Top 10 Mets Numbers That Are Most Worthy of Being Retired

Shale BriskinContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2011

Top 10 Mets Numbers That Are Most Worthy of Being Retired

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    The Reluctant Mets Ownership and GM Sandy Alderson
    The Reluctant Mets Ownership and GM Sandy AldersonAndrew Burton/Getty Images

    Throughout their history, the Mets have always been reluctant in retiring numbers that its franchise's greatest players have worn. The current front office's perception of retiring numbers is most likely more exclusive than what fans would like to see. To date, only four numbers have been retired in Mets history. The first was #37 for the legendary Casey Stengel, the Mets' first manager. His teams were not good, but Casey and his sayings all stood out during those years and it was only appropriate for him to be recognized. The second number was 14, for Gil Hodges, who managed the 1969 championship team. Hodges passed away a few years after that season and at the time was the Mets' greatest manager. Some would say he still is. The third and only player number to be retired was 41 for the "Franchise" himself, Tom Seaver. Arguably the greatest Met ever, Seaver brought the team from the gutter to the very top by leading the Mets' 1969 championship squad and the 1973 National League Champions. The first genuine superstar the Mets had, he set the standard for Mets pitching that others like Dwight Gooden would eventually follow. The only other number retired by the Mets is Jackie Robinson's 42 that every MLB club retired in 1997 to celebrate his achievements. Butch Huskey and Mo Vaughn were still allowed to wear the number during their respective Mets tenures due to a grandfather clause. The Mets' left field wall looks rather empty, even though since 2008, another logo stands that commemorates William Shea's contributions toward the Mets. However, it is not a number and there are more numbers that deserve to fill the left field wall. Here are the top 10 Mets numbers that deserve to be retired, hopefully sooner than later.

10. #20: Howard Johnson

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    Howard "HoJo" Johnson
    Howard "HoJo" JohnsonScott Halleran/Getty Images

    Howard Johnson was one of the Mets' greatest hitters during his tenure. Although overshadowed by Ray Knight during the 1986 championship season, HoJo was an offensive force for the Mets during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A solid third baseman that also played some shortstop, HoJo set some Mets records that have since been broken, including a then-record 117 RBI in 1991. He had good power, best shown also in 1991 with 36 home runs, which led the National League. He made two All-Star teams and ended his Mets tenure as its best all-around third baseman, and some may say he still is at this moment, being that David Wright is just entering his prime.  HoJo is currently third in Mets history in home runs, fourth in RBI, fourth in runs scored, third in doubles, and fifth in total bases. All of these numbers are worthy of recognition of some sort, but HoJo's much more likely to be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame than to also have his number retired. Besides, more than 10 players have worn #20 since his playing days, so it really hasn't been a number the Mets were trying to protect.

    Will #20 get retired? Most likely not. Too many people have worn the number since and HoJo did not distinguish himself to the point that his number deserves to be retired.

9. #24: Willie Mays

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    SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 8:  Willie Mays looks on during the San Francisco Giants game against the San Diego Padres at 3Com Park on April 8, 1999 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    This may surprise some of you. Willie Mays obviously spent the vast majority of his career as a Giant. However, he spent his final two seasons as a Met in 1972 and 1973 before coaching until 1979. Now, Mays did not make that many major contributions to the Mets, but there are a few things some fans may not know. Original Mets owner Joan Payson was a former Giants owner when the team was in New York and when presented the opportunity to acquire Mays, she was delighted. However, when Mays retired, Joan Payson's health was declining, and she eventually passed away in 1975. One of her last wishes was that #24 would never be issued to a Mets player ever again in honor of Mays, who was her favorite player. The number subsequently did not reappear until 1990, when a minor league journeyman named Kelvin Torve was issued #24. When the public had heard, many people were in shock and Torve eventually changed numbers once he learned about the controversy. The only other player to wear 24 since Mays retired was the legendary speedster Rickey Henderson and wore the 24 he had always worn, and unlike Torve, he had the credentials to back himself. Mays granted Henderson's wish and he wore the number from 1999 until he got released in 2000. Henderson eventually came back to the Mets as a first base coach briefly in 2007 and the number has not been issued since. Being that nobody else will probably wear it, it only makes sense that #24 gets retired so that no more Kelvin Torve's get in the way of Joan Payson's dying wish. Besides, who doesn't like to see Willie Mays?

