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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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The Best Kind of Debate

After a brief flurry of optimism or at least acceptance, garbage time is officially back. Before the season, a late August Mets-Angels tilt looked like one to circle on the calendar. Who wouldn’t exult in the prospect of watching Pete Alonso and Kodai Senga go up against Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout on two playoff-bound teams?

It didn’t exactly work out that way. Trout is on the shelf as per the unfortunate usual, Ohtani’s UCL injury has produced a cloud of questions ahead of his assault on the free-agent record books, and both teams have seen their seasons curdle into things you carry out to the can with your arm stretched out as far as you can and as stoic a look as you can muster.

Senga pitched well — there’s one Met roll of the dice that’s worked splendidly — and Ohtani showed off his sizzling bat speed and deceptive speed afoot, but this was a game that faded into the lost-season blur seconds after it ended. I kept waiting for the Mets to come back and pay homage to the Marlon Anderson Game, one of the first gems we got to chronicle as rookie bloggers, but that never happened. The closest the Mets got was Joey Cora‘s seventh-inning decision to send Danny Mendick homeward as the prospective tying run on Brando Nimmo’s not very deep fly to left. Right call because Randal Grichuk would have to make a very good throw to get Mendick and it’s not like the Mets were getting a bevy of chances? Wrong call because Francisco Lindor was up next and Grichuk would make the catch practically breathing on the shortstop’s neck? Whatever your opinion, the historical record will show that the ball beat Mendick by a country mile, Mendick came into home as if arriving for tea, and the Mets were done.

Done, and in last place at the end of the evening. Which is kind of amazing — the GDP of a decent-sized nation was spent for this? — and yet not surprising at all to those of us who keep watching this train wreck for some unfathomable reason. Ask your therapist if masochism is indeed right for you, as treatment is available and covered by many insurance plans!

* * *

In happier news, the Mets announced that they’ll retire 16 and 18 next year for Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, a revelation that Greg weighed in on here. Which got me thinking about retired numbers, a baseball topic that’s dear to my heart.

Teams are, of course, all over the map in terms of retired-numbers philosophy, from the stinginess of the Dodgers and Mariners to the ludicrous bacchanal of the Yankees, which has spurred at least semi-serious talk of stripping managers and coaches of numbers and/or players wearing triple digits. The Mets started off in the stingy camp, retiring just 37 14 41 and Jackie Robinson‘s 42, but have since done an about-face, removing 31, 17, 36 and 24 from circulation before giving the nod (or maybe it’s the shake of the head) to 16 and 18.

Read this next part with this big flashing light in your head: There’s a BUT coming.

I mostly agreed with the Mets’ stay-small philosophy on retired numbers, even while suspecting it was more about the Wilpons’ cheapness and Dodger fetishizing than any kind of coherent world view. Before it happened I thought they should retire 17 for Keith Hernandez, but only because of his second act as a broadcaster — his record in uniform, while marked by a title, struck me as a bit too slight for a retired number on those grounds alone. I was fine with the idea of putting away 31 for Mike Piazza, the icon of his Mets era, but figured the Mets would get to it eventually. I saw Jerry Koosman as a companion star whose light was always lost in Tom Seaver‘s glare, which isn’t fair but is also relevant to this particular discussion. Willie Mays‘s time at Shea was, to me, simultaneously a lovely tribute to his indelible career and an object lesson in the perils of staying too long at the fair — fascinating but not obviously the stuff of retired numbers. And Doc and Darryl, while Mets immortals to me, were sadly more examples of what could have been than what was. Retire 8 for Gary Carter? My view was that while I’d always love Carter as a Met legend and see him as a Hall of Fame person, the numbers from his tenure were frankly pretty skimpy.

That stance was indelibly shaped by something else: I liked the tacit philosophy the Mets held for years, which was to have certain numbers unofficially retired — the Kelvin Torve farce aside, 24 was mothballed except for generational players such as Rickey Henderson and Robinson Cano. I liked that as a secret status because it was a nod to team history that was also a deep cut — a reward earned as one grew into more of a Mets fan and delved into the team history. If anything, it was a stance I wished the Mets would employ with other numbers: Koosman’s 36 was a prime candidate in my mind, as was 45. Put those two things together and I was pretty happy with the state of affairs.

