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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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Best Six Ever?

Ol’ No. 48 had been there before, so he knew how it goes. He’d pitch well, his team wouldn’t score for him and they’d go on to lose. Jacob deGrom practices the whole season ’round for All-Star Games. He seemed happy to have been there nonetheless.

Ol’ No. 20 was no longer new to the spotlight, not after the night before. Home runs didn’t come easy on Tuesday (they didn’t seem to come that easy on Monday even if he created them efficiently enough to earn a million bucks), but Pete Alonso fit into the All-Star constellation plenty naturally. He fielded like a star, drove in runs like a star, even stole a base like a star. He was definitely very happy to have been there.

Ol’ No. 6 was totally new to this in more ways that one. Unlike deGrom, Jeff McNeil hadn’t been an All-Star previously — which might explain why the Progressive Field scoreboard operator matched deGrom’s familiar face to McNeil’s strange new name . Unlike Alonso, he hadn’t drawn a night of attention for his signature exploits, though I’d be up for a Spray the Ball to All Fields Derby next year. And unlike No. 48 and No. 20, McNeil was bringing something to an All-Star Game no Met had before.

No. 6.

Should Jeff McNeil continue to lead the National League in hitting, he won’t be the first Met to win a batting title. Jose Reyes got there first, in 2011. Should Jeff McNeil continue to bat at a rate of .349, he won’t be the first Met to finish a season with an average that high. John Olerud established the team standard of .354, in 1998. But Jeff McNeil indeed etched for himself a first Tuesday night in Cleveland. He was the first Met chosen to wear No. 6 in an All-Star Game.

Technically, he was the second to wear it, though the initial six situation wasn’t terribly sexy. Pat Roessler wore No. 6 at the 2016 All-Star Game, but did so as support staff. Support is important, but it’s not quite All-Star material in the way we think of it. Roessler was the Mets’ assistant hitting coach and, as such, joined the rest of the Met coaching staff when Terry Collins managed the National League All-Stars after winning the pennant in 2015 (managing them so fairly he didn’t play a single Met that night, grrr). At the risk of diminishing Roessler’s behind-the-scenes contributions, the assistant hitting coach wearing No. 6 doesn’t break more than the most technical of numerical barriers.

A player who was chosen for his MLB-best batting average and could have been inserted at any of several positions does. So congratulations not only to Jeff McNeil the infielder, outfielder and Squirrel for making his first All-Star team (a couple of putouts in left, 0-for-1 at the plate), but congratulations to McNeil as the first Met to make No. 6 glitter in a Midsummer Classic.

The first Mets numbers to see All-Star light made all the sense in 1962’s world: No. 1 and No. 37. Of course No. 1 — it’s first in any list of numbers, Rey Ordoñez’s early uniform assignment of zero notwithstanding. The first Mets 1 belonged to Richie Ashburn, the only player chosen from their first team to represent the Mets at that first season’s two All-Star Games (which was the custom at the time) and he was the only 1962 Met bound for the Hall of Fame. He should have been first. No. 37 was Casey Stengel’s calling card. Stengel was managing a tenth-place team, but NL manager Fred Hutchinson, leading the Senior Circuit squad after winning the 1961 flag with the Reds, knew there was nobody more senior nor stellar than Stengel and thus took him as a high-profile coach (transcending what was just said above about the Roesslers and other assistants who toil in the All-Star shadows). Casey’s profile was high enough that at the first of the two ’62 games, in Washington, the Ol’ Perfesser schmoozed the young President, John F. Kennedy.

“The President,” Leonard Koppett wrote, “seemed particularly delighted to see Stengel, who had been managing the Boston Braves most of the time Kennedy was at Harvard. He, and probably all the other politicians, undoubtedly envied Stengel’s gift for filibustering double-talk.” No. 37 in orange and blue, however, had to inform No. 35 from the White House that he wasn’t free to chat the D.C. day away: “Mr. President, I’d love to stay but I gotta go ’cause I’m not working for myself today but for the other fella,” Hutchinson. In a flash, it was “back to business” for Stengel. No. 37 would have one more chance to twinkle in 1964, when Walter Alston wisely chose Casey to coach at Shea Stadium’s first and only All-Star Game.

