(Flushing’s new company man imagines Wally Matthews pitching batting practice without a safety net)

Newly acquired Mets 1B Carlos Delgado is in a bit of a quandry. Were he to continue his ongoing protest against the Iraq War by refusing to stand during the Sunday playing of “God Bless America”, he risks the ire of his new bosses, and some portion of the yack radio corps. By agreeing to take part in this dubious patriotic display, Delgado is now labelled a sell-out by Newsday’s Wallace Matthews.

In 1966, Muhammad Ali refused to submit to the draft and fight in a war he opposed on religious grounds. That decision cost Ali nearly four years of his athletic prime and countless millions.

Nearly 40 years later, Carlos Delgado, with more than $40 million guaranteed him over the next four seasons, has been faced with a choice not nearly so gut-wrenching and with none of the consequences that confronted Ali.

He could continue the silent protest he had begun as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays and continued during his one season as a Florida Marlin, in which he would slip away to the clubhouse while his teammates stood for the playing of “God Bless America.”

Or, if he wanted to fit in with the Mets, he could swallow his convictions and stand like everyone else.

Delgado chose the latter.

“Fred has asked and I’ve asked him to respect what the country wants to do,” said Mets senior executive vice president and first son Jeff Wilpon, who must not read the front of the newspaper. “If the team rule is everybody stands for ‘God Bless America,’ he’s going to stand. We told him we would like it if he did.”

The official line of Mets thinking is that to allow Delgado to continue his protest would create “a distraction” on the team. Delgado was asked yesterday if that was the case in Toronto or Florida.

“Not at all,” he replied. “It was never an issue.”

And yet, here, in a city that considers itself the most sophisticated in the country, if not the world, it seems as if conformity ranks second only to offensive production. “If you hit, they’re gonna like you,” Delgado said. “If you don’t hit, they’re gonna boo.”

No matter how well he performs as a Met, he already is less than he could have been.