Here’s a weird fact about me. I hate the term “thousand watt smile.”
I don’t know why, but it just never sat right with me. I’ve seen too many of my childhood heroes hide behind a smile, masking pain and anguish on a daily basis. So the idea that a smile could light up a room, or a stadium, or even a city, seemed… silly.
And then Curtis Granderson changed my mind.
After 16 seasons in the big leagues, Curtis Granderson is calling it a career. The nicest, most thankful player both on the field and off, was hanging up his cleats, and then more than likely donated them to charity.
Granderson came up through the Detroit Tigers system, making a name for himself as a solid outfield glove and a solid bat in the lineup. For the Tigers in the 2006 postseason, Granderson proved his worth in the ALDS and the ALCS, knocking in seven runs on ten hits and sending three moonshots into orbit. Despite the Tigers loss in 2006, Granderson’s coming out party was just the beginning.
The 2007 season would see Granderson finish in the top 10 for AL MVP voting, and saw him lead the league in triples with 23. The last player to hit 23 triples in a season? In the AL it was Cleveland’s Dale Mitchell in 1949, and in the NL it was Adam Comorosky of the 1930 Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 2007 season saw two members join the elusive 20-20-20-20 club. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Granderson became two of four players to ever hit 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season. The last player to join that club? Willie Mays in 1957. Rollins would finish the season with NL MVP honors, while Granderson fell to 10th, losing out to Alex Rodriguez and his 54 home runs.
It would take another four years for Granderson to return to the MVP conversation, but this time he’d do it in another uniform.
Signing with the Yankees in 2010, Granderson joined a team looking to repeat their World Series campaign from 2009. However, the Yankees ran into the buzzsaw that was the early 2010s Texas Rangers, eventually losing the ALCS in 6 games. In 2011, Granderson would put up numbers that would make him a star, not just another primetime pinstripes player.
In 2011, Curtis Granderson crossed the plate more than any other MLB player. He also drove in the most runs in the American League. Those numbers were helped by the fact that Granderson, not necessarily known for his power, went yard 41 times that season, more than any other Yankees that season. In the AL, Granderson’s home run total was only beaten by two moonshots off the bat of Toronto’s José Bautista. Falling to 4th in MVP voting, Granderson sat behind Bautista, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, and lost to an absolutely out of his mind dominant Justin Verlander.
The next two years would see Granderson go hard even more, but 2013 would be an injury riddled season, with Curtis only seeing 61 games of action. The Yankees would then make a move for the aforementioned Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason, leaving Granderson looking for a new home.
Granderson wouldn’t have to look very far for his next contract, signing a 4-year deal worth $60 million with the crosstown New York Mets. The Amazin’ Mets were anything but amazing in the early 2010s, finding themselves at the bottom of the NL East more often than not. However, 2014 was a sign of change to come. With Jacob deGrom winning the 2014 Cy Young, decent production coming from guys like Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda, and a farm system brimming with prospects, the Mets were ready for 2015.
And they made it all the way to the 2015 World Series.
While the majority of the 2015 glory goes to Yoenis Cespedes and his second half hot streak, Curtis Granderson was the best hitter for the Mets in 2015. That’s a fact. I’m not kidding, I had to double check everything in this article and I triple checked that.
Curtis Granderson’s 2015 was the second best season of his entire career. At age 34, Granderson posted a 5.0 WAR, the second most on the team behind Jacob deGrom. This was a season where the Mets brought up Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, and acquired Yoenis Cespedes. Yet, the glue holding this squad together was Granderson.
Is his .259/.364/.821 slashline outstanding? Not really. How about his 150 hits, 33 doubles, 26 home runs and 70 RBIS? Those are solid numbers, but not outstanding. How about his 91 walks and 127 OPS+? Those numbers are good and led Mets starters, but Granderson wasn’t the big name player he was at age 29.
Instead, what he was to Mets fans what the face of a franchise and a fanbase at the same time.
Curtis Granderson was unbridled optimism personified.
My wife would begrudgingly go to Mets games with me, until she started paying attention to Granderson. “Grandy”, as she would call him, played the game like a little kid. Sometimes he was the Little League Slugger, and sometimes he was the pinchhitter off the bench. Either way he was so ecstatic to be there.
When Granderson would strike out it was never followed by a temper tantrum. In fact, it was always followed up with a “damn, he got me good.” Or a “wow, what a pitch.” Granderson played the game with a wonder that was so infectious, it helped keep the peace in Queens as the Mets waffled back and forth between relevance.
In the 2016 season, Granderson began to look all of 35.
His production dropped across the board, but he still showed up, playing in more games than any other Met that season. And then in the Wild Card game against the San Francisco Giants, he does this:
That’s a 35-year old man selling out and slamming into the centerfield wall in order to keep his team in the wild card game. If Granderson doesn’t get to that ball, there’s now way the Mets have a shot at winning… not that it ended up mattering in the long run…
Granderson would bounce around the league for the next few years, landing in Los Angeles, Toronto, Milwaukee and finally Miami. To me, he’ll always be my favorite Met and possibly my favorite ballplayer.
Why? Because Granderson cared about me as a fan.
At every Mets home game, just before the National Anthem, Curtis Granderson would stand at the bottom of the 110 section and sign autographs for anyone who wanted one. With his glove on his head like a little leaguer, Granderson would talk with fans, take pictures and flash that thousand watt smile.
And there’s that damn phrase I hate so much, perfectly summarizing a player I hold so dearly.
But I’m going to use it to describe Curtis Granderson because everything he touches gets filled with light. That’s probably a main reason he won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award four times, including in his final season. The Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award is given out each year to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.”
That’s Curtis Granderson in a nutshell. Whether it’s running his children’s charity, Grand Kids, or wearing his socks high to honor the players who spent their careers in the Negro Leagues. Curtis Granderson inspired everyone around him to be better people.
And now he’s taking off his cleats, and walking away from the game.
Curtis, this Mets fan would like to thank you for everything you’ve done. However, I have a feeling this is not the last time we’ll see you around the game of baseball.
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