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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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37 14 41 42 -- And More?

The Braves have announced that they’ll retire No. 10, recently worn by the player forever known in these parts as Larry Jones. The Mets might or might not have a ceremony of their own soon — they’ve been coy about the chances of putting Mike Piazza’s No. 31 on the wall when he’s inducted to Cooperstown, and there’s been a groundswell of support for retiring Gary Carter’s No. 8 since the Kid’s untimely death a year ago.

All this talk of retired numbers brought me back to a piece Greg and I penned for Amazin’ Avenue‘s 2011 preview, in which we discussed the art and science of retired numbers and pondered whether any Mets were worthy of joining 37, 14, 41 and 42 at Citi Field. I thought it was worth looking back at that article and seeing if my thinking’s changed.

There are no set criteria for retiring numbers — teams are all over the place in terms of whom they honor and why. The Red Sox, for example, only retire numbers for Hall of Famers who spent at least a decade in Boston. Whatever their ground rules, some teams are good at retiring numbers — take the Braves’ pre-Larry list of Cox, Smoltz, Murphy, Spahn, Maddux, Niekro, Mathews, Aaron and Glavine, or the Orioles’ roster of Weaver, Robinson, Robinson, Ripken, Palmer and Murray. Other teams, well, need some help: The Astros’ list is Wynn, Cruz, Scott, Ryan, Wilson, Umbricht, Bagwell, Biggio and Dierker. The Marlins retired Joe DiMaggio’s number. The Padres’ retired Steve Garvey’s. And lets reserve special scorn for the Nationals, who unretired the digits their Expo forebears had honored.

Whatever your take on retiring numbers, the arguments generally revolve around four factors:

* stats
* longevity
* titles
* X factor

The first three don’t need much in the way of definition. The latter, though unquantifiable, doesn’t either — we all understand that the name “Tug McGraw” quickens the pulse of Mets fans in a way that, say, “Howard Johnson” doesn’t.

Back in 2011, Greg and I looked at seven potentially wall-worthy Mets. Here they are, with credentials briefly summarized:

Dwight Gooden (No. 16): 157 Met wins and that amazing ’85 season; 11 years as a Met; one title; an icon turned star-crossed ex-con now thought of fondly but with sorrow and a certain wariness.

Keith Hernandez (No. 17): 939 hits as a Met; seven years in the fold; one title; X factor high as a player and enhanced by his becoming a broadcast-booth icon.

Howard Johnson (No. 20): 997 Met hits and three 30-30 campaigns; nine years as a Met; one title; for all that, not particularly remembered.

Jerry Koosman (No. 36): 140 wins plus four in the postseason; 12 years as a Met; one title; given his due but overshadowed, inevitably, by Tom Seaver.

Tug McGraw (No. 45): 85 saves; nine years as a Met; one title and one Dammit Yogi near-miss; “Ya Gotta Believe!”

Mike Piazza (No. 31): 30+ homers four times; eight years as a Met; no title; enormous X factor that his Hall of Fame induction will only enhance.

Darryl Strawberry (No. 18): only recently surrendered franchise hitting records to David Wright; eight years as a Met; one title; a polarizing figure while here, loathed for his exit but now embraced as a vaguely erratic crazy-uncle type.

Back then we didn’t consider the case of Gary Carter, which at first made me wonder if something had been accidentally deleted. Here’s the Kid:

Gary Carter (No. 8): 542 Met hits; five years with the team; one title; huge X factor as yin to Keith’s yang and then as a good man gone too soon.

Back in 2011, I came to a reluctant conclusion, one that surprised me: I said the Mets shouldn’t retire any of those numbers, and Greg didn’t dissent, at least not publicly.

If you retire Tug’s number, don’t you also have to honor John Franco, who was here far longer and racked up far more saves? And does anyone seriously think John Franco’s number should be retired? HoJo flunks the X factor test, as does (by a smaller margin) Koosman. Gooden and Straw are icons but ultimately cautionary what-if tales. As for Gary Carter, he’s beloved and should be, but our love for the Kid and our grief over his death shouldn’t blind us to the fact that he was a Met for just five years, or that one of those years was mediocre and another was awful.

That leaves Keith Hernandez and Mike Piazza. Keith’s a bit short in stats, while Piazza’s short in tenure and never won a title.

In 2011 I concluded that neither quite qualified for having their numbers retired. Is that still true in 2013?

The cute answer would be that neither Hernandez nor Piazza has driven in run since 2011, so how are their cases any better now than they are then? But as fans we’re constantly reassessing players and eras, so our conclusions may change.

