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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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Jerry’s Jubilee

They weren’t kidding when they said Jerry Koosman was clutch. Beat the mighty Orioles twice to tie and win the World Series? Yeah, that was swell, but look at what he’s accomplished lately.

Jerry Koosman shows up at Citi Field to have his number retired, and the 2021 Mets shake out of their characteristic doldrums and actually best another baseball team! Wonder of wonders! Miracle of miracles!

• As if inspiring the snapping of a four-game losing streak wasn’t enough, Jerry became the first Met player to star at a number retirement ceremony that preceded a Met win. Tom Seaver couldn’t do it in 1988 (Braves 4 Mets 2). Mike Piazza couldn’t do it in 2016 (Rockies 7 Mets 2). But the legend of Kooz is stronger than the curse of the rafters-raise.

The Mets indeed won one for Kooz. Or didn’t lose in proximity to Kooz. Either way, Mets 5 Nationals 3. You didn’t have to be the unofficial institutional memory of this franchise to notice the 5-3 score matched the final that certified the 1969 World Series as new York’s (WP — Koosman 2-0). Wanna cast Marcus Stroman plus three relievers as the practical equivalent of one complete-gaming Kooz? Go for it. Who was Kevin Pillar channeling with his two homers? Al Weis, who came out of nowhere to suddenly flex muscles against the Cubs and O’s? Ron Swoboda, whose pair of home runs confounded Steve Carlton on his 19-K night? Either works 52 years later.

Michael Conforto coming off the bench for the first pinch-hit home run of his career, the three-run blast that pushed the Mets ahead in the seventh — there’s a touch of Duffy Dyer on Opening Day versus the expansion Expos/future Nationals in that swing, even if Dyer’s detonation came in a losing cause. The 1969 Mets were a winning cause. They won a lot more than they lost ’cause of starting pitching that silenced the opposition and stunned the universe. They had Seaver. And Gentry. And McAndrew. And Cardwell. And Ryan.

Plus that lefty who wore 36 in that most magical Met season and a plethora of Met seasons that spanned the emotional spectrum from delightful to depressing. Koosman himself was always delightful, whether on the mound or in the clubhouse or visiting Kiner’s Korner. When the Mets won in 1969 and 1973, you could attribute critical junctures of triumph to Kooz. When the Mets went so far south that the only postcards they could mail featured penguins, it wasn’t Koosman’s doing. I watched him lose 20 games in 1977 and 15 games in 1978. I saw a lot of hard luck. I never saw a losing pitcher.

Peculiar that an organization whose sporadic dalliances with excellence revolve around starting pitching didn’t get around to retiring the number of its best lefthander for an eternity. Divining the psychology behind retiring numbers saps the exuberance out of celebrating the players who seriously merit the honor. I don’t know why 140 wins and no less than a co-lead role in two storied postseasons required decades of mulling over. I don’t know why, when every retelling of Those Days always comes back to Seaver and Koosman, Jerry Koosman’s turn at digital immortality was skipped over like he was Jerad Eickhoff after a rainout.

I get that there was only one Tom Seaver. Perhaps it’s taken a long time to fully understand there was only one Jerry Koosman.

It’s a shame the two singular sensations couldn’t have shared this night. Koosman was on hand in 1988 for Seaver’s number celebration. Somewhere between 41 in ’88 and 31 in ’16, before Seaver’s health deteriorated, the Mets might have glanced at Koosman’s stats, heeded Koosman’s contemporaries and committed to the elevation of 36. It’s never too late to do right by history. But it can get too late to build the ideal guest list.

FIVE numbers retired in sixty years? Our lofty standards may buckle!

Those of us who made it to Citi Field on the late August Saturday night in 2021 when 36 was retired were treated to a warm evening — though not too warm on the thermometer, which fit Jerry Koosman’s pitching specifications to a tee. I’ve rarely heard Kooz interviewed when he didn’t volunteer he threw better when the air turned cool. Temperatures may have (blessedly) dipped, yet the Flushing atmosphere was warm and sweet and loving. You can’t do better for the end of summer or the last word on a professional journey.

