Hooray for Mike Piazza, and for Us

31It’s an odd combination of reassuringly high standards and an embarrassingly poor record with regard to qualified candidates that has gotten the Mets through more than half a century with a single player seeing his number retired, but that’s likely to double this year now that Mike Piazza has been elected to the Hall of Fame.

As it happens the Mets are hosting the Braves Sept. 21 this year, 15 years to the day from Piazza’s signature moment as a Met. I may have told this story before but I was there that night, and nearly killed myself leaping with unimaginable joy, landing on an empty Budweiser bottle, which shot out front under me as I crashed down onto those rib-cracking Upper Reserved boxes.

As a result, I’m not sure he ever touched third base.

This I also remember as the day where the sad new realities of the dehumanizing, cautious and paranoid post-911 world first really set in, requiring us to pass armed soldiers on the 7 train platform, wait in a lengthy queue out in the Shea parking lot just to get into the park (we missed the first inning, and I hate that). Also, I guess due to the long layoff between home games, the beers were warm. I mean, not just not cold, but warm. Jay Payton kicklined with Liza Minelli and before we knew it the Patriot Act was passed. It’s all mixed up still.

On some level I’m also cynical of the whole number-retirement thing, and feel like Piazza’s close association with the Wilpons, and his postcareer outspokenness on his desire to be identified as a Met is on some level orchestrated to this end, though give Mike credit: He knows how to give fans what they want to see.

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  1. Richard says:

    Now that #31 is going to be retired, can the Mets stop messing around and allow 8, 17, and 24 back into circulation?

    8: If they were going to retire this, it could have easily been done when Carter went into the HOF or when he was diagnosed with cancer so he could have his day before he died. Neither happened. Just let Conforto wear it.

    17: Keith Hernandez. This is probably the most logical number to retire from the 80s Mets considering his impact plus contributions as a broadcaster. But if they’re not going to retire it, let it back in.

    24: Sorry, but two seasons of an old Willie Mays should not keep this number out. He belongs to the SF Giants, not the Mets. I’m wondering if the Mets are keeping this out until he passes away out of respect, but it’s just time for it to be worn again.

  2. Jon Springer says:

    8 is the weirdest limbo number right now. I think the Mets wanted for Carter to be enshrined “as a Met” but they had issues before he got sick and I guess it just didn’t feel right, especially with 16, 17 and 18 in various levels of ascension at that time. The easy solution to this would be to retire 86 for the lot of them, maybe they will do that this year with the 30th anniversary celebration.

    17 you know hasn’t been issued since Tatis in 2010 (it was actually assigned to Chin-Lunng Hu on paper that offseason, only to see the Mets make a show of a press conference and conspicuously handing out a 25 jersey — this for a guy destined to be released in weeks! I’m okay to keep this out of circulation for a few more years as the Keith Legend grows.

    24: If the Mets had any sense they’d “retire” it — for Joan Payson. She was hugely influential and the force behind them not reissuing 24 even though they occasionally have. It would solve the limbo problem and make the Mets look good (I think this would represent the first team to retire a uni for a woman, aligning with Fred’s passion for inclusion) which is probably why they don’t recognize it.

  3. Richard says:

    I am not in favor of retiring numbers for executives who never put on a uniform. If they want to honor Joan Payson, they can put her name on the wall like “Shea.” Or dedicate a portion of the stadium to her memory where there’s a display explaining who she was and how she played a role in the Mets’ birth. I don’t think anyone would associate #24 with Payson.

    • Jon Springer says:

      The association is easy to make as Payson is the only reason 24 has been in limbo for so long. I understand the desire to honor only players with a number but the practice is not unprecedented as the Marlins (I believe) and a few other orgs have retired numbers for influential executives: The Mets would have been OK in my book had they retired “62” or “64” for Shea but I see your points.

      I might also add the the Mets’ efforts to align their brand with Robinson, and what he stood for could also apply in some measure to Mays, who himself was a Negro Leaguer and like Robinson, a important figure of the Mets’ spiritual forebears. I’m not arguing hard for this, but they could “retire” 24 in NY Giant black-and-orange as Robinson’s 42 appears in Dodger blue. That might also honor Payson’s wishes, and subsequently free up “blue-and-orange” 24 for additional issues.

      • Richard Hochroth says:

        Interesting. I am not sure if that would go over well with the fanbase, who are already sensitive to the Mets honoring the traditions of other franchises. I would prefer if the Mets honored the numbers of people who had a significant impact on the franchise. Mays was already 40 years old when he was a Met. He is and should always be remembered as a Giant. Why should Mays be separated from all the other greats who also donned a Mets jersey, for instance, Pedro Martinez?

        Btw, I love your idea of retiring #86 to honor the 1986 team. There were so many guys who stood out, but I think the only player who makes sense for the Mets from the 1980s is Keith Hernandez and his #17.

        • Chris says:

          The Brewers retired #44 for Henry Aaron even though he only spent two years with them. I see it more as a tribute to the time he spent in Milwaukee with the Braves.
          The Mets could follow a similar approach with #24.
          However, I also think the time’s long passed when that gesture would have been meaningful. Mays hasn’t been associated with the Mets for over 30 years.

  4. Scott says:

    Forgot you were there that night in September. I was busy embarrassing myself (and Joan) in a bar in Cape May. May have been the loudest I’ve ever yelled in public.

  5. Gene F. says:

    I’ve seen a couple of number retirement ceremonies where the number was being worn up to that date, and the current wearer passed it along to the retiree (Mike Lavalliere to Ralph Kiner in Pittsburgh, and Michal Rozsival of the NY Rangers to Harry Howell). I’m sure there have been many more, and I’d love to hear of others that you guys might remember.

    While I certainly don’t think an active player should get 31 and pass it to Piazza, it would be pretty great to see John Franco pass it to Piazza for retirement, as he gave it up for Mike in 1998. I think Johnny would be amenable to doing so, and it would make for some nice theater, imo.

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