23. Curtis Granderson
Home runs as a Met: 76
Home run rate: 1 per 26 plate appearances (3.85%)
We talk and write about baseball players as if we’ve got them figured out, don’t we? We take what they give us, whether it’s their style of play, their post-game comments, or even their non-verbal behavior in the dugout, and we build stories about them and what they must be like. Sprinkle in old scouting reports citing “makeup” and some table scraps of gossip from insiders “with knowledge of the clubhouse” and mix in equal parts social media posts and paparazzi flotsam—if available, add a generous helping of news from their personal lives, too—and voila! You have a recipe for a professional athlete’s personality that will satisfy any armchair psychologist and most American sports fans.
By objective measures, the player ranked 23rd on the list of the Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, Curtis Granderson, has been a valuable player for the Mets—and indeed, for much of his career. By more subjective—but still fact-based—standards, Granderson has also shown kindness and generosity in measures that indicate he is also, probably, a pretty good person.
It seems like it was but a moment ago that the 2013 hot stove rumor mill was churning speculation as to whether the Mets were actually serious in their pursuit of free agent Curtis Granderson. By that time, the Wilpons’ gruesome financial troubles were known to all, Sandy Alderson’s honeymoon phase was over, and the on-field product, as it were, had been bad for years.
It was easy—and sensible, really, given all the circumstances—to dismiss the Mets’ salmon-dinner courtship of Curtis Granderson as a cynical ruse to appease a disgusted fanbase; and when it came out that the Mets didn’t want to give Granderson the four-year deal he was seeking—preferring, reportedly, to stick to three—it felt like an “of course” moment: a preordained miss that the front office and ownership could spin as an earnest try. After all, hesitating to offer a fourth year to a player of Granderson’s age was perfectly reasonable on paper. But everyone saw through the “long-term flexibility” facade and knew it was simply a matter of the owners being unable to accommodate even a relatively modest sunk cost for a season or two at the tail end of a contract in order to materially improve the team in the present.
Then Curtis Granderson signed a four-year, $60 million contract to play baseball for the New York Mets. Shortly thereafter, he himself dispatched any lingering skepticism or bad feelings about the deal when he, fresh off a multi-year tenure with the Yankees, noted that “true New Yorkers are Mets fans.” It was a harmless, if perfectly timed, rhetorical jab, and a delightful bromide for Mets fans everywhere.
Since then, Granderson has established himself as perhaps the most valuable and durable position player in Queens, and, thanks to a focused and energetic playing style and a flair for playful Instagram hijinks, one of the better-liked ones as well. Yoenis Cespedes has provided game-changing offense since his arrival on the team and, deservedly, has received much praise and notoriety for it. But that should not detract from any celebration of what Granderson has done—especially in 2015, when he, en route to a 5.1 WAR season, provided essentially the only offense the Mets could muster over several painful summer months before the trade deadline. You could make a strong case he was the Mets’ MVP that year.
Granderson is an athletic outfielder who, while much better-suited to a corner spot, can hold his own in center field even at this later stage of his career. He is also a patient hitter with a strong walk rate that, in terms of his ability to get on base, plenty compensates for what is usually a middling batting average. He strikes out at a fair clip, but he also possesses that key counterbalance skill: power.
In three short seasons, Granderson has secured his place on the Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders list, having swatted 76 home runs over that time. As of now, the outfield glut remains to be sorted out, but Granderson should move up this list pretty handily in 2017, which is both the last year of his contract and almost certainly his last year as a Met. Granderson turns 36 in March, and while he is athletic enough and is still performing at a high-enough level that he could probably stay in the big leagues for another several years, the American League is probably a better fit for him as he advances into his late 30s. In the meantime, the Mets get to enjoy another year of Granderson’s services, and if he gets regular playing time and avoids injury, he could wind up in the top 15, which is no small feat for a relatively short-tenured Met.
As I have chronicled here before, I live in Colorado and have precious few opportunities to see the Mets in person. Fortunately, they play the Rockies in Denver once a year, and I make a point of attending those games. In 2015, I had the good fortune of literally having a front-row seat (right behind the visitor’s dugout) for Yoenis Cespedes’s amazing three-home-run game, which was an unforgettable spectacle.
I have another few standout memories from that game, though, and they were couched in a series of moments that, unlike the Cespedes homers, escaped the attention of cameras and never got a word of print. Every time Curtis Granderson emerged from the dugout to take his on-deck swings, he would first walk over to the netting behind the plate and just over on the third-base side, and he would exchange gentle fist bumps and have a little conversation with a couple of kids who were sitting in the vicinity. I’ve seen him doing that at other times, too, but being up close I could see the tenderness of it all—the way he really listened to the kids, really looked at them, really smiled at them. It occurred to me that I had a front-row seat to an altogether quiet kind of moment that was, nevertheless, at least as significant than those home runs.
Between what I saw that day and the numerous stories I’ve read over the years telling of Curtis Granderson’s philanthropy and generosity, I wasn’t especially surprised when I learned that he received the Roberto Clemente award last fall.
I don’t know Curtis Granderson. One can be generous with one’s time and money without being an especially pleasant person. But a guy like Granderson makes it easy to think he is pretty great—and that makes it all the easier to root for him.
Curtis Granderson (with the Mets)
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