Word came down yesterday that David Wright is beginning “limited baseball activities” in Port St. Lucie. What does that mean, exactly? Is he lacing up his spikes, oiling his glove and taking wind sprints? Or is he swinging against live BP and taking grounders? Or is it something in between? The odds are awfully long that Wright ever sees third base at Citi Field again, we all know that. And while we can applaud his efforts to get back to the game – and the team – he loves, this all comes with a tinge of sadness. One is reminded of Johan Santana’s efforts to rebound from leg and arm injuries in the days/months/years after his no-hitter. You really want the guy to make it back, knowing deep down in your heart he probably won’t. You mourn the loss of being able to witness and cheer on great talent. We’re rooting for David Wright, while planning his retirement day.
This got me thinking about how quickly things have changed in baseball – I know, it’s a shock: organized baseball is famous for its foot-dragging ability – over the last, say, twelve years, relative to the fortunes of the 2017 Mets. Doesn’t it seem that good teams were good for a longer time period? I’m not even talking about dynasties like the monolithic Yankees of fifty-five or sixty years ago or their Jeter-era teams of recent memory. I’m not talking about the Braves’ remarkable 14-year string of division titles. I’m thinking of the great runs of teams of the ‘70s and ‘80s – yes, in the free agent era, the fresh days without the onerous Reserve Clause attached to every contract. When players were given freedom to change teams more easily, there were many who bolted their clubs, to be sure, but the clubs seemed paradoxically more stable. Think of the Cardinals – the Mets’ nemesis of the ‘80s – and their sustained run of greatness back then. The won a World Series in 1982, pennants in 1985 and ’87 and were fierce contenders until the early ‘90s. That’s a good seven, eight year run – a window of success so large, Batman could swoop in without catching his cowl.
Lately, though, it seems like these windows are getting narrower and narrower. Look at this year’s Mets. Coming off an NL pennant in 2015 and an all-too-brief playoff appearance in 2016, with lots of young players on the roster and waiting in the wings – hello, Amed Rosario! – it sure looked like the Mets’ window was as open as could be. A few injuries and controversies down the line and it looks like it’s been slammed shut and they’ll have to start all over again. We’re back to 2011, where we’re looking with hope at expiring contracts. And it’s not just the Mets. The Houston Astros for the past couple of years have been a comet in the American League, with an enviable collection of young talent. Having done nothing at the just-passed trading deadline to bolster their fragile starting pitching, pundits are now talking about them in commiserating tones about what a shame it is that “their window looks like it’s closing.” We’re not seeing the sustained runs of teams over a seven or eight year period anymore. Nowadays we’re lucky if the window is three years.
The Mets haven’t even made it that far.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.