The Mets don’t win as many games as we’d like, but they inevitably prevail at pregame festivities. The Hall of Fame gala four weeks earlier was a group hug for Matlack, Darling and Alfonzo. This coronation emitted a similar comfy-cozy vibe. Howie Rose is the emcee of our lives. Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool and Wayne Garrett linked arms and hearts. Doug Flynn checked in with a video greeting. And Mike Piazza proudly stood (and spiritually crouched) as Jerry Koosman’s batterymate, 31 adjacent to 36 in the rafters. “Jerry,” said the only other man alive who knows what it’s like to stand before an audience of Mets fans while his number his unveiled in highest left field, “welcome home. This is your home, and this is your family.”

20 for 36 was a cause for family celebration.

Koosman has always been family. Koosman’s family has always been family. When Howie introduced Jerry’s kids, I realized we’d met them in yearbooks and highlight films from Player Family Days gone by. One of the first things I think of when I think of Jerry was the absolute pride and joy our announcers expressed when he became a 20-game winner for the first time, in 1976. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, or words to that effect, Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner iterated and reiterated that September. They weren’t talking about some pleasant fellow they knew a little from work. They were talking about our brother who looked out for our best interests; our cousin who always brought over something to make it a fun afternoon; our uncle who could teach us a few things. Whatever the relationship, we could relate to Kooz. He wasn’t just ours. He was, intrinsically, one of us.

Gods do not answer letters, John Updike wrote of the distant Ted Williams. Jerry Koosman will gladly entertain your queries and do so with a twinkle in his eye. So what if you’ve heard most of his stories before? They’re good stories.

Getting to those 20 wins also shouldn’t have taken so long. Kooz was in his ninth full season then. Maybe an extra win in his freshman campaign of 1968, when he posted a 19-12 record, beyond anything any Met (even Seaver) had ever compiled, would have lifted Kooz over some kid named Johnny Bench for National League Rookie of the Year honors. Maybe perception of a career that awed his teammates and opponents begins to shape differently with just a few more runs scored on his behalf. From 1973 through 1975, Jerry allowed not much more than three earned runs every nine innings and won exactly four more games than he lost. In ’76, he could have captured the Cy Young Award. His start was slower than that of his ultimately successful rival for the hardware, Randy Jones. Jerry finished hot, however: 12-4 in the second half, with an ERA of 1.64. Jerry was always a helluva finisher. Just look at that fifth game of the 1969 World Series. Gave up three runs in the third inning and brushed it and the Birds aside until Game Five ended with Jerry Grote literally catching Jerry Koosman.

Nice catch.

Over 19 seasons with four different teams (the first dozen with us), Koosman built a viable Hall of Fame case. More than 200 wins. More than 2,500 strikeouts. A reputation as the guy batters didn’t care to face when something immense was on the line. Kooz’s case for Cooperstown didn’t so much fall short as get misfiled. The writers never saw it. Or they didn’t look — one ballot, four votes. The Mets installed him in their Hall of Fame in 1989, four years after he threw his final major league pitch. They then retreated to their secret conclave and emerged thirty years later to announce 36 was worthy of hanging alongside 41 and 31, 14 and 37.

In talking to the media before his ceremonies and the fans during it, 78-year-old Jerry Koosman betrayed no impatience with the process. He was grateful and touched and embracing the moment. At the apex of our esteem for all he accomplished, he deflected our reverence by saying he just wished he could still fit in his uniform and start over again. To trot out the hoariest of sports clichés, he was just happy to be here.

I was happy he was there, too. You can’t wait forever on these things.

19 comments to Jerry’s Jubilee

  • Leigh Nathaniel Silver

    Where is the second happy recap book

  • Joe Nunz

    I am no bobblehead expert, but I think the Kooz bobblehead is one of the better ones in the Mets collection.

  • Eric

    The unwritten rule had been that for a Mets player number to be retired, the threshold was Cooperstown Hall of Famer, right? Howie Rose spoke about the background of retiring Koosman’s number in the top of the 8th inning if I recall correctly.