And for whatever reason, mine have — I think the Mets should retire 31 and 17, in recognition of two players who defined their eras, and who have come to represent their teams.

True, Piazza’s tenure was abbreviated and he never got a ring. But he gave the Mets star power again when they desperately needed it, and he might go into the Hall of Fame with an NY on his cap. As for Keith, his Mets legend has been on the ascent since “Seinfeld,” and he now embodies the reckless, no-prisoners spirit of the ’86 team. Retiring their numbers would celebrate their accomplishments, but they’d also pay tribute to brief but glorious periods in team history.

But I think the Mets should then do something else — namely, ease certain numbers into quasi-retirement.

Not retiring a number doesn’t mean you hand it over to the latest wide-eyed arrival from Las Vegas. No Met has worn 31 since Piazza left town, and that’s as it should be. The Mets have kept 24 mostly mothballed since Willie Mays’s cameo, handing it out only to Rickey Henderson and, um, Kelvin Torve. But without speaking ill of Dave Gallagher, David Newhan or Tito Navarro, no Met should have worn 8 or 17 or 36 since their examplars left town either.

The Mets wouldn’t be alone in such quasi-retirements: The Tigers have kept 1 and 47 on ice since the tenures of Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris. It’s a good answer — not a retirement, but a sign of respect that deepens a sense of Mets history.

So there we have it: Retire 31 and 17, with tons of pomp and circumstance. But at the same time, put 8, 16, 18, 36 and 45 on the shelf next to 24, to be assigned infrequently, and only when circumstances warrant. (Sorry HoJo.) If you’re not a gamer of a catcher, you’re not wearing 8. If you’re not a cerebral, skilled lefty starter, you don’t qualify for 36. If you’re not a gutsy fireman with a certain swagger, 45 doesn’t go on your back.

And if Travis d’Arnaud should be the real deal and do 8 proud? We should have such problems.

Until the Mets retire more numbers, put 37 14 41 42 on your chest with a Faith and Fear t-shirt.

If you love Mets’ uniform numbers (and who doesn’t?) you’ll love Mets by the Numbers. Go visit!

37 comments to 37 14 41 42 — And More?

  • Inside Pitcher

    Can you PLEASE come out with a women’s cut Numbers Shirt?

    I promise you I’d wear it proudly (and buy a replacement if it suddenly becomes vintage).

  • Yes, I’d semi-retire 15 as well. Very good point.

    Sharon, I have not forgotten. Just perpetually No. 11 or 12 on the 10-item list. My apologies.

  • I’ve given this a lot of thought, and been asked about it a few times, and I usually say that when another player of Seaver’s stature comes along, retire that guy’s number, by all means. Seaver is the standard and no one else has approached that level in a Mets uniform. I used to be on board with Piazza’s number going up, but I’m falling out of love with the idea. Hear, hear for a little more respect for numbers that should be given to worthy players who fit the profile for 1, 8, 17, 24, 31, 36, and 45 (sorry Doc and Straw, you let us down).

  • Andee

    Number 31 has definitely been “unofficially retired,” no one has worn it since Mikey. And players don’t win titles all by themselves, anyway (*coughTedWilliamscough*), though it’s hard to imagine them getting anywhere near a pennant without him. I don’t recall a 45 since Tug passed away, either. I also don’t think they’re giving 43 to anyone anytime soon. But it does seem kind of arbitrary what they’ll reassign and what they won’t. I’ve been wondering what number Wheeler’s going to get once they call him up; 30, maybe?

  • Jon

    Lots of 45s since Tug! (Pedro Martinez… and, uh, Justin Hampson!)

    I think Hernandez’ case is getting better the longer he stays in the public eye as a beloved broadcaster (he really is just great sometimes), but my issue with him aside from a relatively short tenure is that he cannot get in without doing a disservice to Strawberry, Carter, Gooden, Johnson, geez, even Mookie — not to mention the door that ought to open for Koosman, Jones and similarly stat- or longevity-challenged but key 69ers. I’ve argued to retire “86” for the lot of them and do a better job promoting and naming members to the team Hall of Fame as the appropriate honor for the rest. That the Mets couldn’t be bothered to have done that for a decade is one of the reasons to have uncertainty about this. They just didn’t know.

    Seems as though Piazza’s seemingly terrible book is only going to complicate his HOF chances and subsequently his uni-number retirement, though I am sure both things will happen eventually. The Mets in the meantime have definitely mothballed 8, 17 and 31 and we’re seeing the last 5 now.

