Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas’s famous poem speaks to the struggle to hold on to something that has long since been lost, that never-ending and always hopeless battle against the all-powerful Father Time. You know, sort of like a baseball player holding on to his playing career just a little bit too long.
David Wright needs to go gentle into that good night.
On Monday, Wright began a rehab assignment with the St. Lucie Mets, going hitless but advancing on an error. Not too bad for a guy who hasn’t played in a game at any level since May of 2016. As great as it is to see one of the most well-liked players of this generation back on the diamond, it’s hard to see The Final Comeback of Captain America ending with a fairy-tale ending.
Wright has had a long and enviable career. Drafted by the Mets in 2001, he debuted with the team in July of 2004 at third base. In 69 games that season, he slashed .293/.332/.525 with 32 extra-base hits. He followed up his rookie year with another impressive campaign, posting 4.8 WAR in 2005.
Awards? He’s got a trophy-case full of them. A seven-time All-Star, Wright has also accumulated two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, and finished in the top-5 in MVP voting in 2007.
Postseason baseball has not been kind to Wright, however. He was part of the 2006 Mets team–the one with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Tom Glavine, and others–that seemed destined for the World Series until dropping a heartbreaking Game 7 to the St. Louis Cardinals, who would go on to win the Series that season. After missing much of the 2015 regular season, Wright fought back to return for the Mets’ postseason run, where he helped dispatch the Cubs to get to the Series. He struggled in the Fall Classic, posting just a .206 batting average and making a key error in Game 1 against the Royals.
In the early part of his career, Wright’s durability was perhaps his greatest asset. From his first full season in 2005 through 2012, he played at least 140 games in all but one season. If the Mets were on the field, David Wright was on third base. His production ticked down in 2013 and 2014 as he missed time with a medley of injuries including a torn rotator cuff, but at just over 30 years old it looked like he had a lot left in the tank.
Then 2015 happened, when a strained right hamstring led to something much worse.
After going on the DL with the hamstring injury in May, Wright began experience some back pain. Team doctors diagnosed Wright with spinal stenosis, a condition where the spaces within the spine constrict, putting undue pressure on the nerves in the back and causing numbness and muscle weakness throughout the body. Physical exertion like, oh, I don’t know, playing a professional sport, exasperates the symptoms. Worst of all: it’s chronic.
Still, Wright fought through it. He changed his pregame routine to focus on more core workouts to loosen his muscles. Instead of taking nearly 100 hacks in batting practice, he limited himself to just 20 swings. He adopted a new swing to ease the pressures on his back. Wright would get to the ballpark hours before anyone else, just because he wanted to play and help his team.
As if spinal stenosis wasn’t enough, Wright had further back problems. In 2016, he played only 37 games after being diagnosed with a herniated disc and undergoing neck surgery to repair the damage. As he started to reach the end of his rehab from the second back injury this past offseason, Wright came down with a new injury to his throwing shoulder, requiring additional time off to rehab.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Injury follows injury, rehab leads to yet more rehab. Forgive me if I feel more apprehension than excitement over seeing David Wright back on the field.
I get the athletes’ mentality, the drive to always compete and leave everything on the field. But the Mets are nowhere near a championship. Wright has nothing to compete for. Maybe he’s trying to make it back to the majors one more time, to prove to himself–and to prove to writers like me–that he can still make it.
If that’s the case, David, please stop. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
Let us baseball fans remember you as Captain America, the gritty third baseman who gave his all in the World Baseball Classic when seemingly no one else on the US team did. Let Mets fans remember you as their adopted son, their superstar, their Captain, and arguably the greatest player in their franchise’s history. Let a generation of baseball fans look back and remember that David Wright, one of the most respected and admired players of his time, knew when to walk away.
Please, David. Go gentle into that good night.