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Mets Retire Willie Mays’ Number at Old-Timers Day


When Jay Hook threw out a ceremonial first pitch to Mike Piazza on Saturday night, it showed off the Mets’ newfound ability to rejoice everything of the franchise’s 60-year history in a single big event.

The pitch, which got here ahead of the team’s 3-0 win over the Colorado Rockies, was thrown by the primary pitcher to win a game in Mets history to a catcher who’s wearing a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. It put a tidy bow on the club’s first Old-Timers’ Day since 1994.

The day welcomed Mets greats from every generation to Citi Field and featured a three-inning exhibition with franchise icons like Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Pedro Martinez and Ed Kranepool. The packed crowd at Citi Field got an additional treat once they witnessed the surprise retirement of Willie Mays’s No. 24 jersey.

The day served to highlight just how much history the Mets need to cherish — and the way rarely they did so before Steven Cohen took over because the team’s owner.

“I’m completely satisfied for the organization. I’m completely satisfied for Steve and his wife, Alex,” Strawberry said. “I’m completely satisfied with what they’re doing here, really bringing a special atmosphere into Queens. I believe it’s necessary while you play in Latest York City, your team be marketed the fitting way. I believe they’re doing that by having an event like this.”

Plenty of Mets alums shared Strawberry’s sentiments on Saturday. Bobby Valentine, the team’s manager from 1996 to 2002, called the day “overdue,” while Ron Swoboda, an outfielder from the 1969 Miracle Mets, called it “a missing piece.”

“In case your team doesn’t have a connection to its legacy, what are ya?” Swoboda asked. “This latest ownership, with Steve Cohen, has embraced this again, and I’m tickled to death because I’m a fan of all these guys.”

While most ex-Mets avoided direct implications, the subtext behind much of the discussion of Old-Timers’ Day was a comparison to how things were handled under the Wilpon family, the team’s previous majority owners, who rarely honored the team’s former players.

“It’s great to see because he’s done what the fans want,” Gooden said of Cohen. “He gets it, and that’s what it’s all about. You’re feeling such as you’re a component of something.”

Gooden said he didn’t need to take shots at anybody. But “now, ownership is more invested in every part.”

Not everyone was so polite. Ray Knight, the third baseman who scored the winning run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, was blunt in his assessment. “I really like the Latest York Mets,” he said. “I don’t just like the Wilpons.”

Knight, who was named most useful player of that World Series, recalled his departure from the Mets and the way it left a bitter taste in his mouth. He remembered being called into General Manager Frank Cashen’s office before that yr’s championship parade. Cashen offered him only a $5,000 raise, which Knight didn’t think reflected his postseason heroics or his strong regular season.

Knight wound up in Baltimore with a $600,000 deal in 1987 and finished his profession in Detroit in 1988.

On Saturday, Knight admitted that the best way his Mets profession ended still hurts him. But he also sees a completely latest operation in Flushing, and he eagerly accepted his Old-Timers’ Day invite.

“This organization is completely different than it was once I was here,” Knight said. “There’s latest kids on the town, little question about it. It starts at the highest. It at all times starts at the highest.”

While many of the old-timers talked a couple of newfound appreciation for the past, Hook got here to the Wilpons’ defense after talking to Fred Wilpon, the family’s patriarch, before the event.

“They cared about that form of thing, too,” Hook said when asked if Cohen’s Mets pay more attention to the past than the previous ownership. “It’s just, who makes the suggestion that you will have something like this, ? I believe Cohen did because he had people complaining or something.”

Hook, 85, attended Citi Field for the primary time on Saturday.

There is no such thing as a query that Cohen has gone all in on nostalgia — along with spending — since completing his purchase of the team. The Mets have recently held days hailing Hernandez and Gil Hodges and honored Jay Horowitz, the team’s longtime public relations director. The team also held an elaborate ceremony to unveil Tom Seaver’s statue at Citi Field in April, though that statue was commissioned under the Wilpons.

Cohen has even engaged in smaller acts of fan service, like bringing back the black jerseys the team had introduced in 1998.

“They’re reaching to their fans and saying we now have a whole lot of history here,” Strawberry said. “You will have to embrace that, and I believe that’s what they’re doing.”

Saturday was at all times going to perform that, however the Mets took an additional step once they retired Mays’s jersey number. The choice, which was not announced before the sport, got here with a tribute video and a message from the Hall of Famer, who couldn’t attend after undergoing a hip substitute a number of months ago. Mays’s son, Michael, filled in and said the move was a “very long time coming.”

A superstar outfielder for the Giants, each in Latest York and San Francisco, Mays only spent the 1972 and 1973 seasons with the Mets before retiring. But Joan Payson, a Mets co-founder, wanted Mays to complete his profession in Latest York City, and she or he promised the Mets would retire his number. She died in 1975, leaving her promise unfulfilled until now.

“There was a 50-year gap, if you happen to will, between a promise made and a promise kept,” said Sandy Alderson, the president of the Mets. “And we felt that on this occasion today, in light of all of the players that we had here, all of the generations, that this was the time to maintain that promise.”

Added Michael Mays: “Her guarantees to him were necessary, so for it to return to fruition like this, something undone is finished.”

Mets fans and, and the gathered old-timers, could say the identical in regards to the franchise leaning in on recognizing its past.

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