    • Andee

      Holy crap, how did I forget Pedro? (I’ll let myself off the hook for Justin Hampson, because he probably doesn’t remember himself.)

      • Joe D.

        Hi Andee,

        Maybe you forgot Pedro because he was signed by Omar? LOL.

        I want to wait and see till we find out more to clear up one way or the other the speculation regarding Mike and drugs. If nothing more comes up, let us give him the benefit of the doubt and indeed retire his number.

        I’m sure if there is something to be found, somebody in the media hungry for a story will find it.

  • 9th string catcher

    A retired number is like a football player going into the hall of fame – if you have to think about it, you probably shouldn’t do it. I like that the Mets have one of the highest standards to get a number retired, unlike the Yanks who need to go into letters pretty soon.

    Ultimately, you need to have someone who would be easily identifed as a Met and who brought greatness upon the team. That doesn’t necessarily mean a championship, but someone who loved being a Met, showing it on and off the field.

    Hernandez is always going to be a great player first, a Met second. Same with Piazza. Jerry Grote was a great Met, but not that great of a player in the grander scheme of things. Tug had some great years, but was just as memorable as a Phillie as a Met.

    I feel that it’s important to keep retiring numbers on that high standard. The one person I would add would be Carter. As a Hall of Famer, as a person who loved the game and as the centerpiece of the ’86 team, he fits that high standard more than anyone else. I also think he would have retired a Met if they still wanted him, though I’m not absolutely sure if that’s the case. Unlike Hernandez and the other 86ers, I think Carter transcended that team.

  • Dave

    With all love due to Keith, Kid and others, there’s something Metsianally (think I just invented a word) awkward about retiring a number after you’ve been issuing it to the likes of Brent Mayne and Dae Song Koo and Desi Relaford for years. 17 seems to be in mothballs now, along with 8 and 24 (and 16 was for a while too), and maybe that’s the retired* status that some of those numbers will have bestowed on them…although I like the idea of special/similar players wearing them in tribute.

    The Red Sox idea is a good one, although probably written prior to the free agency era (10 years is a long time, but then again, retiring numbers should be rare). The Astros are just silly, not to mention the team in the Bronx…for all their storied history, some of their honorees are a bit overboard (Billy Martin? Elston Howard?). They’re going to wind up using triple-digits some day because eventually they won’t have enough numbers left below 99, as they’ll have to honor some utility infielder who wore #81 who had that memorable at-bat in the 2024 playoffs.

    Using Seaver as the standard makes sense. And based on that, I look forward to #5 going up on the wall someday.

    • Will in Central NJ

      Regarding number 17: prospect Brandon Nimmo was photographed in September 2011 wearing #17, taking batting practice at CitiField. Nimmo may, or may not wear that number if/when(?) he is promoted to the Show. Just sayin’.

  • metsmarathon

    jose reyes (no. 7): oodles of stolen bases, runs scored, and triples, is at or near top of many franchise hitting records, and is only met to win a batting crown; nine year met; no title; the most exciting player in the game when healthy, jose-cubed was a fan favorite, he moved to second base to make room for kaz matsui and was featured in that ridiculous gq photoshoot with david wright.

    not a top contender for numerical retirement, per se, just presented as a counterpoint to strawberry, who was my favorite met at the time; he belongs in the discussion.

    • metsmarathon

      i should clarify that i don’t believe that reyes should have his #7 be retired, just that any such discussion of numbers eligible for retirement should indeed include him.

      i don’t believe any of the named players meet the standards i would think of as appropriate for retirement. carter comes closest as transcendent, followed somewhat by piazza.

      although, as i highlighted a counterpoint to strawberry in reyes, i should mention a strong counterpoint to both piazza and carter in carlos beltran. a star who arrived for a short period, and performed magnificently (albeit in beltran’s case, underratedly). factoring in defense, he significantly outperformed piazza and carter in their respective metly tenures.

  • Jeff F

    If you want to retire a number of a “true” Met, then retire number 7 for Ed Kranepool. The first real Met prospect and a man who spent his entire career with the team. He was not a great player but he still holds some team records and personifies the Mets like no one else

  • 5w30

    #8 has to be retired first. It’s Yogi, of course. While HE’s still alive. Yogi/Carter. Do it. Now. #8 retired NYC-wide. BILL Dickey/Yogi Berra/Gary Carter. No-brainer [that means the Wilpons won’t go near it].

