Oftentimes, organizations are best off sticking to their convictions and not giving in to the will of fans, especially when it comes to sensitive stuff like retiring numbers. For the Mets this is an especially vexing dilemma, given that they have so few convictions not to mention so few candidates for number retirement. Fans with opinions, though — they got plenty of those.
I’ve been on record before defending the team’s stinginess when it comes to uni-number retirement. That the Mets are “disrespecting” those players whose numbers aren’t yet retired, or that they lag other teams when it comes to numbers hanging on the walls, are both lousy arguments for taking a jersey out of circulation when the most satisfying remedy lies in the ability to selectively re-issue numbers so as to perpetuate being part of something special. That is, if the Mets were to give No. 17 only to intense, mustachioed, good fielding first basemen; or No. 8 only to charismatic catchers with a flair for the dramatic, there’d be little argument to the notion that Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter are being dissed or forgotten — and maybe there’d be some pressure on the Mets to actually go out and develop one of them now and again.
All that said, the organization may have turned a corner last year when it comes to No. 17. Perhaps giving into fan indignation and recognizing Hernandez’s growing legend for his post-career contributions to the cause of Met-ness, No. 17 was unissued in 2011. It was the first time in 21 years no Met had worn 17.
Ironically the streak that saw 15 different men wear No. 17 over those 21 years — a streak that for many came to symbolize just how ignorant the team could be about these things — began with of all things a tribute to Keith Hernandez: David Cone’s switch from No. 44 early in the 1991 season.
From Cone, who wore 17 until his 1992 trade; 17 went to MBTN hero Jeff McKnight, then onto Bret Saberhagen (1994-95), Brett Mayne (1996) and Luis Lopez (1997-99). This century, 17 has gone almost entirely to bums and scrubeenies who spent a season or less in Met-ville : Mike Bordick (2000); Kevin Appier (2001); Satoru Komiyama (2002); Graeme Lloyd and Jason Anderson (2003); Wilson Delgado (2004); Dae-Sung Koo (2005); Jose Lima (2006); David Newhan (2007) and finally, Fernando Tatis, who on July 4, 2010, in the seventh inning of what was to be a 9-5 Mets win, entered the game as a pinch hitter for Chris Carter — Carter was initally called in to pinch hit for the pitcher before Washington provoked Jerry Manuel by bringing in lefty Sean Burnett — and singled. Following the game the Mets placed Tatis on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder sprain from which he never returned.
That was the last time a 17 appeared for the Mets. Is it permanent? Or just taking a well-deserved break?