Saying Goodbye To Johan Santana

Remember where you were when Johan Santana threw that no-hitter? (Getty Images)

Remember where you were when Johan Santana threw that no-hitter? (Getty Images)

“Everything ends badly. Otherwise it wouldn’t end.” That’s a quote about relationships — I thought I remembered it from some distinguished novel; it turns out, nope, it’s from “Cocktail” — but, as you might expect, it also applies to pitchers. There are exceptions, but not many. At only age 34, Mets ace Johan Santana is the latest to go down before he should rightly go down. After a 2011 lost to injury and a briefly brilliant but abbreviated 2012, he’s re-injured his shoulder and is almost certainly done for the year, and quite possibly, though you still have to hope not, just done. Shoulder injuries are bad news, say people who know about these things, and shoulder re-injuries even more so.

Watching Santana pitch was, for a decent stretch of time, about the most fun a baseball fan could legally have at the ballpark. When he was at his best, with the Twins, with whom he won two Cy Young awards and deserved every inch of them, he dominated with a light, graceful touch. His fastball zipped around the strikezone in the low-90s, his slider slid — but most of all there was his changeup. He delivered it, to all appearances, just exactly the way he delivered his fastball, and it made hitters look ludicrous. Santana usually seemed like he was having a good time, too. So would you if the best sluggers in the game were either a mile ahead or behind on your pitches, furiously muttering to themselves as they stalked back to their dugout.

He had not been that guy for a while, but he still had his moments, major ones, after being traded to the Mets. In 2008, his first year in New York, he put his team on his on his back, as much of an ace as you could ever ask, and won the penultimate game of the season 2-0 over the Marlins with a complete-game shutout to preserve the Mets’ playoff spot. To the extent that you can apply the term to a baseball game, it was downright heroic. (Strangely enough, the fact that the Mets lost the final game of the season, and therefore their playoff spot, the very next day, somehow did not diminish the impressiveness of Santana’s effort, but emphasized it.)

And then, of course, there was June 1 last year. It was a Friday, and I was out at Italian restaurant with my boyfriend; we were finishing our entrees and most of the way through a bottle of wine when both of our cell phones started going nuts. Get to a TV. Johan Santana. Eighth inning. Get to a TV. Now. We told the waitress there was an emergency, threw money down, did not wait for change, and dashed down Court Street until we found a bar with a TV, P.J. Hanley’s, where we watched the last three outs with a hearty contingent of deeply freaked-out yet hopeful Mets fans, many of whom had arrived after similar text messages. At the last out there were shouts and hugs and free shots. It’s one of the nicer baseball memories I’ve got, and I’m not even a Mets fan. It’s not every player who gets a “I remember exactly where I was” game like that one.

If Santana had a few more great years, or even a bunch more pretty good years, he would be a Hall of Famer. Of course, he’s hardly alone there — there are dozens if not hundreds of players you might at least wonder about. The longevity, the build or the delivery or the luck or the combination of those things that it takes to ward off injury and get to that point, is the rarest thing most Hall of Famers have going for them. And of course every baseball fan knows that pitcher health is fragile. But it takes something like this for you to feel just how unfair that is.

There will be some debate about whether the no-hitter contributed to this injury, or whether the ticked-off bullpen he threw after the Mets questioned his preparedness this spring had something to do with it, or whether it would have happened anyway. We can only guess, and quite possibly even his doctors aren’t sure. I won’t say that it doesn’t matter, because we (and the team) should take whatever lessons we can glean from what happened, if we ever find out. Still, it won’t be what I dwell on. It’s hard not to be sad about this apparent ending for Santana, but we got to see quite a lot from him before this. He will not be forgotten by Twins fans, Mets fans, pitching aficionados, or any batter who ever got fooled by that changeup.

41 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye To Johan Santana

  1. Pingback: Johan Santana faces an uphill climb to Cooperstown | Hit and Run - SI.com

  2. No-hitter notwithstanding Johan Santana has been a huge disappointment in New York. Minnesota did the right thing letting him go in what should have been the prime of his career. They clearly got the best of him, while he got the best cash out of New York. One good season and the only no-no in Mets history are not enough bang for those bucks. Too many games lost to injuries and zero post seasons are not acceptable. Met fans continue to pay the price for that mistake. Adios, Johan, I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you either.

    • You are a misguided soul. Even if he won 30 games a year every year baseball is a team sport and he can’t be judged for playing on a team with management that couldn’t provide talent enough to compete for the postseason. If that was the case Ernie Banks would never have made the hall. When not injured, which injuries are not on purpose, he stood out as an exceptional talent on a lesser talented team. You probably would have booed Mays because he wanted to experience a little more time where he started it all.