  • Metsfaninparadise

    The obvious issue when comparing our potential number retirees with those of other teams is longevity. Larry played for the Braves forever and now David has the chance to do the same for us. It also means that our club records pale next to those of some other teams. Strawberry’s 252 homers as a Met is a club record (for now) but it’s not a HOF number. This is the same argument against Ed Kranepool’s enshrinement, although as an original (season) player he almost qualifies for a different category, an icon like Casey or Joan Payson. I also thought it was curious that you cited tenure as an issue for Piazza but not Hernandez (in the same sentence, no less) when Piazza was here a year longer than Keith

  • Stink LaMotta

    I kinda always thought that #1 should be quasi-retired. Yep, Mookie. Remember when Keith “passed the mic” to Mookie at the 25th Anniversary of the ’86 team? Like Keith said, Mookie was here during the lean years and suffered them like us fans.

  • Interesting discussion.

    Yeah, in general my retired number standards are pretty high, which is why I surprised myself that I changed my mind on Keith and Piazza. In both cases I think it’s the X factor that puts them over the top — Piazza will be a Hall of Famer, quite possibly inducted as a Met, while Keith’s post-retirement career has made him as much as Mets icon as he was on the field.

    I’m baffled by the case for Gary Carter. Love the Kid of course and would like to see more stuff at Citi Field to honor him, but he was only here five years, and only three of those years were good. Is that really grounds to retire a number?

    And can’t see Kranepool at all. Cases like his are why we have a Mets Hall of Fame.

  • Piazza, for sure. Transcended his times as a Met as only Seaver did. (We’ll talk Wright when he’s done.)

    Hernandez, also for sure, but I’d prefer to thread 17 with 8, 18 and 16, given that all four truly defined the greatest era in franchise history. So strange that nobody from those times has a number retired. They, as a unit, define the best of 1984-1990 the way Seaver and Piazza defined the best of their successful teams. So did Wally and Mookie, et al, but those were the towering presences of Mets baseball.

    No formulas necessary. Like was said upthread, you know or you don’t know. I know for Piazza. I know, in my heart, for Hernandez. The Big Four approach for the ’86 boys would be generous, but appropriate.

    I’m down with the quasi-retirements for/careful rollouts of certain numbers. If he’d asked nicely, I might (might) have let Bourn wear 24. But only if it was OK with Willie. I would not have slipped 7 on Geren ASAP. 45 fine for Pedro, less so for Hampson.

    And a yea vote for raising the Mets HOF’s profile so it’s understood what an honor that is/should be.

    • I think there was probably a lot of animosity at the end there, as the franchise slipped into the early-mid 90’s, where people were miserable, I’m sure. The front office mindset moved on, and for some reason the idea of retirement wasn’t breached in A) the 2006 celebrations and B) the Mets Hall of Fame inductions.

      I do like the idea of co-retiring 8 in honor of both Yogi and Carter, then the argument about the small amount of time and production that went into Carter’s full 5 years becomes slightly moot. Yogi won a ring as a coach, and was the manager of a very memorable team, a 1a, if you will, to the ’69 squad for what they were able to do, especially a year after the man who turned the boys into men died suddenly. ’73 is a very big deal, and Yogi as a Met is viewed with high regard. Carter was viewed as the missing piece to the championship squad and lived up to expectations with his ’85 and as the catcher jumping up and down on his way to Orosco in ’86. The two combine to make an extremely valid case for 8.

      This is actually one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time..

  • DAK442

    I’ve been touting the quasi-retirement as a solution to this for years. I think it’s really cool that no one will ever get 24 again unless he is another transcendent player like Rickey, and it doesn’t have to go up on the wall. I’d put 8, 17, 36, and maybe even 7 (for both guys) in that same pile. And in my mind, you can’t give these numbers to prospects, regardless how great we think they’ll be. They’re only for indisputably brilliant players. If we had signed Bourn? Nope. Had we signed, say, Pujols and HE wanted #24? Enjoy it, Hombre.

    If I were in charge, 31 gets formally retired. He’s the only Met other than Seaver about whom the word “greatest” is seriously bandied about. He’s going into the Hall of Fame as a Met. He is an icon.

    Carter was great for two years. I loved him, but if he didn’t die young this wouldn’t be up for discussion. Great as Keith was, he wasn’t an all-timer, and he didn’t play here long enough. Koosman was #2, and that doesn’t get you on the wall. Straw and Doc ruined their own chances. Let the Yankees retire their numbers like they do everyone else’s.

    I am totally fine with #31 going up in the next couple of years, and then none until #5 in 15 years or so.

    • On the pretend Mets, where Pujols signed as a free agent (and excelled immediately), Wright would have ripped the 5 off his front and back without being asked and would’ve sewn it on all of Prince Albert’s clothing, starting with the suit he wore to the press conference.

