Sports of The Times: Curtis Granderson Is a Man on a Generous Mission…

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A native of a nearby suburb and a graduate of this university, Granderson goes on about what “we” have accomplished here. He favors plural personal pronouns.

Curtis, I ask, how much did you contribute, besides many hours of your time? He appears not to hear and continues to talk of these children and their lives.

Ah, Curtis? I repeat my question. He says quickly: “I did five.”

By which he means he contributed $5 million.

On a balmy November day, Granderson and I walk around his South Chicago neighborhood and talk of baseball and philanthropy and family, and race. He belongs to that endangered subspecies, the African-American baseball player. Granderson is companionable, and by nature not a controversialist. But he knows himself, and this day he speaks candidly.

Mets fans last saw their team’s 35-year-old right fielder moonlighting in center during a one-game playoff against the San Francisco Giants. Brandon Belt hit a towering shot in the sixth inning that seemed certain to break a scoreless tie. Granderson turned and ran and ran and reached for the ball just before he crashed into the fence.

He fell flat on his back and raised his glove hand aloft, holding that ball. It was a grand moment in what became a gut punch of a loss.

Ask about his run-in with the wall, and Granderson shrugs.

“My leg was sore for a few days,” he says. “That was that.”

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Granderson, with the Maine-Endwell team that won the Little League World Series, before a Mets home game against the Marlins late last season.

Credit
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Exceeding Expectations

We wisely stop short of decreeing any man or woman noble. We’re all fallen, although some quite a bit less so than others. Granderson appears to belong firmly in that second category.

With the help of the Mets and others, he has raised well over a million dollars to support youth education and sports. He gives away turkeys while riding in the back of trucks and hopes to raise a million dollars for the Food Bank for New York City. Every home run he hits translates into money.

He has won a bundle of public service prizes, including baseball’s prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, and he poured every needed cent into his Grand Kids Foundation, which supported the youth program at his alma mater. The foundation has no staff member or expenses. Every dollar goes to the programs.

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Granderson received Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award for public service from Commissioner Rob Manfred in Chicago before Game 3 of this year’s World Series.

Credit
Elsa/Getty Images

I should offer a throat-clearing confession: On the subject of Granderson, I own a cracked crystal ball. When he struggled two years ago, I opined that his career seemed near an end. He went on to have a fine season and to hit three home runs in the 2015 World Series.

In self-defense, I will point out that others have underestimated him. In 2004, that bible of statistical analysis, Baseball Prospectus, described him as a “low-ceiling” minor league prospect who might eke out a few major league seasons.

It turns out Granderson did not think much of his chances, either. As a college all-American, he figured his pro career would be short.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ll probably play two to three years in the minor leagues, and I’ll probably be released, and I’ll go put my college degree to work,’ ” he says. “Then teams kept letting me come back.”

At a touch over 6 feet and supple, he is no behemoth. Yet Granderson, drafted in the third round, has been a regular for 11 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees and the Mets, hitting 293 homers and playing a fine center field before shifting to right. He has made three All-Star teams, and he is one of four players in baseball history who in a single season has hit 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs, while stealing 20 bases.

He is unassuming in extremis. In late August 2004, after a good Class AA season in Erie, Pa., Granderson followed his annual custom and tossed his glove, cleats and batting gloves into the trash can. The manager beckoned: Curtis, come here.

You’ve been called up to the majors.

Granderson sprinted to retrieve his glove and cleats. He drove to the Tigers’ stadium.

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