      • “exceptional talent”? Santana stood out as a parasite who collected vast amounts of money for being incapacitated by every trivial injury that happened to him. It’s risible to compare him to Ernie Banks, who loved the game and playedfor 20 years as a regular, ararely if ever seeing the disabled list

        • Wow, Ralph.
          Okay. Is your buddy at work using every sniffle and hangnail as an excuse to take time off work? Is it because he’s suffering from depression, mishandling his stress, or is he simply a bad person? If your buddy is someone you know really -really- well, then arguably you’re in a position to say. But if it’s someone you’ve never met, then you simply don’t get to make that call. If you have nothing to go on but their stats, their time on the DL and their contract, then you have no business passing judgment. None.
          “Parasite”? I just shake my head at how readily people like you (and there are many) draw conclusions about players’ moral character based on whether things turned out well. Banks is no more a hero for avoiding injury than Santana is a villain for getting hurt. It’s absurd to think otherwise.
          The Mets took a calculated risk when they paid Santana a ton of money. It might have worked out, but it didn’t, and that’s really hard to swallow. Understood. But it seems the only way you can handle your disappointment is to construct a story about him being a Bad Person so you can have someone to blame. You’re acting like a kid who didn’t get his way.
          Please throw your tantrums somewhere else, and leave this forum to those who appreciate the game. You have no idea how desperately difficult it is to achieve greatness — -any- greatness, much less greatness over an entire career. When excellent happens, celebrate it. Period.

    • Johan never got support with the Mets…He pitched like a 20 game winner his first couple years here..only to get zero support from hitters and bullpen…Thanks Johan !!

      • I TRULLY AGREED 100% WITH MICHAEL SLANE. JOHAN PITCHED LIKE A TRUE CHAMPION BUT NEVER GOT SUPPORT FROM OFFENCE NOR THE BULLPEN. HE WILL MAKE A GREAT COMEBACK IN ANOTHER TEAM BECAUSE THE METS ARE JINX FOR MANY YEARS TO COME AND I’M SORRY BUT THATS THE TRUTH.

  3. It is funny how some people wants to treat Santana as if he brought a championship to the Mets. Even funnier that no-hitter game in June of 2012 was a 1 hitter game. In so many words Johan Santana didn’t do anything for the Mets other than get fat contract,take all that money and go. Johan Santana is just a fraud,not a winner.

    • Yeah because he intended to blow out his shoulder twice. Yo, chico, cállate la boca. There’s a saying, vato: it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought of as a fool, then to open it and remove all doubt.

    • im not saying he earned all the money he got, but he always tried his best out there and looked good when healthy. he never had any talent on that team with poor management. with that said, i agree he was a bust for the mets but why blame him for taking the money when he was offered it. i would take that money anyday if offered. to call him a fraud is ignorant though…

      • Not only did John left everything on the field he also was an example off the field. I know that Mets fans feel they could have done much more with the money they are paying Santana but injuries are part of the game. Its not Santana’s fault he got injured. Blame the management for Bay or K Rod not Santana. He was the best pitcher in the game when the Mets signed him.

  4. To the great #1 pitcher Johan Santana. Even though you never brought championship back to Flushing you still did one thing & that is pitching a first no-hitter last season June 1, 2012. I hope you can fully recover & come back. Good luck

  5. This is an easy one to write about. I love Johan Santana without a doubt. The man was a beast when healthy, and arguably the most dominant pitcher while on his prime. The reality is that the trade did not work out for the Mets, not because Johan did anything wrong, but because of the injury bug caught up with the once pitching ace.
    To blame Johan for anything would be misguided and wrong, and although the disappointment is warranted, it is clearly not the man’s fault. There is not a soul on this planet that would have not done that trade when it was done. Johan will always be remembered by his exploits as a Twin.
    The Mets are clearly an organization that can’t get it right. Not because of not pulling the right moves, but because the right moves always seem to backfire. At least the Mets fans can rest easy, knowing that they are not the Cubs.

    • Right. They do not have the Cubs’ integrity. The Mets have Bobby Valentine, Bobby Bonilla, Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry.

  6. This man has been a CLASS ACT since day one! Ask anyone who played with him, he was a warrior, fearless, and a damn fine pitcher and teamate! I wish him the speedy recovery he deserves and maybe a little luck too. One of the most dominant pitchers of this era….

    • He is a class act, but in my mind he never came close to pitching like he did with the Twins. The Twins just should have got more for him. I wish you well Johan and this Twins fan has many great memories of you!

  7. Good luck to Johan on a speedy recovery, after which he can hopefully rejoin his team and be effective. But it sounds to me like the injury might be serious enough to where he’ll consider hanging up his cleats. Time will tell. He’ll definitely have to make some kind of adjustment to his delivery so as to not keep re-injuring himself.

