One thing that I don’t think anyone has emphasized enough, is that it is really too bad- although unavoidable- that Cliff Floyd isn’t playing for the Mets this year. The most sincere expressions of regret from the club have come from Billy Wagner’s children, whose favorite Met was Floyd, according to their father. Even David Wright, Floyd’s former bagman and protégé, described the news of Floyd’s release as “bittersweet,” whatever regret he might have felt tempered by his commitment to the club’s mission and message, and probably the awareness that with Moises Alou, instead of Floyd, batting behind him he would get more pitches to hit.
It would, of course, be ridiculous to argue that Floyd’s contributions to the 2006 campaign were particularly invaluable, since he spent most of the season on the disabled list, and was less than phenomenal most of the time when he played, but there are other things to miss about Floyd. He managed, for one thing, to convey a sense of veteran wisdom, a sage yet slightly irreverent club house presence- at least to people who have never met a baseball player. He took upon himself the duty of making rookies carry his bags; he made wagers with Wright, betting against the third-baseman’s performance, and seems not to have made good on them; more to the point, he managed to always speak of Wright in a paternalistic and condescending manner, even as Wright’s numbers and potential dwarfed his own. It was somehow deeply gratifying to hear the announcers identify him as one of the great gentlemen of baseball, gamely playing through injuries, and maintaining a focus on sportsmanship and professionalism. In a rare moment of something akin to wisdom, a call-in host pointed out that while Floyd’s contributions to the winning Mets of ’06 were not impressive, on previous year’s teams he had been one of the few Mets whose performance would regularly reward a trip out to Shea. The blog that he kept about the post-season (http://clifffloyd.mlblogs.com) is one of the most charming combinations of heart, gentle eccentricity, and awkwardness with the written form of the English language that I have encountered.
Floyd has been in the news lately for saying that Randolph had half a mind to have him bunt when he was brought in to pinch hit in game 7 of the NLCS (ninth inning, Mets down by two, tying runs on base); Randolph’s reaction to this consisting of contempt, skepticism that Floyd knew what he was talking about, and a suggestion that the reporters go back to bothering the Yankees. I have to say that I think the decision to bring in Floyd to pinch hit sucked, but probably not for reasons that ever occurred to Randolph. I, however, knew that Floyd would not get a hit, simply because if he had, it would have been an event so exquisitely beautiful that it would have been thoroughly out of keeping with my experience of living in a fallen world. That at bat was one of those moments in life that, even while it is happening, one cannot help but imagine narrating to your grandchildren: “and then, sonny, after the astoundingly unreliable Oliver Perez managed six miraculous innings of one-run ball, and Endy Chavez made the greatest catch in post-season history, the Mets won the game on a pinch-hit from chronically injured fan-favorite Cliff Floyd… I don’t care what you say, whippersnapper, the game was better before they replaced all the players with robots.”
But things that great simply do not happen, and Floyd went hitless and then went to the Cubs, and while this is probably good news for the middle of the Mets lineup, I have to side with the younger Wagners in wishing that Floyd was still around. Along with his many other accomplishments and gifts, Cliff Floyd is a name that would have succeeded at many worthy vocations, from hard boiled private eye to jazz musician (“On bass we have Cliff Floyd” sounds pretty good in any context) but I am glad that he gave it to baseball.