Memo to: Everyone carping about the manner in which Jose Reyes won the National League batting championship.
Subject: You’re carping up the wrong trees, folks. (That includes you, C.J. Wilson.)
First, if you’re going to bring up the team-first tack, remind yourself of this much: Reyes’s New York Mets had nothing important left to play for. Facing the Cincinnati Reds to finish their regular season, the Mets certainly weren’t going to be playing spoilers for the third place (in the Central) Reds. Both teams were playing out the string in every sense of the word. Neither team’s doing or undoing in the season-ending contest was going to affect any other team one way or the other. If the Mets had anything substantial to play for, even if it was merely blocking the other guys’ chances at home field advantage or a shot at the wild card, you can bet the mortgage payment on it: manager Terry Collins would have brooked nothing less than Reyes in his lineup from the first to the final pitch.
Second, the Reds didn’t exactly gift him the hit that secured his leadership in the eventual light of rival Ryan Braun going 0-for-4 when the Central-winning Brewers wrapped it up later Wednesday. Reyes dropped a textbook bunt up the third base line that wasn’t going to be picked for anything other than watching him cross first base unmolested. The Reds weren’t exactly trying to play the St. Louis Browns to Reyes’s Nap Lajoie.
Third, for sentimental reasons it would have been nice for Reyes to go the distance, considering it was the season-ender in his home ballpark, he may or may not be a Met come 2012, and the Citi Field crowd certainly would have loved seeing him play the full game. But it’s not as though they hadn’t gotten more than enough from Reyes when he was healthy, including a pair of bombs Tuesday that probably did the real heavy lifting in securing his batting championship.
Fourth, if you think Reyes is the first or the last player who ever asked out of a season-ender at a certain point to preserve a still-respected individual championship, no matter what you do or don’t think of the batting average’s devaluation, think again. Hard. The discussion can merely begin with Bill James’s recollection (in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract) of once-perennial (so it seemed) batting champion Bill Madlock, who seemed to live for batting titles more than anything else on the field, and who also seemed to lead the league at once in September injuries, actual or alleged: I never saw any other player who was as focused on batting championships as Bill Madlock . . . if he was in the hunt for the title the guys in the press box used to run a poll to see who could pick the days that Madlock’s hamstring would keep him out of the lineup.
The Mets have enough problems going into their off-season. Hammering Jose Reyes for wanting to finish as the National League’s batting champion (until Reyes, the Mets had never had one in their entire history) shouldn’t be one of them.