With a handful of numerical matters in the news and the 13th birthday today of Jon Springer’s pioneering Mets By The Numbers site (whose generally uncredited research provides the data for articles like these), I decided this morning to do one of my periodic number spot checks. It works like this: I count up from 1 and blurt out the first Met player who wore or wears that number who comes to mind. Then I run through them again to see who else comes to mind. Doesn’t take more than a few minutes and lets me know if I still have my Met wits about me. When I begin to stumble over the single digits, it may be time to see a doctor.
Who showed up in uniform first? Second? Let’s find out.
1. Mookie Wilson; Luis Castillo.
A note on 1: The reviled Castillo, off the payroll at last, beat out Esix Snead, who wore 1 in a second callup well after he hit a walkoff home run in September 2002 as No. 23. By “beat out,” I mean, “One: Luis Castillo…ah hell, I could’ve said Esix Snead!” Yet I can still see Snead as 1 even though MBTN says he was Mookiefied for no more than a few days. Random is sometimes how these number associations go. (Separately, Mookie’s been designated roving instructor and club ambassador for this season and hopefully every season; here’s to No. 1 in our programs, our hearts and most everything else.)
2. Bobby Valentine; Larry Bowa.
A note on 2: Larry Bowa? No, really. I can see his 1985 cameo like it was yesterday.
3. Buddy Harrelson; Sergio Ferrer.
A note on 3: Maybe it’s because Ferrer was the first to don it after Harrelson. Maybe it’s because of a recurring Sergio Ferrer obsession that only took hold once he switched to 1. But I think of him as 3.
4. Lenny Dykstra; Rusty Staub.
5. Ed Charles; David Wright.
A note on 5: Logan Morrison will wear it for the Miami Marlins although the Florida Marlins (the same outfit, despite the new uniforms) retired it from the outset of their existence to honor their founding president, Carl Barger. Barger’s favorite player was Joe DiMaggio. Heartfelt tribute bestowed on someone responsible for getting the franchise off the ground. Similarly heartfelt tribute on Morrison’s part to want to wear it in honor of his late father, whose favorite player was George Brett. Unretiring a number is tacky on principle, even for a team whose old stadium changed names like Hanley Ramirez changes positions, but given Morrison’s reasoning and respectful words toward the late Barger, you can’t blame the guy. You can blame the Marlins, which we’re always happy to do. “Hey, memory of guy who helped us come into existence: our thoughtful gesture on your part is rescinded. Be sure to let your family know.”
6. Wally Backman; Daryl Boston.
7. Ed Kranepool; Jose Reyes.
A note on 7: It suddenly belongs in real time to Bob Geren, bench coach. A Twitter picture snapped by Newsday’s David Lennon reveals GEREN 7 resembles the uniform of a fantasy camper who idolized the Krane growing up. Since Geren has no obvious history with 7 (he was 17 as A’s manager), it feels like the Mets are ripping off the Band-Aid brand bandage so as to pretend Jose Reyes never existed. “See, he was nobody! A coach wears his number! And we never made him an offer!” Then again, it’s not like Reyes was using it on the Mets this year, so I’m not quite as offended as I thought I’d be. Still, a horrible, sad thought passed through my head in light of the horrible, sad news from last week: If an ex-Met icon we haughtily treat as the enemy because he’s now in another uniform encounters tragedy down the line, our impulse would be to honor him ASAP. And we’ll wonder why our team was so cavalier with his number so quickly.
8. Gary Carter; Yogi Berra.
A note on 8: As GEREN 7 and everybody else reacquaint themselves with baseball activity at what should already be named the Gary Carter Complex in Port St. Lucie, I maintain my stance on potentially retiring 8. If the Mets were to do it, that would be the right thing to do. If the Mets were not to do it but keep it out of circulation until somebody incredibly fitting came along, that would also be the right thing to do. Handing it to the next Matt Galante would not. 8 on the left field wall would enhance the left field wall. A lack of it would not dishonor Carter’s memory, but honestly, the time to do have done it would have been during the 2011 season when Carter was alive and would have known about it. Nobody I’ve ever seen in all my years a fan would have appreciated the honor more than Carter. It comes off as a little hollow without him able to at least send word north from Palm Beach Gardens how much it means to him. But it also wouldn’t be wrong. As for the inevitable “he only played five seasons as a Met” objection, I’d retort, yeah, but those first two seasons — in the scope of his Hall of Fame career and in the context of this franchise’s history — were about as significant as anybody’s two seasons as a Met. Whatever you do with 8, Mets, handle it with care.
9. Joe Torre; Todd Hundley.
A note on 9: Old habits die hard.
