Mets keep remaining credibility intact

In the dead of night, a time and place when the New York Mets are usually up to no good, they held fast to the tattered remains of their credibility. They threw nearly $140 million at David Wright, another Mr. Met minus the oversized head.

The franchise had no choice here, even if it remained in the early hours of recovery from the Bernie Madoff meltdown, and even if it still believes the third baseman is a complementary star rather than a franchise maker, a Pippen rather than a Jordan.

And in that context, the Mets lost something here, too. Or at least Fred Wilpon did. The owner had famously told The New Yorker last year that he thought of Wright as a nice kid who wasn't a superstar, and here was Wright at the negotiating table beating Wilpon for superstar cash.

In a quiet moment at his locker last July, right after he had steamrolled the Phillies, Wright would say, "Of course you don't want your owner to say negative things about you." But the slugger swore he wasn't trying to make Wilpon eat his published words.

"I've never been built for trying to prove people wrong," he said. "Some people might have that mentality of 'I told you so,' but that's not me. I wasn't trying to prove my owner or anyone else wrong."

Terry Collins had just called Wright one of the top five players in the league, shooting more holes in Wilpon's scouting report. This was the same night that Wright, a die-hard fan of all things New York, would look concerned to hear a restricted free agent named Jeremy Lin had just struck a deal with the Houston Rockets.

"The Knicks can match that, right?" the third baseman asked.

Yes, he was told. Only they didn't. And if the Knicks could let Linsanity walk out the door, Wright knew the Mets could let him play out his prime in another market, too.

Wright burns to win a championship ring, and deep down he must know that he just hurt his chances for the next eight years. The Mets haven't won it all in more than a quarter of a century, and they haven't made the playoffs since 2006, when they should've beaten the Cardinals in the NLCS but kicked off a sustained period of misery instead.

Plenty of choking and collapsing preceded the Madoff scandal and the realization that the Mets wouldn't be buying themselves a title any time soon. They cut loose Wright's co-star, Jose Reyes, because they couldn't afford him, this after tearing down Shea and building a new ballpark big enough to make their No. 3 hitter look so hopelessly small at the plate.

Wright surely understands he'd be better off chasing a parade in another lineup and under another ownership group, one that would provide him some cover. But he grew up a Mets fan in Norfolk, Va., near their minor league affiliate, and he loves the big city as much as he loves the idea of being the Derek Jeter of Queens, of playing his entire career in one uniform.

Wright wants to be seen as a goodwill ambassador of the game, and he was once asked if he felt Jeter saw him as a fitting New York, New York successor in that role.

"If he somewhat sees that in me, that would be a tremendous compliment coming from a guy like that," Wright said. "Being a young player in New York, you try to mold your game after certain people on the field and off the field, and he's No. 1 on my list as far as guys you try to emulate and really try to learn from.

"I have made a conscious effort to watch the way he goes about his business, what he does, how he carries himself, and take some of that and try to apply it to the game and the way I carry myself. I always try to pick his brain, every opportunity I have."

Now Wright will remain Jeter's neighbor over the balance of the Yankee captain's career, a fact of life inspiring thoughts good and bad. Good that New York has two dignified stars representing their franchises. Bad that Jeter and his five World Series titles offer Wright daily reminders of the Mets' failure to build a contender around him.

Maybe the Mets will sign R.A. Dickey to a contract extension, and maybe Sandy Alderson, the Moneyball guy who didn't get the Brad Pitt treatment on the big screen, will find creative ways to return the Mets to a postseason tournament now offering an extra wild-card bid.

Only that's nobody's idea of a safe bet. Wright took the money anyway, making a deal around a time in the night when the Mets have been known to ambush their own (see Randolph, Willie, Anaheim hotel). Wright took a superstar deal from an owner who not too long ago claimed he wasn't worth it.

Wright earned his money the hard way, by trying to carry an inept franchise that desperately needed him to sell tickets and smile for the cameras at offseason charity events.

But as a signed-and-sealed Mr. Met for life, Wright's knockout victory over Fred Wilpon might give him the only title he wins between now and 2020.