    Will #24 get retired? Probably not officially, but it's very likely that no one will ever wear it again.

8. #1: Mookie Wilson

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    Mookie Wilson
    Mookie WilsonGetty Images/Getty Images

    One of the most beloved fan-favorite Mets of all-time, Mookie Wilson was one of the most significant members of the Mets during their 1980s success. Originally a leadoff hitter, Wilson also spent time at the 2nd, 5th and 6th slots in the lineup during his tenure. He played solidly in both center and left field, when Lenny Dykstra arrived. He was the Mets' first true speedster, swiping 58 bases in 1982, which set a then-team record. He followed that up with 54 stolen bases in 1983. He was never one of the top hitters (.276 average) and never had a lot of power, but Mookie was always in the middle of every exciting Mets moment. And none will ever be more memorable than his contributions in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Facing elimination, the Mets rapped out a few hits and when Mookie came to the plate, everything just started to go the Mets' way. And you all know what happened then: Bob Stanley's wild pitch that Mookie had to duck, and then Mookie's ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs that brings home Ray Knight to win Game 6 and eventually the whole series. Mookie's career ranks as a Met include sixth in games played, fourth in at-bats, sixth in runs, sixth in hits, second in triples, and second in stolen bases. He has also been a respected first base and outfield coach during the Bobby Valentine era, and he will be returning this year to the same position under Terry Collins. Mookie Wilson may not have been the most dazzling player to wear a Mets uniform, but he was always a fan favorite and played key roles in clutch moments. Many fans would love to see his number eventually get retired.

    Will #1 get retired? This number could go either way. Some would argue for his clutch moments in history, while others would argue against some of his statistics and that he was never a true superstar.

7. #36: Jerry Koosman

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    The Kooz
    The KoozJared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Arguably the Mets' greatest left-handed starter, Jerry Koosman was the lefty counterpart to Tom Seaver during the late 1960s and stayed with the team throughout the 1970s. While being overshadowed by Seaver during most of his career, Koosman quietly put up brilliant numbers during his Mets years. In his first season, he won 19 games, had a miniscule 2.08 ERA, and made his first of only two trips to the All-Star game. With Koosman pitching well alongside Seaver and Nolan Ryan, the Mets were destined to improve well beyond their 1962-1968 records showed, and in 1969, they did just that. Koosman won 17 games that year, had a 2.28 ERA and made his second All-Star team. He also pitched victoriously in most of the key games that year. He was the winning pitcher in the division clinching game and while Seaver struggled during the World Series, it was Koosman that stepped up and won 2 games, including the deciding game. After winning 12 games in 1970, Koosman's record stumbled during the mid 1970s, but he bounced back in 1976 with his best season. He became just the second Met to win over 20 games and got his ERA back down to 2.69. The next year, Seaver got traded in by far one of the most unpopular days within Mets history and Koosman led the team through a few more difficult years before getting traded himself in 1979. Koosman was a fan favorite that players and fans alike could count on and his contributions during the 1969 and 1973 seasons were remarkable. His Mets career ranks are amongst the very highest of all pitchers. He is fourth in games pitched, second in innings pitched (first among lefties), third in wins (first among lefties), third in strikeouts (first among lefties), second in complete games (first among lefties) and tied for second in shutouts (tied for first among lefties). All these numbers make a great case for Koosman's number to be retired, which would certainly be applauded by many Mets fans.

    Will #36 get retired? Probably not. The ship has sailed, most likely and it's fair to believe that if the Mets had intentions on retiring 36, they would have done so already. Nevertheless, it is always possible that there is still time to properly honor the Kooz.

