In his native Spanish, the surname of New York Mets’ Dominican star shortstop Jose Reyes translates to “kings.”
Somewhat appropriately, Reyes was crowned a hitting king.
Yet, somewhat inappropriately, Reyes acted with anything but the honor a king is normally shown, when he bunted and quickly bolted from the game to secure the 2011 National League batting title in his team’s final game of the season at Citi Field, in Queens, NY, on Wednesday afternoon.
One thing’s for sure. Ted Williams never would have accomplished the feat same the way Reyes did.
Ironically, it was 70 years ago to the day, that the former Boston Red Sox legend Williams decided to risk a .400 season batting average on the final day of the season, on September 28, 1941.
Some advised Williams not to play that day with an average of .39955, which would have officially been rounded up to .400. But, with a much different attitude than Reyes showed seven decades later, Williams thought he didn’t deserve to hit .400 if he sat out.
Williams instead played both games of a doubleheader and went 6-for-8 to finish with a season average of .406, and remain to this day, the last major leaguer to hit over .400 for a season.
On the other end of that spectrum was Reyes, who decided that doing just enough to win a batting title before leaving unceremoniously, was sufficient.
Reyes is of course entitled to use any offensive weapon in his arsenal. Yet, there was something weak about him bunting – rather than swinging away – for a base hit in his first at-bat during the Mets’ 3-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, especially since Reyes subsequently took himself out of the game.
Worse, knowing he had raised his season batting average to a league-leading .337 and that Milwaukee Brewers’ leftfielder Ryan Braun would probably need three hits in no more than four at-bats later the same night, Reyes decided to become a spectator for the rest of the afternoon.
Classy move? No way, Jose – even though Reyes gave the Mets (77-85) their first batting title in franchise history.
There were several better options which Reyes could have followed. The best would have had Reyes trying to get a swinging single or an extra-base hit not only his first time up, but to stay in the game, and try to do the same for a few more plate appearances – the way Williams did in his pursuit of the .400 mark, and the way a batting champion would be expected to do.
And, even if Reyes decided that was still too risky, he could have at least returned to the field to play shortstop for another inning or two, before taking a walk from the Citi Field infield while acknowledging what would surely have been a standing ovation from the 28,816 fans who sat through light rain on a weekday afternoon, in large part to see Reyes for what might have been the last time in a Mets’ uniform.
Instead, Reyes very routinely walked from first base to the Mets’ dugout under a chorus of boos with manager Terry Collins taking the blame from a bewildered and disgruntled crowd for taking out the star the fans came to see.
The free agent Reyes, who makes his home close to Citi Field, on Long Island, has publicly stated that he wants to be a Met, but New York general manager Sandy Alderson expects Reyes to test a free agent market that appears to include a few teams who could be willing to pay Reyes more than the Mets (who are strapped with financial issues) might be able to afford.
Met fans have long been aware of those facts, and it’s partly why they booed Reyes, thinking that if it was indeed the last time Reyes played as a Met, it was no way for him to go out.
Braun went 0-for-4 for the NL Central champion Brewers to finish with a season average of .332, but of course, Reyes didn’t know that when he bunted himself on base on the first inning earlier in the day.
Still, Reyes’ actions were a major disappointment for Met fans.
Rather than truly competing for the batting title like Williams did for the .400 mark, Reyes took the easy, cowardly route to his hitting crown on the season’s final day.
He disrespected the game, Met fans, and himself, even though in his own misguided thinking, Reyes believed that by playing a lone inning while recording no fielding chances at shortstop and a bunt single on what has traditionally been Fan Appreciation Day, he was treating the fans to something special.
“A lot of people told me I shouldn’t play,” Reyes said. “I said, ‘Oh, no. I want to play.’ I want to be there for the fans.”
That statement was obviously laughable.
That’s not to say that ensuring the only batting title in Met history wasn’t significant, but how many Met fans have ever showed up at the park to see any Met, let alone a star like Reyes (in possibly is final game for the franchise), hoping they could catch a glimpse of that player in the field for the first inning, and in the dugout for the remainder of the game?
In the coming months, Mets fans will find out just how much Reyes truly wants to play “for the fans” in New York.
If he works out a reasonable deal with the financially troubled Mets, then this year’s batting title was as Reyes said, as much for Met fans as it was for himself, and those fans would be prepared to forever treat Reyes as the King of Queens.
But, if Reyes takes his batting crown and seeks more riches (in the form of a bigger contract) elsewhere, then like he showed after his last at-bat this year, the batting king will be all about himself while saying goodbye to the fans he so casually treated like peasants on Wednesday.