IF YOU laid Carlos
Delgado's four postseason home runs end to end, they would stretch 1,647 feet,
the distance from the best moo shu pork in Chinatown to a really good cannoli
in Little Italy, from Columbus Circle to Carnegie Hall. Now Delgado might not
know the BMT subway line from his OBP, but in his first baseball October the
first-year Met has become a genuine New Yorker, whether he chooses to fold his
pizza slice or not. On Sunday in St. Louis he hit a home run and had five RBIs
as the Mets took the Cardinals' bullpen and stripped it like some abandoned car
on the shoulder of the Brooklyn- Queens Expressway. The 12--5 trashing in a
pivotal Game 4 tied the series and swung the NLCS momentum back to New York in
this postseason's most competitive series.
homers in the first four games against St. Louis all soared over leftfield, but
then the lefthanded-hitting first baseman always has gone the opposite way. In
2004 Delgado, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, refused to stand during the
seventh-inning playing of God Bless America in major league parks because he
objected to the link between the song, the war in Iraq and baseball--a
principled position that drew especially loud jeers in New York, where 9/11
wounds remain fresh. When ace Pedro Martinez and centerfielder Carlos Beltran
were lured to the Mets in that flush free-agent winter of '04--05, Delgado
spurned New York and signed with what he believed was a stronger Marlins team,
criticizing Mets general manager Omar Minaya for what Delgado thought was an
effort to leverage his Latin ethnicity during the recruiting process.
Here was a man who
stood for something. Just not God Bless America.
The Mets certainly
didn't get him for a song in a trade last November--they inherited the final
three years of the four-year, $52 million contract he had signed with
Florida--but controversy fizzled upon his arrival. If it was Mets policy to
stand when honoring America, he announced, he would stand. And even before his
nine RBIs and six extra-base hits through the first four NLCS games, Delgado
stood out on a star-studded roster. Says lefthanded ace Tom Glavine, "I
knew he was a great hitter, but I didn't know what else he brought to the
table. He has a presence. He forces you to notice him."
"When he was
in Toronto and I managed against him, I thought this was a guy happy being an
icon, so to speak, but [not interested in being] a champion," says Mets
bench coach Jerry Manuel, the former skipper of the Chicago White Sox. "But
I didn't know him. The key [in New York] is he fell under the umbrella of the
team. If he had fallen under the umbrella of 'I'm going to hit my 40 [homers]
and drive in my 100 regardless of what the team does,' he'd have been in for a
rude awakening. You see some guys when they first come here, they go
individual. They try to get identified, try to justify their being here. That's
a dangerous thing. Not to get on Carlos Beltran, but he spent his first year
here [in 2005] trying to prove 'I am what you hyped me to be.' He was helped by
Delgado this year."
Delgado is the
straw that stirs the drink, not in a me-first, Reggie Jackson way but in his
ability to blend the diverse elements and personalities of the clubhouse.
"He's always been close friends with the American players, close friends
with the Latin players," says outfielder Shawn Green, a close friend of
Delgado's from their days together in Toronto. "Especially with this team
there's a wide range of players from all over the world. And Delgado's the big
link that holds [them] together."
Despite a smile
bright enough to light up all five boroughs and flashy stats--he hit 38 homers
to surpass 400 for his career while driving in 114 runs in 2006-- Delgado, who
was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, remains relatively anonymous, at least on
the scale of such sluggers as David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. As Tony Bernazard,
the Mets' special assistant to the G.M., noted, Delgado is renowned in Canada
and Latin America; there just happens to be this big hole in the middle.
"The reason is, he's never had this playoff stage," Bernazard says of
the 34-year-old first baseman, who played 1,711 regular-season games before
reaching the postseason, the longest stretch among active players. "Now's
" New York's
been good," says Delgado. "This is a weird town. Very demanding. And
very knowledgeable about the game. You do good, they let you know it. You do
bad, they let you know it too."
Right now in New
York, however, the motto is: In Delgado we trust.