The Disappearance of David Wright: A Murder Mystery

Where in the world is David Wright? (via Keith Allison, slgckgc & Michelle Jay)

The Background

David Wright could have been a Hall of Famer. He was a shiny, bright-eyed boy when he debuted in the majors in 2004, so full of hope and promise on a team full of hope and promise. Half of that came to fruition and the young third baseman became a star.

From 2005 to 2014, Wright hit .298/.379/.492. He fielded his position well, with the occasional bare-handed pick thrown in for good measure. He kept a team in upheaval together. He averaged 144 games a season, though brought down by a stress fracture in his back in 2011 that family and friends feared was a sign of future events.

For years, Wright watched the Mets sink into despair, with 91-, 92- and 88-loss seasons. There was no break in the misery, just more disappointment. He manned infields with Alex Cora and Rod Barajas and Luis Castillo. He hit in lineups with Omar Quintanilla and Omir Santos and Jason Phillips. Year after year, he was stuck in the middle of failure. And he didn’t complain. He smiled for the cameras and for the fans. He gave his coy, meaningless answers to reporters. He did everything he was supposed to do while ownership failed to live up to its promise: to build him a winning baseball team.

2006 looked like a turning point, until it wasn’t. There was only more disappointment. The names were all there: Carlos Beltran and Tom Glavine and Paul Lo Duca. The Mets went 97-65, finishing first in the National League East,  12 games ahead of the Phillies. They were young and full of expectations. A day after the regular season ended, Delta named an airplane after the grinning third baseman: “The Wright Flight,” complete with his name, number and signature. Because he was worth it. Those youthful expectations died 17 days later when Beltran stared at a Adam Wainwright curveball at the knees to end the NLCS. The Mets slunk home and sunk into mediocrity for years. Between 2009 and 2014, they were double digits out of first place every season. Half a decade of despair.

Then 2015 happened, a dream season with a nightmare ending. Wright played just 38 games, his first hint of delinquency, but he was part of the magic. He was there for the ups and downs. His name was on the roster, on the clubhouse locker, on the back of the jersey. And he was back in the playoffs.

A poor showing in the NLDS was overshadowed by a fist pump in Game One, a rare showing of audacity for the cautiously reserved 32-year-old. The Mets dominated the Cubs in the NLCS and then fell apart in World Series. But Wright had made his way back to the postseason after nine years, a drought that never fit a career littered with accolades.

He was the face of major league baseball, this boy from Norfolk — the fans voted him so. He was Captain America. He was going to save the Mets and he was going to save baseball.

Then, one day, he went into the doctor’s office and never came back.

The Disappearance

Wright was last seen on the job striking out against Louis Coleman in the bottom of the seventh inning on May 27, 2016. That was 15 months ago.

In July 2015, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced that Wright had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that results in tingling, weakness and numbness in the extremities. In June 2016, he underwent neck surgery for a herniated disc.

He was spotted again in Port St. Lucie in February but the appearance was brief; witnesses reported a shoulder impingement before the victim, looking gaunt and haggard, vanished once more.

Sightings have been reported around the country, at the Arizona Fall League and with Tim Tebow in Florida, but the missing baseball player has never returned to the field where he was supposed to reign forever.

The Suspects

Jeff and Fred Wilpon

In 2012, Wright signed an eight-year, $138 million extension, an unheard-of contract for a team that never lived up to its metropolitan roots. An insurance policy allows the team to recoup 75 percent of his contract after he misses 60 days, freeing the owners of a significant portion of salary allotted to the once and probably not future third baseman. After peaking at $149 million on Opening Day in 2009, the Mets’ payroll took a nosedive for several years before bottoming out at just below $85 million on Opening Day in 2014.

In recent years, the team has rebounded to a more acceptable rate for a big market team — although barely — but every dollar counts for owners still trying to pay off a multi-million dollar settlement to the victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Why pay an aging third baseman $18 million for 2018 when you can pay barely above the league minimum to Wilmer Flores or T.J. Rivera? Sure, Wright sells more tickets and more shirseys, but $18 million is a lot of money. What’s that? You play in New York and $18 million isn’t really all that much? A payroll barely creeping past $150 million is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable payroll? A team with a starting rotation of pre-arb aces (well, they were) can afford to pay a star player his worth? We’ll circle back.

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Eric Campbell

With Wright sidelined for all but 38 games in 2015, Eric Campbell became the de facto starting third baseman for 71 games of marginal mediocrity and a .197/.312/.295 slash line. Wright’s disappearance extended Campbell’s failed major league career by years, giving the suspect a plausible motive. Campbell, 30, recently fled the country and is currently playing for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan.

Wilmer Flores

The not-actually-a-shortstop shortstop similarly found himself with extra playing time after Wright’s disappearance. Flores has manned the hot corner for about 120 games between 2013 and 2017, not enough to call him a third baseman but enough to turn the young Venezuelan from a fifth infielder to an everyday player.

T.J. Rivera

The local townie has a tertiary motive at best: he was promoted when Flores failed as an adequate replacement. Rivera can hit. He’s known around these parts for his ability to hit. In theory, he eventually would have hit his way to the majors. Wright’s disappearance expedited that process. The suspect, however, was in Las Vegas at the time of the incident and seems unlikely to have had the means to secure his eventual promotion.

Jose Reyes

The victim’s former best friend, Reyes debuted in the majors just a year before Wright and the two formed a dominant left side of the infield. A resident provided officers with old photos of the pair, a GQ spread of six packs and headbands and infectious smiles.

The young shortstop left town in 2012, finding new homes in Miami, Toronto and Denver before returning to New York in 2016.

