In apparently the world’s best kept secret, the Mets retired Willie Mays’s 24 during the return of Old-Timers’ Day at Citi Field on Saturday. No one was expecting it, and not many were even calling for it — except for your old pal here at Blogging Mets. But this isn’t about me (more on me in a moment).
The story goes that original Mets owner Joan Payson was first a part-owner of the New York Giants. She was the only owner amongst the group to vote “no” on the move to San Francisco. Her favorite player was Willie Mays. When she become the owner of the Mets, she tried to trade for Mays. The Giants, of course, were not going to let one of the greatest players ever, still in his prime, get away.
But 1972 came along and Mays was at the end of his brilliant career. Payson was able to bring Mays to Flushing for the cash in the Shea Stadium lost and found and promised no one would ever wear his 24 again. She died before she could make due on her vow.
Fast forward to 2022 and here we are. “A promise was made,” said noted promise-breaker Sandy Alderson. “It needs to be fulfilled.” He also said the team had been contemplating for “months if not a year or two.” So how long was it, Sandy? He is truly awful.
Anyway, the Mets may have just come up with this idea a month or two years ago, but I have been writing about it for years — as early as 2009 in the seventh post on this blog. I wrote:
…this is Willie Mays for crying out loud. Sure, his season and a half with the Mets were less than distinguished. But a legend wore your uniform, and you don’t deem it worthy of retirement?
I wondered if there was a similar precedent, where a great player returned to his original city to end his career. Of course, we have Hank Aaron. He went back to Milwaukee, winding up his playing days with two seasons of un-Aaron like numbers. But still, the Brewers retired his 44. While these two situations are indeed very similar, there is one glaring difference – Aaron played 12 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves before the team moved to Atlanta. Mays played just six seasons with the New York Giants before they moved West. But in those years, he won Rookie of the Year, an MVP award, and a World Series. Doesn’t Mays’s number deserve to hang somewhere in the Big Apple, just as Aaron’s hangs in Milwaukee?
So now Willie Mays’s 24 hangs in the city where he got his baseball start. It does seem fitting. And I’m not saying I deserve any credit, but I’m not not saying that, either!