There's been a lot of talk about Mike Piazza leaving the Mets after his contract expires at the end of the season, and that the team is preparing some kind of special day to honor him.
And while they might not do it this year, I think the team will retire Mike's No. 31, probably after he is enshrined in Cooperstown.
This got me thinking, usually a dangerous thing. The Mets have only retired three numbers -- the ultimate honor a team can bestow. It's four numbers if you count Jackie Robinson's 42, which was honored by every team.
Casey is the only Met to wear 37.
No. 37 was set aside after first manager Casey Stengel broke his hip and retired. Then No. 14 was retired after manager Gil Hodges died unexpectedly in 1972. Both were probably knee-jerk reactions, but I can support them. Especially for Hodges, who not only led the Mets to their first championship but was a beloved player for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The only Mets player honored is Tom Seaver, and I'm proud to say I was at Shea with my family when No. 41 was unveiled on the leftfield wall.
But that's it for players. I think there should be more. But a lot of care should go into this. You don't want to be like the knuckleheads across town, retiring numbers left and right to inflate their own importance.
No. 14 was retired to honor Gil Hodges, an original Met who later managed the 1969 World Champs.
Basically, retired numbers fall into a handful of categories.
You have your no-brainer, stud Hall-of-Famers, players like Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench and Ted Williams.
You have your mega-studs who finish their career with a different team but in their original city, a club limited to Hank Aaron at the moment.
There are the beloved players who are not Hall-of-Famers, like Harold Baines, who actually came back to the White Sox after his number was retired.
There are managers who won championships.
I was there with my "41 Forever" banner when Seaver's No. 41 was retired in 1988.
Then you have the oddballs, like the Angels retiring No. 26 to honor owner Gene Autry, the so-called 26th player on the team. The worst was the Marlins retiring No. 5 for Carl Barger, a team executive who died before the team played a game. He never played, so No. 5 was for Joe DiMaggio, Barger's favorite player. Thank you, H. Wayne Huizenga for proving once again why you should never have been allowed to own a baseball team.
So using those guidelines, let us look at the Mets who are eligible in number order.
No. 1: Richie Ashburn
Ashburn was an original Met and even the team's first All-Star. But he played just one year and doesn't fall into the Aaron category. Mookie Wilson also wore the number. And while he's beloved, I don't quite think he's wall-worthy. But a worthy selection for the Mets Hall of Fame.
No. 4: Duke Snider
The Duke of Flatbush was on a nostalgia tour when he played for the Mets on his way to Cooperstown, one of the many former Dodgers and Giants added to the team in the early years. Duke hit 14 homers, a fine farewell to the New Yorkers who loved him, but not enough to retire his number.
No. 5: Davey Johnson
The skipper of the 1986 Champions, the best Mets team ever. Davey falls out of favor with ownership for some reason, but the guy's done nothing but win everywhere he's been. He needs to be honored in some way. They've since given his number to David Wright, among others, and based on what we've seen of Wright so far, it might never be issued again.
Here's a collection of Mets heroes: Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Al Jackson and Jim McAndrew.
No. 7: Ed Kranepool
Check this out. Steady Eddie hasn't played since the late 1970s, and he's still the Mets' all-time leader in games, at-bats, hits, doubles, singles and even sac flies. He's third in RBI. Playing 18 seasons with the same team will do that, and you're not going to play 18 years with the same team unless you are something special. Clearly he falls into the Harold Baines category. But the number has been in circulation since -- a mistake in my eyes -- and now is worn by Jose Reyes, a worthy heir. I wouldn't have blinked if the Mets retired No. 7 when Eddie retired, but the time has probably passed.
No. 8: Gary Carter
The Kid's a newly minted Hall-of-Famer, was a co-captain and a stud player on the 1986 World Champs. This one's a no-brainer. Perhaps next year, the 20th anniversary, will be the time to hoist No. 8 to the wall. Maybe Yogi Berra, who managed the 1973 pennant-winners and also wore 8, can make the presentation.
Decision: On the wall!
No. 10: Rusty Staub
You laugh, but Staub's number was retired by the Expos -- and they no longer exist!. Le Grande Orange was a key player on the Mets' 1973 pennant-winner, and was a valuable contributor in the team's rise back to respectability in the 1980s. He should never have been traded. I owe Staub. I took my wife to a game in the late 1980s, and as we were buying tickets Rusty walked through the box office. I said "Hey, there's Rusty Staub!" My wife said, "So? Who's Rusty Staub?" Sadly, she said this loud enough that Rusty heard her. Ouch!
