Champ or chump?: Should Jose Reyes have walked off?

Before I met the man who became my husband, I had never heard the term “bush league.” (Being from the South, I was familiar with NASCAR’s Busch League, but I hadn’t heard the term used to describe something as amateurish or cheap.)

From Serena Williams’ outbursts and Kyle Busch’s arrogance (no pun intended) to Usain Bolt’s disrespect, athletes don’t hesitate to indulge in bush league behavior. But the sport most closely associated with the term is baseball; the OED links the two as far back as 1906. Once meaning just the minor leagues, the phrase is now a favorite of adjectivally challenged commentators to describe unprofessional play or players.

So when José Reyes left the season’s last game after successfully bunting a first-inning single, the Mets shortstop knew what was coming. In addition to being booed by the crowd, called a “chump” by CBS New York and publicly scolded by Jerry Seinfeld, the beloved Reyes was immediately branded bush league, a label that will haunt him if he‘s ever on the Hall of Fame ballot. But what choice did he have?

Getting on the ballot is a big “if.” The 28-year-old Reyes knows better than anyone that he has a lot of hurdles to clear if he wants to make it on that ballot. Plagued by inconsistency and injury, Reyes usually starts seasons like a superstar only to collapse. And a career batting average of .292 is far from impressive. Though considered by many, including CBS NY, as the best player in New York, if Reyes wants to make the Hall, adding to his list of accomplishments is his best strategy.

By leaving the game, Reyes ended the season with a .337 batting average and ensured his place as the National League Batting Champion. Had he stayed in, he ran the risk of striking out– and since he was only two points ahead of Brewer Ryan Braun, it was a risk he couldn’t take for himself or his team.

If the Mets were headed for the post-season, the outrage might be understandable, but they weren’t. Are baseball fans and the sports media so small-minded that they can’t see Reyes did the Mets a favor? His early exit made him the first Met ever to win the NL batting title, which, considering how the Mets have performed lately, is the only jewel in their crown. If Reyes had played those last eight innings, Braun might have won the title, and CBS NY would have labeled Reyes something more unsavory than “chump.”

So Reyes’ exit wasn’t exactly honorable. If baseball fans cared about honor, they wouldn’t cite Ted Williams as the ideal batting champion. A phenomenal hitter he may have been, but Williams is probably tied with Ty Cobb for the World’s Worst Attitude Award. Jose Reyes is (was) known a good guy. He loves(ed) baseball, he loves(ed) the fans and he inspires(ed) passion in his teammates.

But he was in a no-win situation: whether he stayed in the game or left early, he was going to disappoint somebody and probably hurt his reputation in the process.

Reyes wasn’t bush league; he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If anything about the situation is bush league, it’s that CBS NY and everyone else who called Reyes “genuine,” “electric,” “passionate,” and “caring” are heaping opprobrium on him now, rather than acknowledging how difficult the decision must have been for the man they were so proud to call “New York’s best player.”
Juanita Giles lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.