Once No. 37 was retired, like the manager who wore it, that was it for seeing it on a Met in prime time in July. Likewise, No. 14 got its only Met All-Star exposure in Cincinnati in 1970, on the back of NL manager Gil Hodges (who coached for the American League as Senators skipper in ’64 for the same reason Stengel did, because the game was in New York). Gil guided the Mets to the World Series in 1969, so he was the man at the helm of the Stars in ’70. The league champion tradition is what vaulted Yogi Berra in No. 8 to Pittsburgh in 1974; Davey Johnson in No. 5 to Oakland in 1987; Bobby Valentine in No. 2 to Seattle in 2001; and Mr. Collins in No. 10 to San Diego in 2016. Terry also coached twice, for Tony La Russa in 2012 in Kansas City and Bruce Bochy in 2013 at Citi Field. You’d figure with all that Kaufman Stadium and All-Star Game experience, Terry would have been better prepared for his biggest moments, but I digress.

Most of your standard-issue uniform numbers have made it with Mets players to All-Star Games. You know 41 was a staple from 1967 through 1976, save for 1974. You know 31 was a staple from 1998 through 2005, save for 2003. Get picked for as many All-Star Games as Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza did as Mets, there’s a decent chance you’ll be staring at those numbers high above Citi Field, where you can also find 37 and 14. You know Davey Johnson wasn’t the only 5 to sparkle, not once David Wright came along (seven All-Star appearances). You probably remember that when Wright was taking 5 to the national stage, he was more than once accompanied by a 7 (Reyes), a 15 (Beltran) and a 13 (Wagner). You are also likely to recognize that 7 (Kranepool), 15 (Grote) and 13 (Alfonzo) had been there before.

Mickey Callaway doesn’t seem likely to take 36 to next year’s All-Star Game, but we understand it was on hand 50 years ago in Washington and 51 years ago in Houston thanks to Jerry Koosman. Robbie Cano is giving his affinity for 24 its allotted time off during the break, but Willie Mays already gave 24 a Star turn for us twice, in ’72 and ’73, back when we were mostly happy to welcome back to New York players somewhat past their prime. Rajai Davis would have been welcomed warmly in Cleveland, but the most recent player to wear No. 18 as a Met is summering in Syracuse. That’s fine in the context we’re exploring because three different Mets have already taken 18 to All-Star Games: Joel Youngblood, Darryl Strawberry and Bret Saberhagen (Strawberry mostly). The only other tri-Star number in Mets history? No. 16: Lee Mazzilli, Dwight Gooden and Paul Lo Duca (Gooden mostly, but Mazzilli most memorably).

Those are the only triplicates, but here are a bunch more Met All-Star duplicates on record. No. 45 for Tug and Pedro. No. 47 for Orosco and Gl@v!ne. No. 28 for Jones (Bobby) and Murphy (Daniel). Piazza was preceded in 31 by John Franco. Only one among Pat Zachry and Bartolo Colon was in his forties as a Met All-Star, but each was in 40 when selected. The Mets as hosts both saw a 33 start for the NL: Ron Hunt in 1964, Matt Harvey in 2013. David Cone changed from 44 to 17 in honor of his former teammate and multitime All-Star Keith Hernandez and wound up a Met All-Star in both.

Ron Darling wasn’t an All-Star when he wore 44, but he made it once as 12, which is how John Stearns made it on four separate occasions. No. 8 not only looked good when Hall of Fame catcher Berra managed, it looked perfect when future Hall of Fame catcher Carter caught. Lance Johnson brought Ashburn’s 1 back to shine in ’96. Another Johnson, Howard, debuted 20 thirty years ago. Alonso just produced a sequel.

If you have a coach-free Mets All-Star Uniform Number Bingo Card, you were relieved in 2017 when you were finally able to check off 30 (Conforto) and in 2016 when you could take care of 27 (Familia), 34 (Syndergaard) and 52 (Cespedes). Although Jake has made 48 old hat after three appearances, it went without Met All-Star modeling until 2015. You’ve no doubt noticed how empty it gets once the numbers get high. There’s a 57 (Santana), a 75 (Rodriguez) and nothing in between them. You covered 4 for Duke Snider in 1963, 3 for Bud Harrelson twice in the early ’70s and marked the likes of 21 (Cleon Jones), 22 (Leiter), 25 (Bonilla), 26 (Kingman), 29 (Viola), 32 (Matlack), 35 (Reed), 43 (Dickey), 49 (Benitez) and 50 (Fernandez) along the way.

