The New York Mets announced yesterday that they would retire Mike Piazza‘s number 31 on July 30, a week after he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The game sold out almost immediately.
Piazza’s response on Twitter was gracious:
I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for us. In the last six months, we’ve watched our team play in the World Series, we’ve had our second Hall of Famer elected and we’re going to get to see a National League Championship banner rise. Now this. Short of a World Series trophy, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Many fans and media members felt Piazza’s honor was overdue. At one point, I even argued that the Mets should have shown the Hall of Fame voters the way by retiring Piazza’s uniform number.
But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the exclusivity of the Mets’ approach to retired uniform numbers. While sentimentality played a role in retired number 37 for Casey Stengel and number 14 for Gil Hodges, in the current era the standard seems to be a plaque in Cooperstown with a Mets logo on it. (Yes, Tom Seaver‘s number 41 went up on the wall at Shea years before he was officially inducted in Cooperstown… but there was never any doubt – he held the record for highest vote percentage for decades until Ken Griffey Jr. surpassed it earlier this month.)
There’s already talk of who’s uniform number should be retired next, which I think is very premature.
Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry – some of the most frequently mentioned candidates – have already been honored with plaques in the Mets Hall of Fame. Maybe we can lean on the Wilpons to think about putting up some statues outside the gates of Citi Field… but we don’t need to start retiring uniform numbers of every notable player in Mets history.
The fact that no Met ever wore number 31 again after Piazza’s last game in 2005 is telling. Carter’s number 8 was reissued to Dave Gallagher less than three years after his final game with the Mets. David Cone took up Hernandez’s number 17 less than two years later, in part as a tribute to his former teammate. It’s been issued 14 more times since then. Gooden’s number 16 stayed out of circulation for four years, until Hideo Nomo came to the Mets in 1998. But it’s currently in use by Dilson Herrera and was also worn by Danny Muno last year. Strawberry’s number 18 was reissued just two years after he left and is currently worn by coach Tim Teufel.
Wouldn’t it have been more fun to see Matt Harvey get uniform number 16, or Travis d’Arnaud get uniform number 8? Maybe Dominic Smith can be issued number 17 when he’s ready for the major leagues… it feels like that would be a better tribute than sticking so many numbers on the wall that it becomes a trivia game to identify which player they belong to and why they are there. (For an example, see the outfield wall in the Bronx.)