(OK, here it comes)

BUT

When the Mets retired 31 for Piazza I wasn’t mad. I was delighted. Same for Koosman, and Hernandez, and the masterfully executed ceremony in honor of Mays. And when the announcement came about Doc and Darryl my first thought was, “that’s awesome.”

This is why I think retired-numbers arguments might be the only truly good arguments in baseball. I feel passionately about my own position on the subject, but the Mets have gone in another direction and each time they’ve put that new direction into practice I’ve thought, “let me see if I can get tickets.” Every semi-reasonable outcome is a perfectly good one, a chance to celebrate the team, its players and its history. It matters in a way that’s fun to debate, but it Matters not at all. And that’s a relief.

Where do the Mets go from here? It’s a lock that they’ll put 5 up in the rafters for David Wright, which I just hope comes with a nod to Davey Johnson — if the wild card had existed back in the 1980s it’s entirely possible Davey never gets fired and 5 never becomes available. I’m sure they’ll retire 8 now that Keith and Doc and Darryl are being honored, and that’s as it should be. I think they ought to retire 45 in tandem for Tug McGraw and John Franco, who are linked by not only their roles as closers but also their status as clubhouse leaders.

In my mind that would be enough. Though if the Mets keep going and put aside, say, Jesse Orosco‘s 47 or Howard Johnson‘s 20 or Al Leiter‘s 22 or whichever number it’s concluded Ron Darling wore most often? I’ll think that’s awesome too.

1 comment to The Best Kind of Debate

  • Eric

    “those of us who keep watching this train wreck for some unfathomable reason”

    Because bad Mets baseball is always better than no Mets baseball. It’s almost September, the season feels like it’s winding down now, and when Mets baseball 2023 is shuttered with a nary a wildcard game I’ll miss it.

    “This is why I think retired-numbers arguments might be the only truly good arguments in baseball.”

    Now that the standard has been relaxed for retiring uniform numbers, I’m confused about the value distinction between the Mets Hall of Fame and number retirement. The debate over retiring uniform numbers implies that the Mets Hall of Fame is a misnomer for really a petty honor, and the real Mets hall of fame is number retirement. Before retiring uniform numbers was opened up, I conceived the Mets Hall of Fame as a high honor that was commensurate to important Mets like Strawberry, Gooden, Carter, and Hernandez while the bar for uniform number retirement was set higher around the Seaver range. Koosman was the poster child for the high end of the Mets Hall of Fame who yet fell short of number retirement. I was fine with that because I thought the Mets Hall of Fame sufficiently honored important Mets who weren’t the very greatest Mets. Did I misunderstand the Mets Hall of Fame?

    As for the game last night: “After a brief flurry of optimism or at least acceptance, garbage time is officially back.” Yep. That questionable Cora send of Mendick with Lindor on deck is a point for tanking. Stewart’s cooling off and whatever was handicapping Baty’s bat seems to have been passed onto Alvarez. The Mets have gone back to losing with RISP LOB that look like the losses before the trade deadline. And now they’re in last place just like the Yankees.

    “Ohtani‚Äôs UCL injury has produced a cloud of questions ahead of his assault on the free-agent record books”

    I thought the Mets were too careful pitching around Ohtani with the Bonds treatment, except the one time he was pitched to, Ohtani ripped a double off Senga.

    When the news of Ohtani’s torn UCL came down, I figured that was it for the Mets pursuit of Ohtani based on their cautious approach to health worries with Rocker, Correa, deGrom, and arguably Verlander and Scherzer (short contracts to begin with, quick trigger on their trades). But as he showed last night, an Ohtani who can’t pitch or field (because a fielder needs to throw) for the foreseeable future is still an elite hitter. So what’s a free-agent soon-to-be-30 elite DH worth who might pitch again in 1-2 years at who knows what level or at least, if pitching goes off the table, should be able to play the outfield in a year or so?