10. Dave Magadan; Duffy Dyer.
A note on 10: I resisted a second Staub here and it took me a moment to conjure Duffy. A moment well-spent.
11. Wayne Garrett; Tim Teufel.
12. Ken Boswell; Shawon Dunston.
13. Edgardo Alfonzo; Neil Allen.
A note on 13: When you get to 46, you’ll see I was lazy on my second 13.
14. Gil Hodges; Ken Boyer.
15. Jerry Grote; Carlos Beltran.
16. Dwight Gooden; Angel Pagan.
A note on 16: I think we’re up to the first 16 since Doc who has no reason to be issued 16, as the current holder, longshot backup catcher candidate Rob Johnson, wore 32 with other teams. The 16s since Doc are Hideo Nomo, Derek Bell, David Cone, Doug Mientkiewicz, Paul Lo Duca and Pagan. Bell and Cone asked for 16 to honor Gooden, the rest had 16 at other stops. Now that Doc’s back in the Mets family, it seems strange 16 would suddenly lack sentimental juice.
17. Keith Hernandez; Jerry Morales.
A note on 17: What would life be without Mex wondering why 17 (not assigned since Fernando Tatis) gets issued to every wayward pitcher and utility infielder? It would be OK if 17 got its left field wall due…but then you’d have to look at 8…and 16…and 18. That’s the thinking, anyway. Let’s think about it a little more in a sec.
18. Darryl Strawberry; Joel Youngblood.
A note on 18: Thanks to MBTN, I know nobody has 17, nobody has 18 and nobody has 8 this spring. The guy who has 16 is about as spare a spring part as can be imagined (dismissal revocable if Rob Johnson turns into Omir Santos or something more). I wonder if for the Mets’ 50th anniversary the Mets will fulfill my deep-seated dream and retire all four in one four-pronged fell swoop as the long, long, long overdue tribute 1986 deserves. Crowded up there where Jason Bay’s fly balls will be flying out with regularity? Fine with me. It’s been uncrowded too long. You really can’t single out one 1986 powerhouse player to the exclusion of the other three as the catalyst for this franchise’s most monumental year in the heart of its most successful era. There’s no “41 and then everybody else” the way you can (at a certain level) describe 1969. 8 16 17 18 — what a team. They’re all in the Mets Hall of Fame, which is an honor unto itself, but maybe the best team we ever had deserves a wee bit more overt acknowledgement. Only Carter is in the baseball Hall of Fame, but since when do we look to Cooperstown as the arbiter of what matters in Flushing?
19. Bobby Ojeda; Ron Gardenhire.
A note on 19: Honest to Gosger, I was stumped to remember a single 19 since Bobby O off the top of my head. An MBTN peek reveals I drummed Anthony Young, Lenny Harris, Roger Cedeño and Ryan Church out of my consciousness during this exercise. Sorry, fellas.
20. Howard Johnson; Tommie Agee.
21. Cleon Jones; Billy Baldwin.
A note on 21: This is one of those numbers so owned by one player, that my first instinct on a second 21 yielded Ryan Thompson. [Press buzzer indicating incorrect answer.] BLAMPH! Sorry, Ryan wore 20 after he wore 44. A little thinking would have reminded me 21 was taken by Bill Pulsipher during the latter stage of Thompson’s stay, but the numerical spot check is about instinct, not thinking. So once MBTN confirmed I was mistaken, I went with Baldwin, whose too-soon 2011 passing should have been remarked upon here but wasn’t, and who, like Ferrer, gets dibs because he wore it directly after the guy who so owns it.
22. Kevin McReynolds; Al Leiter.
23. Bernard Gilkey; Esix Snead.
A note on 23: Snead on the brain shunted sentimental favorite Doug Flynn aside. To make it up to him, listen to a swell interview NY Sportstalk did with him recently.
24. Willie Mays; Kelvin Torve.
A note on 24: The 24 treatment for 8, in effect since Carter made the Hall (the one upstate), worked for 24 once Rickey Henderson came around. I still think if 24 had been retired circa 1974, everybody would have applauded and few would have grumbled. It’s one thing to see Lucas Duda in 21 and think of Cleon Jones. It’s another to look at anybody who isn’t Rickey-caliber (like Torve) and be reminded 24 was left to dangle by the organization with whom the greatest New York National League ballplayer ended his playing career. Willie Mays turns 81 this May, just about 40 years since he became a Met with an unforgettable flourish. Knock wood, he turns 82 next year, the 40th anniversary of the year he gave the most stirring farewell address this side of Lou Gehrig. What I’m saying, hey, is do something to honor this giant baseball and metropolitan New York legend before it’s too late for him to show up.