  • DAK442

    Oh, and it goes without saying that #26 should also be reserved for the cream of the crop! If Ike can put up another couple of 35-HR, .215-Avg seasons, he’s on his way to being Kong-worthy.

  • Steve D

    I don’t understand retiring Yogi’s number…9 AB as a Met…1B coach for a few years…292-296 as manager. He’s not even in the Mets Hall of Fame. If you do that, you would have to retire 5 for Davey Johnson…but Wright is wearing it. If you delay retiring numbers, it spoils the sanctity of it. The Mets have a history of only retiring numbers for the immortals…maybe it should stay that way.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Steve,

    Still remember the standing ovation Yogi got as he stepped up to the plate for the first time wearing a Met uniform at home back in 1965. Got a single that at bat as Jackson set a new Met strikeout mark with 11 K’s against I believe the Phillies.

    Not enough to retire his number, of course, but a nice memory to have since the subject of Yogi’s number 8 came up.

  • pfh64

    31 & 17 should be retired. I loved Koosman, a big money pitcher, but not anywhere near a HOFer. Piazza is (and no I do not think he used) and Hernandez may not be, but was close enough to warrant consideration. In Mets’ terms only, his work for SNY (along with Darling) makes you want to watch a game, even if they stink, because you never know what he is going to say, and the possibility of him making Gary or Ron lose it, is definitely always worth the price of admission.

  • Lenny65

    My humble opinion: after considering the candidates, I believe Hernandez and Piazza have the strongest cases, followed closely by Carter. However, I don’t really think any of them merit a retired number. I just don’t feel that a mere four or five seasons of sustained excellence is enough to merit the honor. The Mets HOF? Absolutely, no question, no-brainer. But retiring their numbers forever? Nah, it’d kind of lower the standards a bit IMO. Casey was an honorary thing mostly based on his history within NYC, Gil was a posthumous tribute, only Seaver really merited the honor based on sheer performance with the Mets. I just feel it’s a thing that should be reserved for the greatest of the greats: the truly franchise-defining, once-in-a-lifetime type guys.

    • Steve D

      I agree 100%…the two that should have had numbers retired were Gooden and Strawberry, but they both fell to inner demons and just don’t deserve the honor.

      • Lenny65

        Agree, if Doc & Straw had finished as lifetime Mets, they might have been worthy of retired numbers, but in reality they both fall short in my mind. Wright certainly has a serious shot someday, no question.

  • Shoes

    I’m absolutely bamboozled by the support for Carter. That’s great that he was a linchpin on a championship team, but c’mon now. Piazza is the most dominant position player in the team’s history and should have already been up there. Quite frankly, it’s almost criminal to keep both us and him waiting on that. As for Keith…I love him, but find it hard to put that number on the wall after its been worn by the likes of Fernando Tatis and Lima Time.

    On an aside, I’m all for 15 going into mothballs. Beltran was a tremendous player and it’s a shame he’s not appreciated like one.

    • Lenny65

      Hernandez was the heart of the 80’s Mets but Carter was the soul. He was one of those guys who had that special baseball swagger, the sort of player you LOATHED if he wasn’t one of your own. Actually, in his prime he was nearly as much of a threat as Piazza was and he was definitely every bit as clutch. I never remember a Mets acquisition fitting in as quickly or as well as Carter did. I’d rate him a notch below Mike but it’s a small, small notch.

  • Chip Armonaitis

    I don’t know if I agree with Koosman not being worthy, but I am sure that I am tired of seeing the number handed out like it is just another number. Same thing with #7.

    Even if numbers are not retired, they should be reserved for players you think will be special, or at least decent.

    The Mets need to sit-down with Lou Lamoriello of the NJ Devils to get a lesson is how you deal with uniform numbers.

  • StorkFan

    I thought D’Arnaud is wearing 15, not 8. My first thought on hearing about it is that I’m hoping he will do Jerry Grote proud. As far as your comments, retire 31 when (not if) Piazza gets in the Hall. Ditto for Keith, except he’s gonna need a Frankie Frisch type to lobby for him on whatever vets committee there will be in the future.

  • Stan

    I have the shirt. It’s a conversation piece every time I wear it. In this part of town, south of Charlotte NC, I get the occasional pause and get “Mets Retired Numbers”.

    At CitiField, I get “Where can I get one?”

  • Jason:

    Brilliant then — and brilliant now. A must-read piece for Mets fans.

    Well done, mate — and an absolutely pleasure to read this.