The Mets Retiring No. 24 Proves The Wilpon Era Is Finally Over

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Much like the rest of you, I was floored on Saturday when the Mets held their Old Timer’s Day. Not only did the Mets do it perfect and it was a lot of fun, the organization surprised everyone when they retired No. 24 for Willie Mays, fulfilling a promise owner Joan Payson gave to the Say Hey Kid almost 50 years ago.

And this was a promise the Mets were never good at upholding over the years. In 1990, they mistakenly gave it to Kelvin Torve, who wore it for a week before switching to No. 39 and then they gave it to Rickey Henderson in 1999, as a player, and 2007, as a coach, but it was believed that Henderson asked and received permission from Mays to wear the number.

However, it shocked everyone when Jeff Wilpon gave the number to Robinson Cano at the end of 2018. I remember asking Wilpon at Cano’s introductory press conference about it and after reminding me that Henderson wore that number, he simply said, “He asked for it and I gave it to him.”

Talk about tone deaf.

Nothing against Cano personally because he wanted to wear the number to honor Jackie Robinson, who he is named after, but he didn’t wear it for most of his career. He first wore Nos. 14 and 22 with the Yankees before getting 24 during his third season. Then when he went to Seattle, No. 24 was out of circulation – and eventually retired – for Ken Griffey, Jr., so he switched to No 22.

Wilpon simply should have told Cano it was out of circulation for Willie Mays and he would have taken No. 22, which was Dominic Smith’s number at the time, however Smith gave it up a year later for Rick Porcello of all people, so he would have given it to Cano.

That was Wilpon for you. Not thinking about the past, but rather just in the day at hand or as Ray Knight said on Saturday, “I love the New York Mets. I don’t like the Wilpons.”

And you can clearly see why the page is turned now. Instead of giving out uncirculated numbers to ex-Yankees, the Steve Cohen Mets are fulfilling the promises of the past, finally giving No. 24 it’s due high above left field. And as NY Post’s columnist Mike Vaccaro so eloquently put it (and much better than me):

“But 24, in truth, isn’t being taken out of circulation for Mays’ 491 plate appearances with the Mets. It will hang forever next to 14, 17, 31, 36, 37, 41 and 42 because of what he meant to baseball New York, especially when he was young and he’d play stickball with the neighborhood kids in Harlem in his civvies after grinding nine innings in his uniform. It’s why Joan Whitney Payson fell in baseball love with him. And she wasn’t alone.” 

 Retired numbers are not just a way to honor your greats, it’s also a way to teach young fans about the team’s history, Now when a father brings his child to Citi Field, he not only has the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but now a piece of the New York Giants front and center to help teach the rich history of National League baseball in New York.

And it’s also a reminder that an organization can do the right thing, even if it’s 50 years in the making.

About the Author

Joe McDonald

Joe McDonald is the founder and former publisher of NY Sports Day. After selling to i15Media in 2020, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief and responsible for the editorial side of the publication. In the past, Joe was the managing editor of NY Sportscene magazine and assistant editor of Mets Inside Pitch. He has covered the Mets since 2004.

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