This is the first of a two-part series inspired by things Steve Phillips said in ESPN's broadcast of the Mets' 2-0 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.
Listen: Phillips has every right to his opinion and I don't begrudge him that. Plus, for all I know, Steve Phillips is absolutely right about many things not involving baseball, like politics and food and music. Heck, maybe Steve Phillips is some sort of conceptual artist, and his performance on Sunday night was a form of satire.
I don't think so, though.
Granted, I'm biased. I grew up a Mets fan and lived through Phillips' ignominious decline as the team's GM and, because for some reason bad memories linger longer than good ones, I still blame him for Mo Vaughn more often than I credit him for Mike Piazza. So maybe I'm guilty of reading more into Phillips' words than I should, or maybe Phillips' memory is selective like mine -- and everyone's -- and that had something to do with all the nonsensical drivel he was spewing Sunday.
I normally try not to get too upset over things broadcasters say, because I realize I take a non-traditional approach to baseball and that I'll frequently contend with what I hear. I get that. But there's a line somewhere, and Phillips destroyed it Sunday night. Just blew it away. He was so bad that Joe Morgan -- Joe Morgan! -- actually seemed taken aback at times.
Here are some of the things Steve Phillips said:
I think one of the other things that winning teams have is they have that player that just doesn't make mistakes. ... That guy who's a good baserunner, a good defender, doesn't give up at-bats, gets the hit when you need the hit, drives in a run when you need the run, always seems to be in the right position. I think the good teams have that guy, and when I look at the Mets, that's what I see as lacking for them. They've got great talent, but they don't have that singular flawless player that in every aspect of the game, leads.
Ah yes, the singular flawless player. Phillips lists Albert Pujols as one of these players, and that's fair -- he's as close to perfect as there is in the Major Leagues. The others? Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, acceptable though both entirely recent developments; Chipper Jones in his prime -- apparently a "great defender" now in Phillips' recollection -- and, of course, Derek Jeter.
Not included in his list? Why, Carlos Beltran, of course. That guy who does, well, all the criteria Phillips listed.
So what's wrong with Beltran? He must have stomped on Steve Phillips' dog or something. Honestly. Here it comes:
I think at times, while he puts up some numbers, his game is inconsistent. There are times where, in pressure situations, he hasn't gotten the job done.
Ugh. I've heard and contested all the criticisms so many times before and I really hate rehashing them on account of Steve Phillips. But the one that gets me is "in pressure situations."
Was there even a little bit of fact-checking here? I hope some responsible producer was freaking out on Steve Phillips' earpiece while he said that, and he just kept powering forward. Why let the truth get in the way of mindnumbingly horrible television? Pressure situations?
Now, beyond the notion that the whole concept of clutch is a contested one, the idea that anyone would doubt Beltran's clutchness is patently absurd. Carlos Beltran has a lifetime 1.302 postseason OPS. Across his career, he has performed better with runners in scoring position than without, and better in high-leverage situations than low-leverage ones. As long as we're still lending credence to clutch, Beltran should be considered one of the defining clutch players of his generation.
Those pearls of wisdom all came in the bottom of the third. In the top of the fourth, Phillips and Morgan segued into a lengthy discussion of the nature of leadership, all while there was a perfectly weird little baseball game unfolding before their eyes -- one which they almost entirely ignored. And in the midst of delving so deeply into the restrictions of which players could and could not become the Mets' leader that I thought for a while I had accidentally tuned into the season finale of Lost, Phillips uttered this gem:
Beltran's not that guy. In his own world, he's a very good player.
In what world is Carlos Beltran not a very good player? Please, Steve Phillips, take me there. I want to go, because I want to watch baseball someplace where the players make Carlos Beltran look average. Carlos Beltran, who's hitting .378 with a .473 on-base percentage this year.
Clearly, Beltran needs to up his game. He's obviously failing in the all important BAWSIW stat, or Batting Average While Steve Phillips Is Watching. Case in point:
We look at the talent and the five tools of Carlos Beltran but it is that [mental] aspect that at times is a little bit of a question for him. There are times when he misses the cutoff man, not only by a little bit, but by a mile -- he overthrows. He'll lock up in a critical situation and take a pitch. He won't slide -- that's a play this year going into home plate when he didn't slide going into home plate on a play he knew was going to be a bang-bang play. ... So while he has that great talent, there are times when he doesn't play the game and make plays. So something is lacking there, to where I don't think it means he can be the leader of this team for the Mets. And I think the Mets have to make a decision at the end of this year that this core isn't working. I personally believe that Jose Reyes is part of the solution and David Wright is part of the solution, and that they would really have to look at the $17-plus million they have invested in Carlos Beltran and whether they're getting the plays -- the game-winning plays -- out of that investment in him on the team.
That, right there, was where Joe Morgan got fed up. Me, too. I muted the television and watched the rest of the game to the sweet sounds of James Brown instead, appropriate on a night when the Mets' offense lacked funk.
Every player makes mistakes. Even Jeter. Beltran has made a few, and it seems like he's been unlucky enough to make a few that Steve Phillips has seen. But I'm willing to bet that Beltran makes as few mental and physical errors as any non-Pujols (i.e. human) player in the game. The baserunning gaffes this year? Bad, for sure. But as I've pointed out, baserunning blunders happen more frequently when you're always on base.
I have no idea what Beltran did to Steve Phillips to make him seem so angry. I suspect that it's simply a case of Hanlon's Razor, which states, "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."
What's unfortunate, and what made me mad enough to write this column, is that people who aren't lucky enough to watch Carlos Beltran play baseball every night probably believed some of what Phillips had to say. And that's terrible.
Because Carlos Beltran does make game-winning plays. He does have the so-called "sixth tool" of mental acuity that Morgan and Phillips discussed. Beltran is an awesome and beautiful baseball player, and though I respect anyone's right to believe otherwise, I don't think anyone who does should be given a platform to broadcast such hogwash to a national audience.