25. Del Unser; Jim Dwyer.
A note on 25: These answers have held steady since 1976.
26. Dave Kingman; Rico Brogna.
27. Craig Swan; Dennis Cook.
28. John Milner; Bobby Jones.
29. Frank Viola; Dave Magadan.
A note on 29: My favorite après Reyes Met, Ike Davis, wears this. I’d totally forgotten in the realm of numerical spot check. Most current Mets do not come to the fore when the light goes on. I’m still chillin’ with Del Unser.
30. Nolan Ryan; Cliff Floyd.
A note on 30: I not only didn’t think of Josh Thole here but this morning I spent several minutes convinced he wears 9. (Confidential to Josh: Do something memorable this year.)
31. Mike Piazza; John Franco.
A note on 31: Newsday’s Lennon rather casually mentioned last week that 31 will be retired for Mike as soon as he’s voted into the Hall and (hopefully/presumably “goes in” as a Met). Really? Just like that? Good to know.
32. Jon Matlack; Rick Anderson.
33. Pete Falcone; Ray Sadecki.
34. Bob Apodaca; Kris Benson.
35. Rick Reed; David Weathers.
36. Jerry Koosman; Wayne Twitchell.
A note on 36: The deeper I dig into my ongoing Met research, the more I understand how I didn’t quite appreciate Jerry Koosman when he was active and for years thereafter. My impression of him is somebody almost always coming off an injury. He missed a little time in 1970, a little more in 1971, and that was basically it. I’m berating my eight-year-old self for forming that mis-Kooz-ception as we speak.
37. Casey Stengel.
A note on 37: Do yourself a favor and read Robert Lipsyte’s golden anniversary remembrance of the first Mets camp here. I came away from it thinking Casey is probably one of the best managers in baseball right now even though he’s been dead at the present time for nearly 37 years.
38. Rick Aguilera; Victor Zambrano.
A note on 38: Jerry Cram usually finishes in the top two here.
39. Doug Sisk; Gary Gentry.
40. George Stone; Pat Zachry.
41. Tom Seaver; Gordie Richardson.
42. Ron Hodges; Ron Taylor.
43. Jim McAndrew; R.A. Dickey.
44. Bob Myrick; Lastings Milledge.
A note on 44: The Mets could have signed Hank Aaron. They could have signed Reggie Jackson (after failing to draft him as a collegiate). They could fix it so the 44th President of the United States has to deliver the State of the Union in a Mets OBAMA 44 jersey. Wouldn’t matter. Bob Myrick, for whatever reason, will always be the 44 to begin all 44 discussions. It’s from no personal affection or childhood attachment. Until I looked it up recently, I didn’t ever realize Myrick was a lefty unspectacular 1976-1978 reliever, not a righty. Other 44s have come and gone, yet Bob Myrick stays at the head of the class. For no other number does the expression “go figure” seem so appropriate.
45: Tug McGraw; Pedro Martinez.
A note on 45. Pedro undoubtedly got a memory boost from this Marty Noble gem on the spiffy reimagining of the Mets clubhouse in St. Lucie. It’s got all kinds of Mets history commemorated, save for any from the past quarter-century or so. As Noble points out, “not even a square inch from the time of Lo Duca, Pedro and Reyes spent in this burg on the East Coast of Florida…” So relatively recent, so shockingly far away.
46: Neil Allen; Manny Acosta.
A note on 46: Allen was all I had until I remembered Acosta decided he didn’t like being Jerry Koosman’s latest followup act and switched. Allen later got my second 13. Quite an impression he made on me.
47: Mardie Cornejo; Jesse Orosco.
A note on 47: I laughed out loud when Mardie “The Chief” Cornejo from 1978 came out of my mouth instead of Jesse “The Man Who Threw The Last Pitch That Won The Mets A World Series” Orosco. Him, Myrick and Cram ought to get together and wonder what they ever did to embed themselves to deeply in my head.
48. Randy Myers; Aaron Heilman.
A note on 48: I BLAMPH!ed on the second choice here, initially giving it to Paul Gibson (a miscast 45) and then wondering how I managed to so obfuscate the memory of six-year Met vet Heilman yet can’t forget the Septembers he helped define to our everlasting regret. Thus, circle gets the square, or something like that. Upon further review, however, I think Randy Tate got jobbed.
49. Dyar Miller; Armando Benitez.
50. Sid Fernandez; Benny Agbayani.
I reached 51, said “Mel Rojas” and then decided the Mel with it. It’s primarily coaches, afterthoughts, signature pieces and oddities from here on up.
Like standing around and telling yourself to name a Met to go with a number isn’t odd enough.