September 28, 2011
In what could have been his final game as a member of the New York Mets, would-be free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes(notes) collected a bunt single in his first at-bat, called it quits early and took a seat on the bench for the rest of the Mets' 3-0 win over Cincinnati.
The 2011 National League batting champion would not see the field again.
So why the early exit? The abbreviated 1-for-1 performance inched his season batting average up to a National League-leading .337 and he wanted to quit while he was .002 ahead of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun(notes) for the top spot.
So instead of adding some extra hits to guarantee the title, Reyes instead chose to put himself in a position where he wouldn't lose it. Braun needed to collect at least three hits in Wednesday's game against Pittsburgh, but he fell short.
ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reports the decision to leave the game belonged to Reyes alone and manager Terry Collins said he honored the request in order to maintain the respect between him and his players.
"I said, 'If I go 1-for-1, take me out of the game,'" Reyes told reporters. "And I did that. If I went 0-for-1, maybe I'm still in the game until I get a hit. ... I wanted to stay in the game, but (Mets fans) have to understand, too, what's going on. They have to feel happy about it if I win the batting title. I do that for the team, for the fans too, because they've been supporting me all the way through."
Perhaps some can see it as Reyes' suggestion that the move was a parting gift to all the Mets fans who supported him over his nine seasons in Queens and have never seen a Mets hitter win a batting title. (John Olerud hit a whopping .354 in 1998 but came up well short of Larry Walker's robust .363 average.)
But based on the reaction of the Mets fans who booed the announcement, Reyes' removal from the game was a real downer. Some critics have even implied something even more insidious: That Jose Reyes took the coward's way out. Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt, in defense of Braun, called out Reyes for "bunting and bolting." Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson(notes) also counts himself in Braun's camp, calling Reyes' move "weak". Keith Hernandez, who announces games for the Mets on television, called Reyes' move "disappointing."
Even Collins could see why some fans would be upset that Reyes retired early:
"I understand," the manager said as he began to get choked up. "I heard some comments in the stands. I don't blame them. People pay a good price to come to these games."
But Braun took the high road when asked about Reyes bowing out, focusing on the fact that Reyes hanging it up actually kept the batting title in reach. (Braun might also be comforted by the fact that he's one of the leaders in the NL MVP race and will be playing in the postseason this weekend while Reyes and the Mets head home.)
"I respect whatever decision he decided to make, and ultimately he left the door open for me," Braun told MLB.com. "I know it's not impossible. I've gotten three hits in a game plenty of times. It's still attainable, still a possibility. If he had stayed in the game and gotten multiple hits, it would not have been a possibility at all."
The one person who comes to mind in this situation, of course, is, Ted Williams. He famously went 6 for 8 on the final day of the 1941 season, upping his batting average from .3996 to a whopping .406, leaving any rounding nonsense in the dust. Would Williams have ever pulled himself from a game after one hit in one at-bat in order to win a batting title?
In related news, Reyes' shortstop counterpart on the crosstown New York Yankees had a similar chance to reach a milestone in his first at-bat of Wednesday night's game in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. Had Derek Jeter(notes) collected a hit leading off the first inning against David Price(notes), his batting average would have risen to .2996, which — when rounded up to .300 — would make 2011 the 12th season Jeter has reached the .300 club in his career.
Would Jeter have done the same thing and asked manager Joe Girardi to sit down after reaching the round-numbered plateau? And if so, would Yankees fans have cheered him for the .300 average? The world will never know because Jeter went 0-for-3 before being lifted in the sixth inning.
But what the world does know is this. Reyes took the easy way out when confronted with a personal accolade on Wednesday. It may have won him the batting title, but it probably didn't make him too many new fans.