonder who made the difficult mundane in the field and who could hit pitching from either side of the plate is reduced to memories and gazing at his achievements with a focused eye and an amazed reaction. When compared to the gods and legends of the team, Sisyphus compared profoundly well, if not better than most of them. The pariah outperformed the deities all along. It probably goes without saying that I am rooting very hard for the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series barring an improbable tear from the Metropolitans. They're simply lucky that they acquired Beltran, otherwise I would be indifferent to their results and success. 

Many will cry vile things about how Sisyphus never reached the summit and never quite fulfilled the Roy Hobbs-esque performance of 2004, and that's fine. Sisyphus never had a chance to succeed in their eyes anyway and the rock was molded into the base of the hill after that one pitch in October 2006. 

I, on the other hand, will swear that the rock was sitting at the top of the hill all along. Sisyphus had achieved infinitely more that I could have ever imagined and wasn't a failure the moment he signed his contract, which was the moment the Sisyphean demands were placed upon him. He was never going to be Roy Hobbs, though he came pretty damn close. It won't be forgotten anytime soon. 

Adieu, Carlos. 

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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