The suspect has previously been in trouble with the law after allegedly beating and shoving his wife in a Hawaii hotel room in October 2015. According to Hawaii News Now, Reyes grabbed Katherine Ramirez off the bed and pushed her, then took her by the neck and “shoved” her into the sliding glass balcony door at the Maui Four Seasons. Ramirez reported injuries to her thigh, neck and wrist, according to police. Reyes was arrested for domestic violence, but charges were dropped after Ramirez refused to cooperate with law enforcement. MLB suspended him for 51 games before he was welcomed home to Flushing as a returning hero.

Reyes has been an everyday player for the Mets since his suspension was lifted, a role he would have been unlikely to hold had Wright been healthy.

Derek Jeter

The timing is suspicious. The face of New York baseball retired in 2014 and left behind an opening, not just on the Bronx dirt but as someone to represent the Big Apple and all it has to offer. Alex Rodriguez was disgraced, Aaron Judge was a hard-hitting minor leaguer barely a few months into his professional career. Wright was the heir apparent, but perhaps the crosstown rivalry was simply too much to accept.

The Plan of Action

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any cause for hope in the case of David Wright.

His is a story not of fading glory, but of cruel fate. Wright didn’t lose his arm strength or stop being able to turn on an inside fastball. He wasn’t forced into a platoon and eventually shuffled off into a bench role. He simply vanished. One day he was Captain America. The next day he was gone. There was no farewell party. No retiring of No. 5 and no final standing ovation. Mets fans — and baseball — never got to say goodbye. He just disappeared.

He was supposed to be a star. He could have been a star. He should have been a star. That time has passed. He’s a shadow now, a whisper of a promise never fulfilled. His name will remain in the record books until it doesn’t. His shirseys will be sold until they aren’t. He’ll be remembered until he’s not.

That’s the way things go sometimes. People rarely get their storybook ending. Maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe a glimmer of hope is all we get: the thought of happiness, rather than the actual feeling. Are we supposed to be content with promise? With potential? Is that supposed to be enough? Is that failure? Or disappointment? Or is achievement, no matter how fleeting, success? Should we be satisfied with temporary triumph?

Wright’s career likely ended on that cloudless evening on May 27, 2016, caught staring at an inside slider from Louis Coleman. He’s still out there, in California or Florida or New York or Virginia, trying to recapture his youth, his glory. He hasn’t given up yet, even if everyone else has. He still believes in himself.

David Wright, if you’re listening, your family misses you. Come home.

This case remains open.


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Kate Feldman is the editor-in-chief at Baseball Prospectus Mets and a lifelong fan of baseball teams that only make her miserable. Follow her on Twitter @kateefeldman.

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11 Comments on "The Disappearance of David Wright: A Murder Mystery"

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Steven Safran
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Steven Safran
The guy has all the heart and desire in the world but he is fighting injuries that take a long time to recover from and which full recovery is not guaranteed. Even if he does heal and regain most of his strength and flexibility after not using those muscles for months he will have an increased risk of further injury. His body tells him retire but his heart tells him to keep trying. At some point his eyes will see a reality that his mind cannot deny and he will have a farewell day at Citifield to recognize his accomplishments… Read more »
MetsMind
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Well, Fred Wilpon did once say that Wright was a good player, not a great one. But what does he know? Wright holds just about every Mets batting record except home runs, where he trails some guy with the funny name of Strawberry by just 10. The team (or insurance company) owes David $20 million next year, $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020. That’s a lot of money for a dead guy.

Robert Shupp
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Robert Shupp

Kate, Very cruel towards Mets fans for you to publish this the morning after a two-series sweep at the hands of the Yankees.

Our rally cry for 2017: “OUCH”

Paul G.
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Paul G.

I do have to quibble. David Wright was a star for 8-9 seasons. He’s the best third baseman the Mets have ever had. But, yes, it is sad to see him take the Don Mattingly career path except more sudden.

Alex
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Alex
For a long, detailed article, the author seems to forget that David was an amazing player for 8-9 seasons. “He was supposed to be a star. He could have been a star. He should have been a star.” He was a star. No doubt about it. Don’t diminish the first 10 seasons because of injuries. “He’ll be remembered until he’s not.” He will be forever remembered. Every Met fan who watched from 2004 – today will remember him as the greatest Met they have ever seen. I would be surprised if the Mets didn’t retire his number.
MP
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MP

This article is bizarre. It’s not like people don’t know exactly what Wright has done and what has happened to him with a terrible injury. The whole “missing” motif is off-putting, at best. Spinal stenosis is a very serious disease that can cause paralysis. It not just some punch line as to why David Wright “only” was a star for eight years.

Not even a Mets fan here. Just disappointed by a worthless article.

DSmoke
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DSmoke

Nearly 7,000 MLB PA and +53 career WAR. Did the author expect Wright to play into his forties? He had a great career cut slightly short by injury. Not sure how this is newsworthy.

The murder mystery bit is so cynical and insensitive, it suggests quite a bit of unresolved anger in the author’s own life. Perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t even make a shred of sense. Stick to Twitter, Kate.

DSmoke
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DSmoke

Nearly 7,000 MLB PA and +53 career WAR. Did the author expect Wright to play into his forties? He had a great career cut slightly short by injury. Not sure how this is newsworthy.

The murder mystery bit is so cynical and insensitive, it suggests unhappiness that goes far beyond David Wright’s career. Perhaps more importantly, the analogy doesn’t even make a shred of sense.

RobotBoy
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RobotBoy

The murder mystery theme was, to me, a dig at the Mets apparent desire to keep him off the field to save money. If that wasn’t it than, yeah, sort of cruel.

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