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More Than a Big Stick
KARL TARO GREENFELD
February 12, 2007
A smash hit in October in his postseason debut, Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is a man whose deep-rooted convictions, like his power stroke, were forged when he was a boy in Puerto Rico
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February 12, 2007

More Than A Big Stick

A smash hit in October in his postseason debut, Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is a man whose deep-rooted convictions, like his power stroke, were forged when he was a boy in Puerto Rico

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Carlos's father, 62, wears his plaid shirts open to his navel, revealing a thick gold chain with a ship's wheel medallion. Even seated at his dining room table, drinking ice water in a tall plastic glass, his deep, phlegmy breathing and thumping gulps suggest massive power only now waning. He talks in a low, melodious voice about his own athletic career, five years as a small forward for the semipro Ponce-Quebradillas basketball team. Then he becomes more serious, pausing, taking a long breath and saying that if there is one thing he is proud of, it is that his son has the courage to speak his mind. "In this family," he says, "we say what we think."

"I am a socialist," he adds. "I am anticapitalist. I am militantly pro-independence for Puerto Rico." He sits beneath a Puerto Rican flag and a framed photo of Ram´┐Żn Betances, the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement. On the lowboy there is a bust of another Puerto Rican hero: Roberto Clemente. The father is like a rough-hewn prototype of the son; he went to jail for his beliefs during the Vietnam War, protesting what he calls the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico and demonstrating on behalf of friends who were conscripted to serve in the U.S. military. The desire to gain full nationhood for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico remains a central issue in the Delgado family, and the son learned to view the world through that lens. He knows that America sometimes says one thing (that it is a democracy, for example) but does another (granting Puerto Rico no voting representation in Congress, even though the U.S. controls so much of the island's affairs.)

The son, while he echoes the father's opinions, has a smoother-edged personality. With his better command of the English language, he's a more soft-spoken critic, but he possesses that same fierce determination to speak truth to power. That is what compelled Delgado to become an activist, raising money and spending off-season time helping to clean up the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, used for decades by the U.S. Navy as a bombing-practice target, with tragic consequences for the inhabitants and the environment.

Delgado says that his refusal to stand for the singing of God Bless America in 2004 and '05 to protest the Iraq War was simply a logical extension of the values that he and his family have long held. "I think it's the stupidest war ever," he said in The Toronto Star in '04. "Who are you fighting against? You're just getting ambushed now. We have more people dead now, after the war, than during the war. You've been looking for weapons of mass destruction. Where are they at? You've been looking for over a year. Can't find them. I don't support that. I don't support what they do." He had stood for the singing of God Bless America immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but three years later he felt that the song had come to stand for support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq rather than a tribute to those who fell on 9/11. He didn't make any public statement; he simply went to the clubhouse during the song while his teammates stood in the dugout. (Much less publicized is that Delgado was one of the first baseball player to support a 9/11 charity, giving $100,000 to a fund that supports widows and children of New York City firefighters.) The Toronto Star article appeared a few days before the Blue Jays played a series at Yankee Stadium, provoking the predictable booing and chants of "U-S-A!" when Delgado--a U.S. citizen, of course--came to bat. He became a regular sports-radio villain and the whipping boy for those who argue that politics has no place in sports.

"As soon as we heard about it," his mother says, "I knew he would cause controversy. I said, 'Now they boo. In a few years, they will agree with him.'"

"Nothing about the way I feel has changed," says Delgado, who nevertheless abided by team policy last season and stood with the rest of the Mets for the singing of God Bless America on Sundays and holidays. "You watch the news and see what's happening. What are they accomplishing? People say I'm very political. I'm not. I hate politics. I believe in peace, that's all."

Green, who joined the Mets last August, says that Delgado does not assert his political views in team settings. "We talk every week or so in the off-season," Green says. "We haven't really gotten into too many in-depth conversations about politics. He has his views, but he is not the type to push them on you. He's one of the smartest ballplayers I've known. Scratch that, he's one of the smartest human beings I've ever met."

Mets general manager Omar Minaya says that Delgado's strong convictions actually made him more attractive as a player. Minaya initially tried to sign Delgado as a free agent before the 2005 season, flying to San Juan with special assistant Tony Bernazard to pursue him. According to reports at the time, Delgado turned down the Mets because he felt he was being patronized by a team that was trying to corner the Latin free-agent market. (Minaya had just signed Beltran and Dominican Pedro Martinez.) But Minaya and Delgado insist that was not an issue. "The Marlins looked like they had a better pitching staff in 2005," says Delgado, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract with Florida. "They had good young arms--[Dontrelle] Willis, [Josh] Beckett, [A.J.] Burnett. I thought they had the best chance of winning."

When Delgado became available last off-season as the Marlins looked to cut their payroll, Minaya moved quickly, trading three prospects to acquire the cleanup hitter he needed, despite the potential for controversy. "I never hesitated for a second," says Minaya. " New York City has room for these kinds of opinions. In an age when athletes don't stand up for anything, he will stand up for what he believes in. It shows backbone. He's not only a good player, he's a great person."

Delgado, for his part, says that playing in New York was always an ambition of his. "Coming to New York has been one of the best things to happen to me," he says, "both because of this team and my family." His younger sister, Tamara, a former school teacher in the Bronx, lives in the city, and his parents visit for long stretches during the season.

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