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Jose Reyes and the Ghost of Willie McGee

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If Jose Reyes fails to win the NL batting crown this season, I will wholeheartedly blame Sandy Alderson for any feelings of disappointment.

No, this has nothing do with the looming contract negotiations to take place between our tenured shortstop and new front office. It's not about the Mets' decision to pass on re-signing Reyes at a discount last offseason nor if they had the ability do so. This isn't about Madoff nor Reyes's hamstring nor a deep-seeded love for Ruben Tejada or Wilmer Flores

This is about vengeance and redemption for a nine-year-old boy who grew up walking the "first Met to possibly win the NL batting title" walk too many times in years that followed. Vengeance, because that boy saw his hopes sank at this port in the lousy-season storm right before docking. Redemption, because it can make a wrong thing right in that boy's mind.

And this is about Willie McGee. Because I hate that guy.

Reyes's pursuit for batting average royalty isn't the Mets' first go-round in that area. Cleon Jones finished third in 1969 with a .340 batting average, keeping pace with but eventually succumbing to that year's batting champion in Pete Rose and the runner-up in Roberto Clemente. Former AL batting champ John Olerud raked in 1998 to the tune of a team-record .354 batting average, but didn't surge through September like Colorado's Larry Walker did with his .363.

Lance Johnson posted a .333 batting average during his cameo for the ages in 1996, which was good enough for fourth but not nearly in the same company as Tony Gwynn settled for a .353 average to claim his seventh batting title, just two seasons after the Padres legend came as close as anyone to hitting .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941.

Then there was Dave Magadan, who had the decency to flirt with the NL batting crown just as I started to get my wits about me as a baseball fan. By 1990, Magadan accrued a few years of Mets' service time that included the unenviable task of replacing an aging Mets icon in Keith Hernandez

As I was the ripe old age of nine, Magadan's ascent had meant little to me. I'm old enough to remember the Mets being awesome in the 1980s, but not so old as to recall what it was like to live it. 1990 was my first real season as an insatiable baseball fan and coincided with the last gasp of that pseudo-dynasty. When the Mets came tumbling down in the middle of September, it left me with nothing more than to watch my then de-facto favorite player in Magadan try to claim a major moral victory before season's end.

To do so, Magadan would need to overtake a batting leader in name only. Longtime Cardinals pest Willie McGee had accrued enough plate appearances to make his .335 average stand up, but he wasn't there to finish the job himself. McGee was traded by the NL East cellar-dwelling Cardinals to the AL West division leaders en route to winning the AL pennant.

That team? The Oakland Athletics. Their GM? Alderson.

So, bully for McGee that he gets to go play in the World Series that year, but Alderson had taken away any chance that the longtime Cardinals outfielder would choke down the stretch. Alderson inadvertently set the NL batting line at .335.

Magadan, who briefly lost his starting job at first base to Mike Marshall in the early goings of that season, almost overtook McGee, too. He entered the final series of the 1990 season against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a .330 batting average that he previously couldn't seem to lift. It would take a strong weekend, but it wasn't beyond the realm to overtake McGee's static number.

He didn't, of course. Magadan kept the .330 pace in game one against the Pirates with two hits in five plate appearances, but saw his average dip one point to .329 after accruing only one hit in five chances the next day in a loss that denied Dwight Gooden of a 20-win season. It would've been nice if Magadan had picked up a walk or two over those two games, but he chose to do it the hard way.

And the hard way meant going 5-for-5 in the season finale. Again, it would take a career day, but wouldn't that be fitting to overtake a guy about to win the batting crown who didn't even play in the National League anymore?

It was over in the first at-bat. Bud Harrelson had given Magadan the start in a bid to win the crown, but Magadan hit a fly ball to left field in his first plate appearance against the Pirates' Jerry Reuss. If McGee's .335 looked daunting before, it was now officially insurmountable. Magadan admitted as such following the game.

''I knew I couldn't catch McGee after that,'' he said. ''But I don't feel cheated. I didn't play much for the first two months. I only had 450 at-bats, and Willie had more than that.''

Harrelson replaced Magadan with Kelvin Torve after that at-bat, letting Torve join a hodge-podge lineup of September callups that included Todd Hundley and went on to produce two hits and one RBI to support Frank Viola's 20th win of the season -- the last Met to do so.

McGee? He rode the pine for Oakland that day. He didn't lift a finger to perform a single meaningful baseball activity while officilally winning that NL batting crown in 1990.

And Magadan? The first Met to give me a reason to cheer after the postseason chase died had ended up third in the batting average standings at .328 as the Dodgers' Eddie Murray snuck in with an awfully-familiar .330 line. Magadan went on to play two more seasons for your New York Mets before escaping prior to the team hitting rock bottom in 1993. His failure broke my heart once again that year and left me with a rotting corpse in the seasons to follow. So did McGee. So did Alderson. 

Will I be rooting for Reyes to succeed where Magadan failed? You bet I will. Sure, batting average doesn't have the caché it once did. Of course, winning the batting title won't make it any less affordable to the Mets during offseason contract negotiations. And it won't help the Mets get any closer to a postseason push this season or next.

Try telling that to the nine-year-old fan that watches every game with me.  He doesn't care. He knows he needs to see it through just in case a bit of Mets history gets made.