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Toronto Blue Jays batter Carlos Delgado admires the flight of the ball after he hit a two run home run off New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte in the fifth inning of their game August 30, 2001 at Yankee Stadium. Delgado also hit a two run homer to help Toronto win the previous game August 29. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS)
Toronto Blue Jays batter Carlos Delgado admires the flight of the ball after he hit a two run home run off New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte in the fifth inning of their game August 30, 2001 at Yankee Stadium. Delgado also hit a two run homer to help Toronto win the previous game August 29. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS)

Stephen Brunt

Delgado will be missed Add to ...

A couple of weeks ago came the final straw.

Carlos Delgado was working out, trying to fight back from yet another operation, trying to buy a little more time in a baseball career during which he had been one of the game's premier power hitters.

That battle had been going on for many months, all the way back to his last major-league game with the New York Mets in 2009. Since then, there had been microfracture and reconstructive surgeries on both hips, and a comeback attempt with the Boston Red Sox' Triple A team last year, which he was forced to abandon after only five games.

Delgado was working out with a trainer, taking a few cuts and videotaping them, to analyze his mechanics. When he played back the results that last time, there was no pretending. What had once been one of the game's most beautiful left-handed strokes was gone, forever.

"Geez," he said. "I can't make money with that swing."

It's a funny line now, but funny/sad, because by rights Delgado should have reached 500 home runs, he should be a serious candidate for baseball's hall of fame, and he should have accomplished both before packing it in two months shy of his 39th birthday.

And sad, also, because anyone who remembers his arrival with the Toronto Blue Jays, who remembers the great days he had wearing the uniform, who came to understand that behind that megawatt smile was a multidimensional human being, knows that the sport - and sport in general - will be made poorer by his absence.

Talking over the phone from his home in Puerto Rico, Delgado remembers his breakout spring training in 1994. He was a blue-chip prospect trying to earn a roster spot on a championship team, considered the Blue Jays' catcher of the future. Then he started hitting moon-shot home runs, and his progress to the big leagues was accelerated.

There was no vacancy behind the plate, but left field was available, because neither of the contenders for a starting job - Rob Butler and Robert Perez - had made a case for himself.

"Have you ever played left field?" manager Cito Gaston asked Delgado.

"Not since Little League."

"Do you want to give it a try?"

"Hell, yeah," Delgado said.

It was, to say the least, a bit of an adventure, which was soon abandoned for the safety of designated hitter. Delgado wouldn't find a permanent home in the field until John Olerud's departure, when he moved to first base, and fielded the position well. He became the best player - and the best paid player - on a franchise that would not return to glory during his tenure. Then, when the cost cutting came, Delgado shuffled off to the Florida Marlins for a single season before landing with the New York Mets, where he finally got a taste of the postseason, and thrived.

His career numbers - most notably 473 home runs and 1,512 RBI - are terrific, and probably just a touch short of what it would take to get him into Cooperstown automatically.

After spending time as an at-home husband and dad, he may return to the game in some capacity - "I love baseball," he says. "It is my passion." The truth is, there have always been other things in Delgado's life.

His charitable work in Toronto went way beyond the usual pro athlete's lip service. His Extra Bases Foundation has distributed more than $3-million to various causes in Puerto Rico since its founding in 2001. And Delgado is a man of strongly held beliefs. "Not so much political," he says, "as socially aware."

He was among the prominent Puerto Ricans who protested the United States Navy's use of the island of Vieques for weapons testing (it withdrew, finally, in 2003). In 2004 while playing for the Blue Jays, Delgado refused to stand for the playing of God Bless America in ballparks. Instead, he remained on the bench or walked into the dugout tunnel, a personal stand against the war in Iraq, which he referred to as "the stupidest war ever." When the Jays played at Yankee Stadium, New York fans booed his every at-bat.

So it's a natural question: Might part of his postbaseball life involve politics?

Delgado jumps in before the sentence is even completed. "I can answer that right now," he says. "No."

He will not travel that road.

"I'm not so good at lying," he says.

 

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