18. Jose Reyes
Home runs as a Met: 89
Home run rate: 1 per 57.5 Plate Appearances (1.7%)
Our breezy little series about the Mets’ all-time home run leaders comes to a controversial once-and-current Met: Jose Reyes. It used to be that Reyes was the embodiment of things we want to celebrate in this series—things like joy, fun, and talent. While those elements remain part of Reyes’ game, it's more complicated now.
Reyes came up through the Mets’ system as a teenager and spent the first nine or so years of his major league career with the team before departing to free agency after the 2011 season. From the get-go, Reyes was the most entertaining and exciting player in blue and orange, several early hamstring injuries notwithstanding.
The word “dynamic” is overused, but it is the perfect descriptor for a young Jose Reyes. When Reyes really put his game together, he became as significant an offensive threat as anyone; and when he got on base, you and everyone else in the stadium leaned forward in your seat and waited for him to wreak havoc. In those first nine or so seasons, there were few things as thrilling as watching Jose Reyes hit the ball into the gap and sprint around the bases.
Reyes’s speed helped him extend his offensive game and achieve impressive milestones: He is the Mets’ all-time leader in triples and stolen bases, is second in doubles, and will probably pass Ed Kranepool this year to claim second place in hits. He was never a home run hitter, per se; but he hit enough of them to make this list, to say nothing of the countless moments of bliss, home run-related or no, that he served up to Mets fans for many years.
Sports are entertainment, but they also reveal something to us about our most basic natures. It says something, for instance, that we spend countless hours and billions of dollars on professional sports every year even as we abide the ongoing existence of dire social problems and human suffering, the solutions to which could sorely use our attention and funding.
This is not to say that professional sports are an illegitimate or immoral way to spend one’s time. Sports can bring people together in deeply meaningful ways. It’s also really important to just have some fun in this life—to seek enjoyment from something, like baseball, that is essentially harmless and inconsequential.
However, it is wrong-headed to assert that sports exist in some kind of insulated world apart where there is no place for discussion of things like racism, sexism, homophobia, exploitation, or domestic violence—if for no other reason than the fact that those things exist and are often on full display within the realm of sports.
Indeed, the ugly truth, and the terrible coda to all the lighthearted happiness described above, is that Jose Reyes shoved his wife into a glass door in a hotel in Maui in December 2015, and the Mets found a way to benefit from it.
It is a near-certainty that Reyes would not be a Met today if he hadn’t done what he did. I suppose you can point out that Reyes had been a miserable shell of a player after he was traded to the Rockies in 2015; but it defies reason to think they would have cut bait and eaten the remaining year and a half and $30-something-million they owed him if it were simply a matter of a bad slump.
No, the Rockies assessed the situation and decided they wanted nothing to do with Jose Reyes. The Mets, on the other hand, needed someone who could play a passable major league third base on the cheap. They chose to give primacy to that value equation over the principle of refusing to give a big stage to a guy who had recently committed an act of domestic violence.
It’s spring training now, when all things are supposed to be fresh and exciting. For over a month or so, the internet has been a cornucopia of pictures of baseball players laughing with each other and signing autographs. It’s a love fest. It’s also an important marketing ritual: It gets fans excited about the season and eager to watch games on TV, or to come to the ballpark and buy stuff.
Most of the time, I choose not to think about that, because where does it get me? I want to enjoy baseball, and if that means I willfully turn my thoughts away from the fact that I am simply another source of revenue for the Wilpons and for MLB, then so be it. I can suspend my cynicism on that point like I suspend my disbelief when I watch a movie.
Incidentally, the psychology of being in a theater audience or in the stands at a baseball game is pretty much the same: If everything in front of you makes sense, you never stop and think about the fact that you have paid money to watch other people play make-believe, or play a silly game. But if the production value goes beyond the pale, you can’t suspend your disbelief. You get kicked out of that fun little space of harmless delusion.
So while I understand why Jose Reyes is included in the spring training media churn, I can’t buy into it. Pictures that show Reyes laughing and chumming it up with his teammates—especially the ones that play the sentimental angle and pair him with David Wright—take me out of it, because it feels wrong. It feels wrong to celebrate Reyes in a way that seems to minimize what he did or pretend like nothing happened.
People do terrible things sometimes. All of us, I imagine, can think back on moments in our lives where we made a harmful decision, or did damage to a relationship, or hurt someone for no justifiable reason. I am of the opinion that we all deserve chances to face our transgressions and make amends, if possible—and to forgive and improve ourselves, too. I think Jose Reyes deserves the same chance.
The thing is, “forgiveness” does not necessarily mean “things go back to the way they used to be.” Also, Jose Reyes’ forgiveness really isn’t mine or the Mets’ to give. Admittedly, I don’t know how Reyes, the Mets, and MLB are supposed to strike the proper tone here—maybe the best thing would have been for the Mets to do what 28 other teams did and refrain from signing Reyes immediately after the Rockies released him. Regardless, whatever is going on now, and whatever always seems to happen in the aftermath of professional athletes' domestic violence transgressions, rings hollow. It’s adjacent, somehow, to the way it should be.
Jose Reyes will hit some home runs this year and move up the ranks on this list. We will cheer for those home runs and how they help the Mets win games. For some of us, though, there will always be an undercurrent that reminds us, if nothing else, that vocal attention must be paid to reduce and eliminate things like domestic violence—things that, like it or not, make their way into the otherwise inconsequential sphere of baseball.