6. #45: John Franco

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    John Franco
    John FrancoElsa/Getty Images

    John Franco, despite only wearing it during the second-half (and statistically, less productive half) of his fourteen year Mets tenure from 1990-2004 (he missed all of 2002 due to injuries) is certainly worthy of having his #45 retired. Coming to New York from the Reds in a trade for Randy Myers before the 1990 season, Franco was already an established closer and picked up where Myers left off. Arguably the best overall Met throughout the 1990s, Franco began turning in one successful season after another, and racked up many saves, averaging 26.8 saves per year through the decade. That number would have been higher had Franco not been hurt during parts of the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Franco's first great year was 1990 when he made his only All-Star appearance and saved 33 games, setting a new Mets record, while posting a 2.53 ERA. He saved 30 games in 1991, 25 combined in 1992 and 1993, 30 in 1994, 29 in 1995, 28 in 1996, 36 in 1997, which broke his own record, and 38 in 1998, breaking his own record once again. In each of these seasons except for 1993 and 1998, his ERA was below 3.00, which shows how dominant Franco was against the National League. However, compared to other premier closers at the time, Franco was rather underrated and his overall numbers usually went unnoticed. After the arrival of Armando Benitez, Franco converted to a set-up man (and eventually, team captain) for the rest of his Mets years before spending a year in Houston, and subsequently retiring and becoming the team ambassador he is today. Many non-Mets fans would probably not know that Franco is fourth all-time in saves, and the first amongst lefties. Only Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith have more saves. Franco may not have had neither the noticeable dominance that other closers of his time had, nor the postseason experiences that defined other Mets closers like Tug McGraw and Jesse Orosco, but Franco nonetheless is one of baseball's greatest closers, and for that reason alone, his number should get retired. His old #31 could make a case, but thanks to the reputation of another 31, Franco could definitely have #45 retired in his honor. It would certainly make up for the fact that he will unfortunately never appear on a Hall of Fame ballot ever again.

    Will #45 get retired? Possibly. Franco was loved by everyone and he was a Mets icon throughout the 1990s. This would depend on the front office being either more leniant, or still strict with retiring numbers, but also the confusion of whether Franco was really a true #45, being that he wore 31 from 1990 until the day a certain premier slugger arrived in New York.

5. #16: Dwight Gooden

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    Doctor K
    Doctor KMike Powell/Getty Images

    After the Tom Seaver era, the Mets were hopeful that they would catch lightning in a bottle and find another dominant starter that could lead them to championships. They sure found what they were looking for when they drafted the fireballing Dwight Gooden. Gooden began his major league career in 1984 and won the National League Rookie of the Year with 17 wins and a 2.90 ERA. He made his first of four All-Star teams and showed the baseball world that his talent was scary. If 1984 was not good enough, his 1985 career season certainly was. He finished with an outstanding 24-4 record to go with an amazing 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. He won the NL Cy Young Award that season and became the first and only Met since Seaver to win this prestigious award. Doc developed into quite the gamer, throwing over 276 innings that year as well. Though this was his best season, Gooden continued his success with three more strong seasons and avarged over 16 wins between 1986-1988. His postseason numbers in 1986 and 1988 were not particularly strong, but Doctor K was still one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. After a 1989 injury-plagued season, Doc bounced back and won 19 games in 1990 and turned out to be one of the longest tenured players from the 1986 championship team. However, as the 1990s began, so did Gooden's troubles. He dabbled with cocaine during most of his Mets years and it was not until he got hurt in 1991 that his drug problems really began catching up to him. He had a losing record in both 1992 and 1993 before finally getting suspended in 1994 for testing positive for cocaine use. He was later suspended for all of 1995 for testing positive a second time, which ended his Mets career. He pitched a few more good years for the Yankees, including a no-hitter in 1996 before retiring in 2001. Unfortunately for Gooden, his legal troubles continued, mostly with cocaine and driving under the influence. Many people have wondered what kind of career Doc may have had if drugs never got in the way. The possibilities are endless, but Doc is still the greatest Mets pitcher not named Tom Seaver. Gooden is third in Mets history in innings pitched, second in wins, second in strikeouts, third in complete games, and fourth in shutouts. While Gooden's drug abuse certainly did not have a positive effect in his career, his number may still be worthy to be eventually retired thanks to the success he had in the 1980s.

