On the last day of the 2011 season, in a race to the wire for the National League batting title, Jose Reyes bunted for a single.
Then he took himself out of the game.
It was his last appearance as a New York Met.
There was something lacking there, something dishonorable, about sitting yourself down to clinch a crown. (It didn’t matter at the end, since the man chasing him, Ryan Braun, went 0-for-4 that day.) It came down to a matter of character.
Reyes is back with the Mets now, tuning up down with Brooklyn. There is one and only one reason why he was available to be signed as a free agent:
He had yanked his wife off a hotel bed on Oct. 31, grabbed her by the throat and pushed her through the sliding glass window of a balcony.
Criminal charges were dismissed — his wife declined to cooperate with the prosecution — but Major League Baseball suspended Reyes 52 games without pay. In the interim the Colorado Rockies found a more-than-capable replacement for the fading shortstop in surprise rookie Trevor Story and released him
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said he felt comfortable signing Reyes, who was initially signed by New York as a teen and playedin Queens from 2003-11, after meeting with him.
“I came away feeling that he had taken responsibility for this mistake on his part, that he was remorseful,” Alderson said during a conference call with reporters. “He obviously has paid a penalty for this, both financially and in terms of his career.”
Reyes initially put out a statement expressing contrition.
“As I have expressed in the past, I deeply regret the incident that occurred and remain remorseful and apologetic to my family,” Reyes said. “I have completed the counseling required by MLB, have been in ongoing therapy, and will continue with counseling going forward. I appreciate the Mets organization for believing in me and providing the opportunity to come back home to New York.”
Playing for the Brooklyn Cyclones this weekend, he repeatedly referred to the incident as “a huge mistake.”
New York is a land of second opportunity for wayward athletes: just look to the Bronx at A-Rod. And Reyes could find no better landing spot than the familiar confines of Citi Field, where even at 33 and of diminished skills he will be a useful utility piece in a battered lineup that is putting up anemic offensive numbers.
He is the right player — if he can regain a modicum of his past talent.
But he is the wrong person.
At the worst time.
The very moment sports is finally becoming highly attuned to domestic violence and sexual assault among athletes is not the time to be taking a chance on someone who battered his wife — regardless of whether he could help the ball club. (And there is even a question of that.) It’s that simple
There is an argument to be made for second chances, that if he shows remorse and remains on the straight-and-narrow he deserves another shot, especially since he has already served a harsh suspension.
There is a stronger argument to be made that this type of conduct can no longer be tolerated, that abusing women forfeits your privilege be part of the game, that if athletes — and make no mistake, we are talking a small percentage — are ever going to stop making heinous headlines, then the strictest of zero tolerance policies has to be adopted.
I’m a Mets fan, but when Reyes took himself out of that 2011 game, he lost me. I shed no tears when he walked via free agency.
Don’t expect applause for him coming back. And don’t forget why he was able to return to Queens.
Yes, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE
All the cliches and shorthand you’ve ever heard about athletes — good and bad — are categorically true. And absolutely false.
To say all athletes are pillars of society worthy of adoration — or universally are predators ready to pounce is the kind of broad-brush gibberish that either dismisses real problems, or indicts the truly innocent.
Sports is filled with overwhelmingly good people. I will hazard you can say that about most (not all) pursuits,
But truly there is a problem in sports, a problem that good people in athletics are uniquely qualified to address.
It’s a crisis, actually, of leadership, and what it means to be a leader, and to unify a team.
About what it means to be a man.
Most of all it’s about honor — something that should be intrinsic to an athlete.
What we’ve seen recently at Stanford and Baylor and Greg Hardy and Ray Rice and Reyes and — well, let’s stop there — is more than enough.
So here is a proposal, modest and not fully formed:
Every summer, before the start of fall scholastic sports practices, one practice day should be devoted toward instructing young athletes on the devastating impact of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Do it as part of a team. Make it so abusing women is anathema to the sports culture as it should be to the culture at large.
Athletes are often leaders. Give them knowledge to lead so they can take that aversion to misogyny from the locker room to the school hallways to social gathers.
This sports section ran a story last week on how Nebraska coach Mike Riley invited a sexual abuse victim to speak to his team — a victim who had loathed him for 18 years for not doing enough to punish her alleged perpetrators 18 years ago who were playing for him at Oregon State. Over the years Riley has learned, and grown as a man.
Start that learning process at the earliest age.