Jose Reyes And the Need for More Numbers on the Wall

Jose Reyes has been the subject of countless stories speculating on his future in New York, as he plays out the final year of a contract extension signed back in 2006. It had been a magical season for the Mets shortstop before a hamstring tweak sent him to the disabled list earlier this week.

Reyes goes into the All-Star break with a .354/.398/.529 line and 30 stolen bases, having finally wrested the title of best shortstop in town away from that other guy who has worn pinstripes in the Bronx for 17 years.

Derek Jeter may be entering the twilight of his career, but it deserves mention that he stands on the brink of a very special accomplishment. It's a rainy Friday afternoon in New York City, but it's still only a matter of time before Jeter strokes an inside-out single to right field and becomes only the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 hits. Yankee fans will take a special pleasure in watching Jeter reach the 3,000-hit mark, since each and every one of those hits have been struck in a Yankee uniform.

Reyes, by comparison, has "just" 1,243 hits in his nine-year career. Less than a month past his 28th birthday, Reyes still has an outside chance of reaching 3,000 hits before he retires. He would need to average about 180 hits a year for the next decade to reach the rarefied air that Jeter is about to breathe in. Not an easy task, to be sure, but one that is hardly beyond Reyes's ability.

Mets fans, of course, have no idea what uniform Reyes will be wearing if he ever reaches 2,999 hits in his career.

I went to the Subway Series game at Citi Field last Friday night and found myself sitting next to a Yankees fan who, in all other ways, was a pleasant and agreeable person. We shared casual conversation throughout the game and at one point he asked me to identify the three retired numbers on display on the left-field wall.

I was embarrassed to have to explain that the 14 was for Gil Hodges, a man who spent virtually all of his playing career in another organization and managed the Mets for only four seasons. I was even more embarrassed to point out that the 37 was for Casey Stengel, who managed the Mets for only 3 1/2 years and only after managing the Yankees to seven World Series titles.

Yes, there was also Tom Terrific's 41 on the wall keeping the managers' numbers company, but even Seaver's immortalization comes with strings attached. A good deal of his legacy was cemented in the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds, who benefited from M. Donald Grant's bull-headed parsimony and the poison pen of a little man who never learned that journalists aren't supposed to be the story.

It's not hard to figure out why the Mets have seen fit to retire only one player's number since joining the league in 1962. Only four position players have ever had as many as 1,200 games in a Mets uniform - the equivalent of about 7 1/2 full seasons. Only Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Dwight Gooden have made more than 300 starts as Mets - about eight seasons of a regular turn in the starting rotation.

There is simply no legacy of great players spending their entire career - or even the majority of the career - with the Mets.

The Mets have fielded teams in the National League for 50 years now. They have given their fans two World Series titles, two more National League championships, and 46 seasons of heartbreak and hilarity. They have not given their fans the type of iconic players who bring joy and pride to the fan base not only throughout their playing career, but also after they retire.

Jose Reyes has the chance to change that, to become the first truly iconic position player in Mets history. Every other name that springs to your mind in comparison spent large portions of his career in another uniform - and almost inevitably celebrated the greatest moments of their career in another uniform.

Reyes is a player who, if he spends the rest of his career with the Mets, can one day have his number placed on the left field wall without it looking out of place, like Hodges's and Stengel's numbers do. Forget about whether he deserves "Carl Crawford money" or if he is too risky to invest a seven-year contract in. Giving Reyes the contract he will surely command on the free agent market anyway buys the Mets more than just a shortstop.

It buys the fans the joy of watching one of their favorite players reach the heights of his career in their favorite team's uniform.

If you want to know what that joy looks like, tune into the Yankees-Rays series this weekend and watch Jeter get his 3,000th hit at Yankee Stadium. Then sit back and ask yourself - will the Mets ever show enough of a commitment to even one player so that their fans can feel the same type of joy?


Rustyjr said...

Um jack - dont mean to be disrespectful but Hodges played for the Mets in '62 & part of '63

Jack Flynn said...

Good catch, and I'll go back and make the edit. But the larger point holds true - I don't think the 65 games and the .248 batting average Hodges had in a Mets uniform is why his number was retired.

rustyjr said...

Oh I understand and agree - just felt I had to point it out just in case someone tried to criticize you over it

TW said...

Jeter, Posada and Rivera are the only Yankees since Mattingly to play their entire career with the team. They are the most storied franchise in the game's history and even they can't hold onto everyone. In the after collusion era it is more rare to see a team hold onto to anyone for their entire career. Imagine the wall in Oakland in ten years if they paid their guys to stay.

Your point is correct, there is little to no real legacy, and yes Reyes must be signed as Beltran, Rodriguez and even Wright (in the offseason) be traded. But don't you think that when Mike Piazza gets into the hall, they will put 31 on the wall and call Johnny Franco to stand there with him?

I give the Mets a pass on guys like Gooden and Strawberry, because ultimately they embarrassed and even failed the franchise and its fans. But who knew Seaver would go to a pitvhers park and succeed? (just kidding).

Jack Flynn said...

TW: I think the Mets have very much missed the boat by not retiring 31 for Piazza and for Franco. Neither of them began or finished their career as Mets, but they are about the most deserving players in franchise history not to have been so honored.

The Gooden/Strawberry question is tough to answer. Personally, I wince every time I see a Met wearing #16 - it should've been taken out of rotation once Gooden left and not given to another player at least until after he retired. Strawberry always had such a love/hate relationship with the fans that it's a little harder to promote him for number retirement.

Mack's Mets © 2012