    Will #16 get retired? Probably not. Doc was a remarkable pitcher, but many people will look at his drug problems, and how they were not a good influence to his career. It's a shame, but Gooden has stated he is satisfied with a Mets Hall of Fame induction. Furthermore, what would Angel Pagan wear?

4. #18: Darryl Strawberry

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    Darryl Strawberry
    Darryl StrawberryGetty Images/Getty Images

    Darryl Strawberry is without question the greatest homegrown hitter the Mets have ever had (although David Wright may eventually make his own case). A rare blend of power and speed, Straw lived up to his billing when he arrived in 1983 and won the NL Rookie of the Year award that year. He averaged over 31 home runs and over 91 RBI a year between 1983-1990 and made the NL All-Star team in seven of those years. He was the cleanup hitter in a formidable Mets lineup throughout his tenure and was one of the leaders behind the 1986 championship season. Straw left the Mets after the 1990 season and spent the next decade with the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees before retiring. Like Doc Gooden, Straw has had his fair share of troubles with cocaine and got suspended for much of the 1999 season. Thankfully, Straw's legal issues are behind him and he is now actively involved the New York community. Straw is the all-time Mets leader in home runs RBI and runs scored, fourth in stolen bases, and second in total bases. With all this being said, it is clear the Mets should definitely retire #18 in honor of Darryl Strawberry, the greatest homegrown Mets hitter.

    Will #18 get retired? There is a good possibility. Strawberry has the career numbers to back him up, and none of his major legal issues occurred during his time as a Met. Furthermore, he has completely changed his image and that only helps his case for getting his number retired. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 2010, so this might mean that in time, a retired number may happen.

3. #8: Gary Carter

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    The Kid
    The KidRick Stewart/Getty Images

    The final piece of the Mets' 1986 championship team was complete when Gary Carter was traded from the Expos to the Mets in 1985. Arguably one of the best catchers of his era, and the best Mets catcher at the time, Carter gave the Mets the offensive boost they needed with 32 home runs and 100 RBI in 1985. He dropped to 24 home runs the following year, but still collected 105 RBI and delivered some of the most clutch hits during the 1986 postseason. It was Carter's single that started the Mets' game 6 rally vs. the Red Sox and he hit a crucial home run in the deciding game 7. A three-time All-Star, Carter's hitting declined after the World Series and had poor seasons in 1988 and 1989 before he got cut loose. Defensively, Carter was pretty good and successfully handled one of the best pitching staffs the Mets have ever had. But his clutch hits in 1985 and 1986 are what Mets fans will remember most.

    Will #8 get retired? Possibly. Ever since the now-defunct Montreal Expos retired his number, the Mets have been pressured to retire #8 for Carter themselves. Carter was a classy player, had clutch hits and handled a great pitching staff and he even wanted to go into the Hall of Fame as a Met, although the Hall of Fame committee thought otherwise and put him in as an Expo. As a result, Carter got a replica of the plaque, but with a Mets cap. Only three players and a handful of coaches have worn #8 since Carter's playing days and none since 2002, so there is a good chance #8 may eventually get retired.

