For fans, one of the greatest aspects of the Hall of Fame voting process is debating borderline players. Of course, engaging in these debates was more fun before the suspicion of steroids, HGH, and PED’s in general, altered the game and perceptions. But somewhere in this tainted new baseball order, I believe there is still room for entertaining chatter. Being that so much controversy still lingers regarding this year’s voters who colluded to deny Mike Piazza election in his first year of eligibility, I thought we’d have a little fun reminiscing about Mets former first basemen, Carlos Delgado. I’m not trying to suggest Delgado was a Hall of Famer, so much as I want Mets fans to discuss where they stand.
As a free agent, I do not believe Carlos Delgado ever expressed an aversion to playing in New York. If I have this right, rumors suggest that when he left Toronto, he opted to sign with the Marlins in 2005 instead of the Mets because he found then GM Omar Minaya’s “Latino” laden sales pitch distasteful. Whatever the case, that didn’t stop Omar. He traded for the slugger anyway a season later.
You may debate me on the following point. Much of the Mets 2006 regular season success was due to securing early leads. The Mets turned first and second inning scoring into an art. They forced other teams to play from behind for prolonged innings. Jose Reyes was no doubt the table setter and made things go. But that 2006 line-up was very formidable because A) – Paul LoDuca batted .318 and only struck out 38 times, and sported a .355 on-base percentage while batting in the two spot. And B) – because Jose Valentin slugged 18 home runs and drove in 62 runs while batting seventh and eighth in the line-up.
But the player who truly made the 2006 line-up lethal was Carlos Delgado. He made that line-up roar. Pitchers simply were not going to walk or pitch around Carlos Beltran in order to face Delgado. Carlos Beltran reaped huge benefits that season. Delgado slugged 38 home runs and drove in 114 runs during the regular season. By October, Delgado was helping bring the Mets to within an inch of the World Series. Of his seven hits in the NLCS against the Cardinals, three were doubles, and three went for home runs. He batted .304, drove in nine runs, and slugged .826 that series.
I do not buy into the notion Carlos Delgado tanked half the 2008 regular season in order to get Willie Randolph fired. That indictment has been made many times by Michael Kay on ESPN radio. I think over his career, Carlos Delgado has demonstrated himself to be a finer professional than to stoop so low. Willie inevitably did get fired. And through Willie’s own machination, he deserved it. Delgado then finished the 2008 regular season with another 38 round trippers, and drove in 115 runs.
When healthy, Carlos Delgado was a marvelous clean-up hitter. Delgado hit 100 home runs in his first three seasons with the Mets and drove in 316 runs. And what Mets fan could ever forget the game Carlos Delgado had in the Bronx in the 2008 regular season Subway Series? He hit two home runs, one being a grand slam, en route to driving in nine runs against the Yankees. That broke Dave Kingman’s club mark of eight RBI King set during the 1976 season. It was a game incidentally, I watched on TV as a nine year old. At the time, Delgado’s two home runs moved him into 34th place on the all-time list.
A long nagging hip injury screamed one too many times, and finally short circuited his career after just ninety four at bats in the 2009 season. Before Delgado’s last game as a pro, he managed four more home runs and drove in twenty three. He finished his career with 473 home runs and 1512 runs batted in. Consider this. Even though Delgado is listed as playing seventeen years, he only played in thirteen full seasons. In those years, he failed to drive in ninety runs or better, once. He did drive in over one hundred runs, nine times. He eclipsed thirty home runs a season eleven times, and forty home runs three times. Even when you include the remaining four years/108 games that complete his entire seventeen year career, he still averaged 38 home runs, and 120 runs batted in per season.
He wasn’t the overall triple crown threat, say, Frank Thomas was. But the two first basemen did dominate their era in the American League together. I’m a proponent of Crime Dog, Fred McGriff. But I’m not sure he was as dominant in the National League as Delgado was in his circuit. Carlos Delgado’s career was much more concentrated than McGriff’s was, and so to me, a bit more impressive. With one more healthy season, I thought Carlos Delgado would certainly hit twenty seven more home runs, and reach the magic number five hundred. Of course, the number isn’t as magical as it used to be. But the feat is still impressive. But like I said, after four home runs into his pursuit of #500 in 2009, Delgado’s hip said – No Mas.
In his fourth season as a Mets player, I thought hitting number five hundred could have been a most momentous occasion for fans, and a great day in Mets history, unlike when Gary Sheffield hit his 500th as a Met. In Delgado’s case, I think he did endear himself to a large portion of the fan base. He did me. It’s a shame his hip didn’t allow him one more summer. Home run number five hundred at Citi Field could have been sweet.