(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)
The New York Mets have no official Retired Number Bandits, but their list of unofficial retired numbers is lengthy and littered with them.[table “” not found /]
Tom Seaver, 41
Seaver’s 41 is the only player number retired by the Mets. He spent 12 of his 20 seasons with the Mets, going 198-124 with a 2.57 ERA and 2,541 strikeouts in 3,045.2 innings pitched. While there are 16 Hall of Famers who either managed or played for the Mets, Seaver and newcomer Piazza are the only two who were elected as Mets.
Seaver’s number was taken out of circulation immediately after his departure from the team (twice, actually), and it was officially retired in 1988.
Gil Hodges, 14
Hodges was the 14th pick in the 1961 expansion draft, leaving the Dodgers to become one of the original Mets. He played just 65 games with the Mets before being traded in early 1963 to the Washington Senators, another recent expansion team who wanted Hodges not to play first base but to manage the team. Hodges managed the Senators through 1967, then was traded back to the Mets to become their manager.
Hodges managed the Mets for four seasons, including taking the Miracle Mets to the World Series title in 1969. He died of a heart attack during spring training in 1972, two days before his 48th birthday.
Hodges reached 60.1 percent in the Hall of Fame voting in 1976, his eighth year on the ballot, which indicated that he would likely eventually be elected. But his numbers plateaued after that, and he fell off the ballot after 15 years with 63.4 percent.
The Mets retired Hodges’ number 14 in 1973 for his time as their manager, not for his 65 games as a player. Both Ron Swoboda and Ken Boyer wore the number after Hodges’ playing career ended, but no one has worn it since Hodges wore it as manager.
Casey Stengel, 37
Stengel had much more success with the New York Yankees, winning ten American League pennants and seven World Series titles in his 12 years at the helm. He was “involuntarily retired” after the 1960 season, famously saying later that he had been fired for turning 70 and that he would “never make that mistake again.” After a year off, the expansion Mets hired him to be the first manager in their history.
Stengel presided over some of the worst teams baseball has ever seen. In three and a half seasons as manager, his teams went 175-404, a .302 winning percentage that was less than half his .623 percentage with the Yankees.
Stengel fell and broke his hip in the summer of 1965, and he announced his retirement on August 30. The Mets retired his number three days later.
Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, who played for Stengel on the 1942 Boston Braves and the 1965 Mets, once commented, “I’m probably the only guy who worked for Stengel before and after he was a genius.”
Unofficial: Gary Carter, 8
Carter played five of his 19 Hall of Fame seasons with the Mets, finishing third in the NL MVP voting in 1986 when the Mets won the World Series. His time with the Montreal Expos was both longer and more prolific, and he wears an Expos hat on his Hall of Fame plaque.
While not officially retired, Carter’s number 8 has not been issued since his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Dave Gallagher, Carlos Baerga, Desi Relaford, and coach Matt Galante all wore 8 for the Mets after Carter.
Unofficial: Keith Hernandez, 17
Like Carter’s 8, Hernandez’s number 17 has been taken out of circulation, but not until 21 years after he left the team. Hernandez played for the Mets from 1983-1989, finishing one spot behind Carter in the 1986 MVP voting. He spent nine years on the Hall of Fame ballot, never getting more than 10.8 percent and finally dropping off in 2004 with 4.3 percent.
Hernandez’s number was worn regularly from his departure in 1989 until 2010, when it was unofficially retired. Players to wear 17 since Hernandez are David Cone, Jeff McKnight, Bret Saberhagen, Brent Mayne, Luis Lopez, Mike Bordick, Kevin Appier, Satoru Komiyama, Graeme Lloyd, Wilson Delgado, Dae-Sung Koo, Jose Lima, David Newhan, and Fernando Tatis.
Hernandez also had a few memorable spots on Seinfeld:
Unofficial: Willie Mays, 24
Mays played just 135 games for the Mets, batting .238/.352/.394 with the last 14 of his 660 career homers to finish up his Hall of Fame career back in New York where it had started. When he retired, then-owner Joan Whitney Payson promised Mays that his number 24 would not be issued again. That promise held until 1990, when it was temporarily (and mistakenly) issued to rookie Kelvin Torve. The number was then issued to Rickey Henderson when he joined the Mets before the 1999 season, and again later when Henderson coached for the Mets.
Unofficial: Mike Piazza and John Franco, both 31
The last two players to wear number 31 for the Mets were Franco (1990-98) and Piazza (1998-2005), both of whom have large places in Mets history. Now that Piazza has been elected to the Hall of Fame, the Mets will likely be forced to make a decision on the official fate of the number.
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