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May 20, 2019

Matthews: In the end, David Wright’s commitment to Mets was stronger than Mets’ commitment to their captain

September 29, 2018

The Mets gave David Wright a fine send-off Saturday night, a guest appearance of sorts in a plum spot in their batting order and at a position where he has not been able to be an effective player for nearly three years.

They brought in some of his ex-teammates – Michael Cuddyer was there, and Todd Zeile and reaching way back to the beginning, Cliff Floyd – to pay tribute to him, and in fact the event was so big that even Yoenis Cespedes came to the ballpark for the first time in months.

It was a fitting testimonial to that most tragic of athletic endings, the potentially-great career cut short by injury.

But it was also not even a fraction of what the Mets really owe David Wright.

Understand this right off the bat: The fact that the Mets are so bad is what made David Wright Night possible in the first place.

Had the Mets not been mired in fourth-place in the NL East, headed for a second straight sub-.500 season and the 12th in their last 14 without October baseball, and playing the even more pathetic Miami Marlins, there’s no way they would have penciled David Wright into the three-hole in their lineup or entrusted him with playing third base, even for a couple of innings.

David Wright waves to Mets fans after taking batting practice ahead of his final game in orange and blue. (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

The sad fact is that after the cruel tease of an 11-1 start, a cameo appearance by a once-great player in a meaningless game is what will be remembered as the highlight of the Mets 2018 season.

The Mets could pile on all the sentiment they like, but the truth is that over the past six years, they failed David Wright even more egregiously than they have failed their masochistic fan base.

After the 2012 season, when Wright batted .306 and finished sixth in the NL MVP voting, the Wilpons and GM Sandy Alderson convinced Wright to sign a seven-year, $138 million contract extension based on the contention that the future was bright for the Mets.

They had all these electric young arms coming up, you see, and the notoriously tight-fisted Wilpons were going to take the rubber band off their wounded bankroll and surround Wright with a supporting cast that would make it worth his while to stay.

All Wright had to do, of course, was wait one more season and he might have scored $200 million as a free agent, perhaps with a team that truly had a future.

But his sense of loyalty to the organization that had taken him in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft, and his belief in the good intentions of Mets management persuaded him to give them a hometown discount.

In return, he became saddled on a team that has gone 475-495 since then, seen at least one of those promising arms, that of Matt Harvey, flame out due to injury and overindulgence, and most poignantly, unexpectedly reach a World Series only after Wright had already developed the spinal stenosis that would prematurely end his career.

In between, there were a host of bad free agent signings, and at least one potentially-great Met, Daniel Murphy, allowed to leave over money.

Over the past two years-plus, Wright worked a lot harder to get back on the field than the Mets front office worked to build a winner, and when he came to bat as a pinch-hitter Friday night, the crowd of 27,045, the biggest crowd at CitiField in more than a month, gave him a well-deserved ovation, even after he over-anxiously swung at the first big-league pitch he had seen in more than two years and grounded out harmlessly to third.

But they were cheering more than an unlikely at-bat, or a gallant comeback, or the memory of a player who has always embodied the best of what sports has to offer, both to the fans and to his teammates.

They were cheering what David Wright promised them when he committed himself to the Mets back in 2012.

The fact that the promise was broken was not David Wright’s fault. Turns out the Mets commitment to winning was never as strong as David Wright’s commitment to the Mets.

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