No. 12: Roberto Alomar
Robbie's a first-ballot Hall-0f-Famer, but his short tenure with the Mets was anything but glorious. The guy just fell apart. And Alomar played for so many teams, I can't decide which team's cap should be on his plaque, much less which team could retire his number.
Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden in happier days.
No. 16: Doc Gooden
And this is where honoring the 1986 team gets tough. Gooden is probably the greatest tragedy in Mets history. The guy nearly posted Hall of Fame numbers even with the boozing and drugging. And worse, the Yankee-ing. Gooden's still a mess, as his recent arrest shows. But he's still behind only Seaver on the team's all-time wins list. I just can't see the Mets giving him the ultimate honor.
No. 17: Keith Hernandez
Hernandez is probably more important to the success of the 1986 team than Carter, and there are some writers who still vote for him for the Hall. If only Mex had not fallen apart so fast. But he's still active with the team, even appearing in a classic Seinfeld episode. I have no problem retiring No. 17 for Hernandez. I kind of owe Hernandez, too. My grandmother accidently poked him in the stomach with a broom handle in her shopping cart at Publix in Jupiter, Fla.
Decision: On the wall!
No 18: Darryl Strawberry
Another player who would be in Cooperstown today if not for the drugs and booze and Yankee-ing. I get so caught up in how good Strawberry could have been that I forget how good he actually was. Straw is still the team's all-time leader in home runs, RBI, runs and even walks. How do you overlook that? Like Gooden, Strawberry's post-baseball world has been a mess, and that's hard to overlook, too. But can you honor Carter and Hernandez and not Strawberry? I tend to be inclusive with such things.
Decision: On the wall!
No. 21: Warren Spahn
Spahnnie is the best lefty ever. But he was horrible with the Mets, and didn't even last the season. His number has been retired by the Braves, and rightfully so.
No. 24: Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson
My gut says that when the greatest all-around player in baseball history wears your uniform, you should retire it. The Mets have, kind of. The only time it's been worn since Mays hung it up after the 1973 World Series was a brief stint by scrubby Kelvin Torve -- a mistake by someone -- and Rickey Henderson, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He's Willie Bleeping Mays! His baseball farewell -- "I say to myself, 'Willie, say goodbye to America'" still gives me goosebumps! Greg Prince of the fantastic Faith and Fear in Flushing site did an eloquent job explaining why Mays' number should be retired not just on the Mets, but throughout the Mets' minor league system. and you can read it here.
Decision: On the wall!
No. 30: Nolan Ryan
Ryan's number has already been retired by the Angels and Rangers. He came up with the Mets and got his World Series ring in 1969, but hated living in New York. That's going to disqualify him right there. Plus I'm still bitter that Ryan made baseball's All-Century Team and Seaver didn't. I can't do anything about that, so I must get my revenge in petty ways. Like this.
No: 33: Eddie Murray
Another first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. I'm forever grateful that Eddie played for the Mets because I was able to go buy Mets jerseys and put my name on the back. Eddie didn't do poorly in his two years at Shea. But he didn't do enough to warrant retiring his number, either.
No 31: Mike Piazza...and John Franco?
I have to tinker with the number order here, because this is where things get tricky. Mikey's going in the Hall as a Met. It's a no-brainer that his number goes on the wall. Now, John Franco, a team captain who was basically Mr. Met in the 1990s and beyond, wore 31 and gave it up for Piazza when he arrived. Franco's departure this year was ugly, but his subsequent release by the Astros shows Omar knew what he was doing. Franco's a New Yorker through and through, and we can assume whatever hurt feelings exist will ease over time. Do you retire No. 31 for both Piazza and Franco, or
No:45: John Franco, Tug McGraw and Pedro Martinez
Do you throw No. 45 up there to salute McGraw, too, and make it kind of a tribute to relievers? The only complication is that Pedro's wearing the number, hopefully for at least four years, and he's a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, too. You can't retire it while Pedro's still got it on his back. These are the problems you run into when you wait too long to do the right thing.
Decision: Throw 31 on the wall for both Piazza and Franco!
There you go! I realize I just took up about half the outfield wall with numbers, but it's still fewer than the Skanks -- and every one more worthy than Phil Rizzuto!
In other words...
Those darn Braves will likely retire Bobby Cox's number after they read Will's column that shows Cox ranks up there with baseball's very best of all time. Read it here.