    It does seem Koosman’s famous clutchness rubbed off on Pillar and Conforto. Good work by Stroman, too, but pitching hasn’t been the Mets’ problem.

    It’s been a while since the Mets gained a game on the Braves. Hope is still alive. Too bad the Phillies won, too.

  • Seth

    I think it’s one of those cool baseball coincidences, as Gary pointed out — that the two pitchers who threw the final pitches in each of the Mets’ World Series victories, Koosman and Orosco, got traded for each other.

    As to why the retirement took so long? We have a new owner, and suddenly Jerry’s number is retired. Steve will prove his value in many different ways.

    • The announcement (linked above) was made in September of 2019, when Steve Cohen was still on the outside looking in. I figured the momentum from the 1969 celebration and the recognition, fueled by Seaver’s absence, that these guys weren’t going to be around forever, even if their story was, perhaps got some people to take action.

  • dmg

    Koosman was always my favorite Met growing up, ever since his run at rookie of the year. I had his card in my wallet for decades until it disintegrated.

    Seaver was almost too…perfect, I didn’t feel worthy to make him my fave (my prob, not his, of course). Kooz would show his effort, had his flaws – he was renowned as a “cancer bat” at the plate – and was a total workhorse. And delivered the results when they were absolutely needed. Maybe more important than Game 5 was his shutting down the Orioles in Game 2, after they’d punctured the Miracle Mets myth in Game 1. (Also, 4-0 in playoff games, with Mets winning all of his starts.)

    After the Mets traded Kooz – itself almost unthinkable, but then they’d done the same with Seaver – I saw him pitch as the ace of the Twins staff at the home opener for the Oakland As in 1980. Pitched 6 , same leg kick, didn’t get the decision but the Twins won 9-7, a typical start in his post-Mets era. Life moves on. And the Mets did pick up Jesse Orosco in the deal.

    Though I’d marked the date ever since the ceremony was announced, I almost passed on yesterday. I’d gone to the game against the Giants on Tuesday, the 8-0 loss that showcased an utterly clueless lineup, and I could use a break from Citi and this unhappy freefall. But my son reminded me we had seen the number retirement for his favorite player, Piazza, and I should do the same for mine. And a friend who is recovering from surgery said he’d have to go, “limp and all.” So he and I went.

    So very glad to be there. And what a great touch to have Piazza on hand to say some well-chosen words. Greg noted that last night’s game ended with the same score as Game 5. As someone who was at both, Game 5 was more historic, but last night had its own importance too.

  • Dave

    I’m of the belief that retiring a number is a more pure gesture when the honoree wound up being the last player to have worn it, as the Mets did with Seaver, Piazza, and presumably, Wright. I’ve also wondered if, with only two Mets players to have been so honored, was Koosman in fact next in line…ahead of Carter, Hernandez, Doc, Straw, and Wright? Chronologically, sure, but in terms of career accomplishments? Maybe yes, maybe no.

    Then I realize that I’m probably overthinking this. #1A to Seaver’s #1 is a damn good thing to be, as is best big game pitcher in the team’s history (a shame they didn’t give him more such opportunities in those 11 seasons). I have long been comparing his stats to those of Jim Bunning’s, he of Cooperstown enshrinement while Kooz couldn’t even get on the ballot a 2nd time…those stats are amazingly similar. It was sad to see the absence of the man he shared the Shea mound with, and perhaps this serves as a reminder to the organization that given the inevitable passage of time, some things are best done sooner than later. 36 does look nice up there, and I’ll eventually disregard the fact that it once belonged to Mickey Callaway.