2. #17: Keith Hernandez

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    Keith Hernandez
    Keith HernandezStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Mets lineup throughout the 1980s featured many skilled players. There were the speedsters, in Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson and Wally Backman. Then there were the sluggers in Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Howard Johnson and Kevin McReynolds. But right in the middle of it all was first baseman Keith Hernandez. Hernandez came to New York in a trade that gave Mets fans hope that success was right around the corner. A former co-MVP, Hernandez became the heart and soul of the lineup, as well as a clubhouse leader during the 1980s. His first full season in 1984 would be his best as a Met. He hit .311 with 15 home runs, 94 RBI and won his second Silver Slugger award, and his first of six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mets.  He finished with 11 consecutive Gold Gloves through his career. Hernandez's 1985 and 1986 seasons were also solid as he hit over .300 in both and had a .413 OBP during the 1986 championship season. Hernandez's 1987 season would be his last great year as he hit .290 with a career high 18 home runs and 89 RBI. He declined in 1988 and 1989 and signed with the Indians for the 1990 season before retiring. Mex is currently one of the Mets' beloved announcers and will always be a fan favorite and remembered for being the glue of the Mets in the 1980s.

    Will #17 get retired? Probably at some point. Mex was the center of the Mets offense during the 1980s and has always been a fan favorite, not to mention a wonderful announcer to listen to. If any Met during the 1980s deserves a retired number, it's Hernandez.

1. #31: Mike Piazza

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    Mike Piazza
    Mike PiazzaAl Bello/Getty Images

    If Darryl Strawberry is the greatest homegrown hitter the Mets ever developed, then Mike Piazza is certainly the best hitter the Mets have ever acquired through a trade. The 1990s had been mostly a disappointment for Mets fans. There was the "Worst Team Money Could Buy", then the failed Generation K project in 1995 and 1996, before the Mets had their first winning season of the decade in 1997. However, their best hitter at the time, catcher Todd Hundley suffered a painful elbow injury and needed surgery that forced him to miss most of the 1998 season. After failing to sign a reliable replacement for Hundley, the Mets finally made a huge move and brought Mike Piazza to New York in exchange for almost nothing. The team and its fans knew that the team had been reborn and Piazza changed the landscape of the team from underachievers to serious contenders. John Franco gave up his #31 for Piazza and when he returned, Hundley played the outfield so that both hitters could be in the lineup. Although he had a slow start, Piazza had a solid 1998 season and the Mets front office decided to sign Piazza for seven years and sent Hundley to the Dodgers. This turned out to be one of the best decisions in Mets history. Piazza continued to produce during his prime and hit .303 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI, as he led the Mets to their first postseason since 1988. The RBI total set a new Mets record. He followed that up with an even better season in 2000, hitting .324 with 38 home runs and 113 RBI. He led the team to their first World Series since 1986 and Piazza certainly did his part during those two postseasons by hitting clutch home runs and being the one feared hitter the Mets had at the time. Piazza had two more great seasons in 2001 and 2002 before injuries and his knees in particular began to affect his playing. He missed most of the 2003 season with a groin injury and played half of 2004 as a first baseman, which did not turn out as well as the Mets had hoped. His last year in 2005 was bittersweet because he was such a fan favorite, but the fans also knew that he would not be the feared hitter he was ever again and Piazza spent his last two seasons in San Diego and Oakland, respectively before retiring. Piazza had countless unforgettable moments with the Mets. His first game, the Trevor Hoffman home run, the 8th inning comeback home run vs the Braves, the Roger Clemens home runs, the home run he hit off Ramiro Mendoza into the Shea Stadium parking lot, the Billy Wagner home run, the record-breaking home runs for catchers, his final at bat, and of course the home run in the first game after 9/11 that gave hope to New York City were all memorable moments that fans who watched Piazza will never forget. Piazza caught the last pitch at Shea Stadium, and the first at Citi Field, both with Tom Seaver, the greatest Mets pitcher. It's only appropriate that Piazza is acknowledged the greatest Mets hitter and the most worthy of having his number retired.

    Will #31 get retired? Yes, definitely. It's only a matter of time and could occur as soon as Piazza is inducted into the Hall of Fame. His first year of eligibility is in 2013, and he has already hinted that he would like to go in as a Met. No Met has worn 31 since, and it will almost certainly stay that way. Piazza's Mets legacy is close to the level of Tom Seaver. Thus, if any number gets retired in the near future, it will be 31.