Until the 2019 All-Star Game, however, No. 6 was the unreachable Star, Pat Roessler notwithstanding. So were and are a few others south of El Sid. Still haven’t had an 11, except when Tim Teufel wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 23, except when Dick Scott wore it as a coach in ’16. Still haven’t had a 38, except when Dan Warthen wore it as a coach in ’16. Perhaps the reason Terry Collins couldn’t get a single Met player into the 2016 All-Star Game is because they kept getting stuck behind his many, many coaches.

No. 6 might not be the only number to have waited forever for its closeup, but it’s the one that’s theoretically had the most chances. According to the source of sources for all Mets uniform digit fetishes, Mets By the Numbers by Jon Springer and Matt Silverman (based on Springer’s seminal site of the same name, for which I am honored to have recently contributed a list on this topic), 6 is the number most frequently issued by the Mets, with McNeil its 45th bearer. Hence, you’d think by handing it out as often as possible to as many players as possible — Roessler was the first coach to grab it, in 2015 — that one single, solitary 6 would have landed on a Met in an All-Star Game between 1962 and 2014.

You’d think wrong, no matter who you were thinking of. Your best thought would have been Wally Backman, who wore 6 the longest, switching to it from his September 1980 callup designation of 28 in 1981 and sticking with it through the NLCS in 1988. Wally wore it with distinction even as he caked it in dirt. When the All-Star teams were being chosen for 1986, Wally was batting about as high as Jeff is today, peaking at .354 on July 2 in St. Louis. But that — and Backman’s platoon status — wasn’t enough to impress Whitey Herzog, who somehow thought a mere five Mets were enough for one All-Star team. No wonder the NL lost every game the White Rat managed.

Wally was one of two Mets who wore No. 6 en route to a world championship. The first was Al Weis. Al Weis was an award-winner, recipient of the coveted Babe Ruth Award, handed out by the New York chapter of the BBWAA for best performance in the World Series (later the entire postseason). Weis batted .455 in the 1969 World Series and blasted the highly unlikely homer that tied decisive Game Five. But Al, like Wally, was never a fully fledged regular, and he wasn’t a threat to hit like Jeff McNeil most months, despite what he accomplished in October fifty years ago, so no All-Star berths awaited Al. Winning a World Series ring and that Babe Ruth hardware would have to suffice for Weis.

Melvin Mora and Timo Perez wore No. 6 in consecutive Met postseasons. They were both enormous factors in the Mets advancing as far as they did. One of them was an enormous factor in preventing the Mets’ ultimate advancement. Mora eventually wore No. 6 in an All-Star Game, but only for the Orioles. Perez eventually reached home plate, but not safely in Game One of the 2000 World Series.

Despite the plethora of hexa-uni action in the clubhouse, there are not a lot of No. 6 highlights to billboard across 57 seasons of Mets baseball. Marlon Byrd hit 21 home runs in 2013 before being traded to Pittsburgh that August. Rich Becker and Tony Phillips each ignited the offense for respective spells in 1998. Nick Evans came up from Double-A in 2008 and doubled thrice in his debut. Jose Cardenal wore No. 6 in 1980 and proceeded to play in that year’s World Series, but that was after the Mets released him and the Royals picked him up. I was personally fond of Joe Orsulak, No. 6 from 1993 to 1995, but those constructing NL rosters in those years weren’t nearly as impressed.

We had Jim Hickman in 6 for a little while in 1966, after he had done his best Met work in 9 and before he was an All-Star as a Cub. We had Carlos Baerga in 6 for a little while in 1996, before he would do his best Met work in 8 and after was an All-Star as an Indian. Mike Vail switched to 6 after setting a rookie hitting streak record in 31; no records of any kind were forthcoming for Vail thereafter. We had two Marshalls who wore 6: first baseman Jim in 1962 and first baseman Mike in 1990. Jim’s distinction is he was the first Met booed by Mets fans (his crime was starting in place of a balky-kneed Gil Hodges in the first Polo Grounds Home Opener). Mike, not to be confused with the other past-his-prime ex-Dodger Mike Marshall who played for the Mets, wasn’t particularly popular, either, and gave way to immediate batting title contender Dave Magadan.