  8. Joan is a gentleman from a small town in Venezuela which is called
    “la ciudad de los caballeros “the city of the gentlemen . He always demonstrated
    courage and honesty . No body can doubt about is capacity and efforts that he put in his work . I believe that guy who say that he committed fraud , does not know why the Mets offered him that money and he took it . In that business nothing is predictable .

  9. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. Definition of a WARRIOR. Was at the game against the Fish, and will be forever GRATEFUL for the CLASS he brought to this dysfunctional organization. Gave me something I never truly believed I would ever see. THANK YOU JOHAN! Good Luck and get well soon!

  10. Please gentlemen, be fair. Johan gave the very best, not blame for the bad management of the Mets, whose only decision that shows foolproof was hiring the best pitcher in baseball at the time

  11. As a big Twins fan and even bigger baseball fan this is a hard story to read. Santana is a wonderful person who loves to compete. He went from rule 5 drafty to one of the best pitchers of his generation he will be missed if he can’t make it back. I believe the trade to the Mets was a wonderful trade for them, they gave up very little MLB talent for one of the best pitchers in baseball. If Mets ownership would have made more business decisions like this one they would be a model franchise instead of what they have been over the last few years.

    If I was a Mets fan I would start questioning why the franchise can’t keep it’s better players on the field. To many games lost due to injury to more then just Santana over the last few years. Makes me wonder if the Mets try and save money and go with an understaffed or inferior training staff.

    For everyone who thinks this is about money or think this is funny, may karma bit you in #$%$. How would you feel about working hard to be one of the best at what you do and have a medical problem cut what you love away from your life. Remember players don’t negotiate their contracts agents do, a players job is try and be the best they can be and when Santana was on the field he was one of the best..

  12. The writer lost me at the part where she lamented Johan’s diminished hall of fame chances. I think he’s still got a pretty good shot – 2 cy young awards, a 5-yr stretch where he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. IF this is the end, it will have been a relatively short career, but he belongs in the hall based on what he’s done.

  13. Does anyone consider baseball a team sport? Johan can’t do it alone. Eight other player are needed to play the game. If those other players don’t have the talent or chemistry to play together or compete against the opposing team you will not win games. Johan cant’ do it alone. He needed help and management did not provide that support. We will most likely see Johan back. He is a great athlete.

  14. Michael Slane is 1000% correct….in those first two years here in NYC especially, this man pitched his damn heart out. And time and time and time again the bullpen or the anemic lineup, denied him God only knows how many victories……

  15. I saw Santana pitch once against the Jays, and they had some good hitters. It was a thing of beauty. Any team in baseball who wanted to contend would have made the Santanta deal, or their fans would have run them out of town. No team, or player decides when the baseball Gods smile or frown upon them. You have to enjoy what you have when you’ve got it.

  16. As a Mets fan in Aust. I am disapointed to hear all the negativeity directed at Johan Santana. Was it his fault he was offered the big contract? No. Was it his fault the organisation didnt help him on the field? No. Was it his intention to blow out his shoulder? No. So why do the thoughtless people want to drive his good name into the ground? Because they can without fear of reprecussion. The gutless ‘fan’ who calle dhim a fraud, to me sir you are the fraud as you hide yourself in cyberspace. Please go and face Johan, tell him you think he is a fraud. I bet if you were offered that amount of money to do your job, (that is if you have 1 or you are any good at it), I would bet the entire money the world has that you would excfept. Then after 4 years you cant do it anymore for whatever reasons, if you were called a fraud, I bet you may understand how he feels. I know we are a small baseball community down here, but we still understand the game better than most of the hipocrits they hide online and speak crap.

  17. And to think the Yankees were highly criticised at the time for not wanting to trade Phil Hughes for johan Santana. It was a brilliant non-move by Brian Cashman.

    • And to think the Yankees were highly criticised in 2007 for not wanting to trade Phil Hughes for Johan Santana. It was a brilliant non-move by Brian Cashman.

  18. When healthy, Johan was the best pitcher in baseball. He should have won the Cy Young in 2008 and did throw a no-hitter. He’s a hard worker, and great ballplayer and athlete. Don’t talk crap about him. Every time he pitched, the Mets had a chance to win. And he was the guy that when you needed a win, he gave it to you. Let’s not forget the second to last game of 2008.

  19. Johan is not to blame for the disappointment of injuries. I blame the organization for not firing our training and medical staffs. It is clear to me, that both, our training staff and medical staff needs to go. We need to hire a staff that knows how to get these guys not only into baseball health, but Northeast baseball health. Every year we have guys go down for ridiculous injuries that should never happen, and it is usually one of our stars and sometimes a few of them. I also blame our coaches, for not allowing our pitchers to pitch past the sixth inning unless they are going for a no-hitter. How are these pitchers supposed to create arm and shoulder strength if you don’t let them stretch it out a little during the season. Keep babying them, and they will keep getting the same results….injuries! Get well, Johan, we wish you the best!