The troubling news on Gary Carter's health is raising anew the question of whether -- and when -- the Mets will get around to retiring No. 8. Thanks to a tip from MBTN commenter "Gored82" in the below story I clicked over to Mike Silva's Baseball Digest which was running a poll on fan opinions on the matter. Those readers overwhelmingly approved the idea by a 92% margin, seemingly agreeing with Mike that Carter's contributions to the 80s success merited the honor even though his tenure was relatively short and his good seasons in a Mets uniform even shorter.
It's obvious to me the Mets intended to retire No. 8 upon Carter's enshirement in Cooperstown -- they took 8 out of circulation upon his 2003 election -- but I suspect they lost their conviction to when Carter went to the Hall "as an Expo" not a Met, and subsequently eschewed an offer to manage the Mets' farm club in Binghamton. Following that, Carter made remarks in the press that were interpreted as "campaining" for Willie Randolph's job. Petty squabbles with players? These Mets? In the meantime the re-emergence of Darryl Strawberry and to a lesser extent, Dwight Gooden into the Mets graces, and the ever-growing legend of Keith Hernandez, who becomes a greater Met personality with every broadcast, made the idea of singling out Carter seem unwise. I would guess that the same poll a few years ago would have produced less dramatic results, although still probably favorable, since in my experience, fans just like to see numbers retired. Immortality is something to root for.
I've suggested before the Mets "retire" No. 86 as a tribute to the lot of them. I've argued long and hard that they re-issue these numbers to appropriate candidates. But what seems more likely right now is they ultimately resolve this by tackling Hernandez and Carter at once.
I discussed this with Mike on his radio show the other night (I follow Steven Travers discussing his Tom Seaver book). Click here to listen to a replay.
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?
With the addition of new reserve shortstop Ronny Cedeno and returning pinch-hitter Scott Hairston -- and the subtraction of bungled phenom Fernando Martinez, who will try again with the Astros -- the Mets say their 40-man roster is whole again and, they say, unlilkely to undergo any further changes before it all begins again.
It's not just the weather making it as though like winter never came. The additions to the team were underwhelming enough and the finances bad enough that nobody bothered having a press event beyond conference calls or a caravan which is all well and good but denied us the introduction of new uni numbers until, I suppose, pitchers and catchers report. Following are guys on the 40 who are awaiting a number assignment:
PITCHERS: Robert Carson, Juerys Familia, Frank Francisco, Jeremy Heffner, Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch
INFIELDERS: Ronny Cedeno, Wilmer Flores, Reese Havens
OUTFIELDERS: Juan Lagares, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Cesar Puello, Andres Torres
Including the four non-roster invitees who already have number assignments (Miguel Batista, Daniel Hererra, Valentino Pascucci, Mike Baxter) the following numbers (up to 50) are available to issue: 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 31, 33, 38, 45, 48, 50.
That's 13 guys and 20 numbers if I counted right. If I include additional non-roster invitees (likely to be issued numbers in the 60s or above anyway) it's 21 guys and 20 numbers. Who will wind up in which?
MBTN reader Zach this week sent along the accompanying image of lefty Bob Ojeda warming up in St. Petersburg. They were culled from footage of "A Season to Remember" the 1986 Mets highlight video that I still have on VHS but haven't watched since having decommissioned my VHS player years ago. Zach pointed out that some angel recently digitized it and that it now resides on YouTube, at least until MLB's goons get ahold of it.
As you can see in the stills, Ojeda in these shots was wearing No. 43, and not the No. 19 he would wear when the Mets broke camp. The story behind that relates to the Mets' decision to demote Ron Gardenhire to Tidewater as insurance for starting shortstop Rafael Santana, rather than carry him on the everyday roster -- which at the time required the team to carry just 24 players and not 25. (Were that still the case, we wouldn't now be sweating Ronny Cedeno). Gardenhire, who'd occupied No. 19 for four years but was a regular only in 1982, got the backup nod over another shortstop candidate, Argenis (Angel) Salazar, who was traded to Kansas City the same spring. Salazar had come to the Mets' system a year earlier in exchange for Jose Oquendo but like Gardenhire in '86, would be stashed for the season at AAA Tidewater as a backup for Santana.
Gardenhire's departure -- he was demoted just days before the season began and would not return to the Majors until beginning his coaching and managerial tenure with the Twins -- gave Ojeda the chance to wear the No. 19 he'd rocked previously in Boston. No. 43 would next alight on the back of John Mitchell that September.
Thanks Zach for the photos and link! Also, be sure to see Matt's comment below about Gardenhire bequeathing the 19 jersey to Ojeda and making plans for an eventual return. Great stuff!
My friend Greg Spira passed away last week, the end result of a long and recurring battle with kidney disease. Greg was 44 years old, a Mets fan who grew up in Whitestone, Queens, and an editor who among other accomplishments was kind enough to solicit and encourage my contributions to the Maple Street Mets Annual over the past few years. I knew Greg only for a short time, and were he anyone else, he'd probably be one of those quasi-business acquaintences with whom you interact with from time to time but never get to know well. But Greg's extraordinary intellect, curiousity and friendliness won me over. He was genuinely interested in so many things, a simple phone call to relay a message over a particular point in an article would inevitably become a hour-long phone conversation over a hundred more topics, and an assignment that could easily be relayed with an email would instead become a long lunch, or minitaure golf outing, or a Mets game. I liked Greg a lot. Our mutual friend Matthew Silverman knew Greg very well, and wrote a terrific rememberance of him at his website.
What a trial 2011 was for us Mets fans. In May, author Dana Brand died suddenly at age 56. Dana was in the process of organizing a scholarly conference all about the Mets to mark the occasion of the team's 50th anniversary. How awesome was that? The great news is that event will happen in Dana's honor April 26-28 at Hofstra University, and is open for presentation submissions through Jan. 10.
By the time Dana passed, my sister Jennifer was in the final weeks of her life. As I mentioned here before, but haven't written about much lately, Jen had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease: a progressive neurological disorder that despite our efforts remains undefeated. Jen's loss at age 46 deprived her husband a great wife, her three kids of a great mother, my family of a great sister, aunt and daughter, and the Mets of another great fan. Jen was among MBTN's biggest supporters and totally got the concept. She made sure each of her friends bought one of my books whether they wanted one or not, and she had a lot of friends. It's impossible to say how much I miss her.
They say a year like 2011 is the kind of thing that puts Mike Pelfrey's struggles into perspective, and I suppose it does, though the overriding vibe is an urge to see better days ahead. I'd like to think that all three of Greg, Jen and Dana would see this coming season not exclusively as a disaster in the making, but would appreciate it also for whatever it brings, for its particular moment in time. We only have so many of them.