We have an immediate batting title contender in No. 6 right now, though he wasn’t immediately in No. 6 when he came up a year ago. Jeff McNeil was introduced to Mets fans as No. 68. He surely tuned into National League pitching more clearly than Uncle Floyd viewers of yore tuned into their favorite UHF station, batting .329 over the final two months of 2018. Jeff switched way down the dial for 2019, all the way to No. 6. I was a little worried he shouldn’t attempt to fiddle with the bowtie antenna attached to the rabbit ears. If he wasn’t encountering static at 68, why mess with a good thing.

Silly me. Sixty-Eight is for rabbit ears. Six is for Squirrels. This one took a good thing and made it better, so much better that it couldn’t be ignored. Jeff McNeil is the first Met to have worn No. 6 in an All-Star Game and, really, the first Met to go to an All-Star game regardless of position. I saw one roster list him as an outfielder, another identify him as a second baseman. Had Tuesday night’s affair gone deep into extras, Dave Roberts could have switched Jeff from left to right, then right to third, then third to second. This Squirrel can play anywhere and hit all night.

But Roberts, like Herzog, didn’t take nearly enough Mets. No wonder the NL has lost every game he’s managed, too.

10 comments to Best Six Ever?

  • eric1973

    So when they put McNeil’s name up on the scoreboard, they mistakenly put up a picture of deGrom.

    At least they didn’t say he was dead.

  • Will in Central NJ

    I vaguely recall reading somewhere, that #6 was slated for the late outfield prospect Brian Cole, who sadly lost his life in a 2001 spring training car crash. Thus, we would have had uniform numbers 5-6-7 set up for a young core of Met stars for a decade-plus: David Wright, Brian Cole and Jose Reyes. Alas, that never came to pass.

  • eric1973

    Maybe if all our crummy rookie relievers didn’t take uniform numbers in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, they wouldn’t pitch like spring training guys with those high numbers who have no chance of making the team.

    Surely, there are numbers in the 30s and 40s they could take, and then, of course, they would pitch better!

  • mikeL

    ^^ seriously guys: Dress The Part

    then again rosario should be rising to his own uni number one!

    ahh. byrd was no.6 too.
    i was so PO’ed that the mets let him (and his low, low salary) go in favor of signing granderson. granted that wasn’t the worst signing of a former yank!

    and Timo! a runner-up for yankee mvp in the 2000 WS.
    that trot from the very fastest of mets still has me PO’ed :0/

    dude cano-boated it when he should’ve run like hell.

    figures the *next* time the mets reached WS game one, it was another high-impact player who’d put the team in a hole early.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Re the link to the 1987 article with the quote from Jim Marshall about being booed by the capacity crowd at the Mets 1962 Home Opener. “Capacity” in Marshall’s estimation, apparently being around 12,000 and change.

    BTW, I was at a game on May 13, 1962 with my Dad, and Marv Throneberry was substituted for Hodges at the last minute. He was new to the team (actually it was his 3rd start for the Mets) and he was booed every time he came up. I have no proof, because it may have also happened in his first two starts, but I’ve always felt that was the day when the Legend of Marv began.

  • open the gates

    When I first purchased “Mets by the Numbers” two years ago, I made, for my own amusement, an all-time Mets by-the-numbers list. I recall #6 as a pretty weak number. Wally Backman was the obvious choice, although I ranked Joe Orsulak a distant second (I share your fondness for the guy – one of the more underrated Mets in my opinion). It’s looking like Jeff McNeil has a pretty decent chance to take over that number on my list, maybe as early as by the end of this season.

  • Greg, this was great as always. Loved it.

    “Although Jake has made 48 old hat…” Is this a hidden play on his attending Stetson? lol

    It took me a while to get the pun of Best Six Ever. If I actually had any sex, maybe that would’ve helped… :-) It’s a good article headline for not Cosmopolitan but maybe Metropolitan.

    • The Stetson connection was unintentional, but I will retroactively claim it.

      As for the headline, it was more or less inspired by this proud episode in our nation’s history.

      • You may claim the Stetson/ old hat connection, as long as you cite your source. :-D You know, good research practices and all that…

        I did think the implied headline sounded more familiar than just a typical Cosmo cover blurb. Now I know…Thanks for the link. I read the article, and without getting too political for this blog, my reaction was ‘yecch’. (Where’s the ‘vomit’ emoji when you need it?)