  • Ed Rising

    I was at the ceremony and game last night. It was a beautiful moment to see Jerry Koosman and his #36 be retired by the Mets. This should have been done 25 years ago around ‘95/96. This was post strike period and Mets should have started making a bigger effort to celebrate its history – even if ITV were to just sell tickets. But also as so many Players and coaches who should have been part of this moment are either gone, I’ll or just aren’t able to get there – and that’s sad. Even fans too were cheated out of being able cheer our heroes one more time. Also many of the fans who did show up have little appreciation as to the significance of the ceremony. Kids in their 20!s fooling around laughing, talking, not paying attention or havingvenough respect for fans around them! Really irks me. It’s great to see Koosman finally getting hi due. The Mets need to make #7 a priority as next number retired for Kranepool and Reyes, #17 for Keith Hernandez, Bob Murphy ‘s mike allong side Kindr, and then #5 for David Wright.

  • ljcmets

    My erstwhile Yankee fan husband asked me two questions:

    1. Why wasn’t Gary Carter’s number retired before that of Kooz, as Carter is actually a Hall-of-Farmer – the Mets’ previously stated criterion for number retirement? (I mumbled something about the Expos hat, but I can’t believe that’s the reason- how petty would that be, especially as Carter had no control over that issue?)

    2. Why didn’t Koosman mention Seaver in his speech or in his interview with Gary and Keith? ( I have no idea – my best guess is it was too upsetting to do so. Then again, I don’t remember Kooz mentioning many people who were not at the ceremony- maybe his parents and Gil Hodges.)

    Any thoughts, Greg?

    • Probably the hat in Carter’s case.

      Kooz remembered all who could no longer be with us, which I guess covered the gamut of the departed.

    • Ed Rising

      I also thought it was odd that Koosman did not mention Seaver, however this was jerry’s day and the focus should have been on him. I didn’t find anything wrong with the speech, but would have liked the ceremony to have been longer and include more former teammates. I was disappointed that Matlack, who was recently installed in the Mets hall of fame did not attend. Also Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, John Stearns, there were quite a few players even from his later Mets career that should have been there. That is also the problem with waiting far too long to deliver this kind of honor. I certainly believe in waiting longer than 5 years after retirement and breaking up the HOF and number retirement by a good number of years in order to give the player and fans a chance to have ceremonies down the road. But Mets waited too long and that is something Cohen has to fix.

      As for Gary Carter, I believe he should be in Mets Hall of Fame if he is not in it already, but would not retire his number. Carter only played 5 seasons for the Mets and despite his great impact on our pitching staff, and clutch performances, was on the down side of his career. The Expos hat he wears in Cooperstown is more than appropriate.

  • eric1973

    What a wonderful ceremony.

    Koosman was happy, and that was the most important thing to me.

    Too bad Piazza sucked all the air out of the room. He had nothing to do with Koosman.

    Especially when you have Kranepool, Garrett, and Shamsky sitting right there. At least they let Garrett catch Kooz’ ceremonial first pitch.

  • Eric

    I haven’t seen or heard Jerry Grote was part of Koosman’s ceremony, except for the famous picture of them. Google doesn’t give a reason. If Grote wasn’t there, is there a reason why?

  • MikeS

    On Grote’s FB site he congratulates Koos and regrets not being able to make it. Lots of tributes to koosman on Grotes’s page

  • Guy Kipp

    When they talk about how Koosman was the greatest clutch pitcher in Mets history, they always leave this part out:

    In his last 10 starts of the 1973 season, during which time the Mets went from sixth place to first, Koosman was 6-1 with a 1.30 ERA, and he allowed no runs or one run in eight of those 10 starts. In one four-game stretch then, he allowed no earned runs in 34 1/3 innings.

    Koosman always seemed like an affable everyman, and his appearances on Kiner’s Korner were always a delight.

  • NostraDennis

    Practical question, gentlemen…when will the updated FAFIF t-shirts become available?

  • Richard Porricelli

    Jerry deserves it. It was wonderful to watch him work..Honoring our past in this changing game and time is so important..
    Yogi should have called him in in game 7 73′ series , left Matlack in too long..Loved that guy..

  • […] would garner nine wins. We haven’t lost a game in August, April or September dating back to No. 36 going up in the rafters. Jerry Koosman always did prefer to pitch in that cool autumn breeze, and we seem to be as […]