The Mets certainly proceed cautiously when retiring uniform numbers, but Mike Piazza’s No. 31 became a certainty when the former Met was elected to Cooperstown earlier this month.
The Mets announced Monday that Piazza, lauded by many as the best offensive catcher in baseball history, will have his number installed July 30 alongside Tom Seaver (41) Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14) above the leftfield wall in Citi Field.
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“We are truly thrilled to honor Mike by retiring his number during a weekend-long celebration recognizing his incredible career,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “His offensive prowess, ability to deliver in the clutch, and tireless work ethic helped him become one of the great catchers of all-time.”
Piazza will join Seaver as only the second player in franchise history to have his number retired and the second enshrined in Cooperstown. Hodges’ lack of induction has been debated for years. The Mets and every major-league team have retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
“It is such a tremendous honor to have my number retired alongside the great Tom Seaver,’’ Piazza said in a statement released by the Mets. “My time as a Met was truly special and I want to thank Fred [Wilpon], Saul [Katz], Jeff and the entire organization for this incredible gesture.”
Piazza later tweeted: “Struggling to find words! Thank you@Mets Fred & Jeff, The Loyalty and Love of #Mets fans cannot be equaled. INCREDIBLE honor! #Retire31”
While Jeff Wilpon makes the final decision, the Mets have a Hall of Fame committee that appears to have some input into retired numbers. The subject came up when Gary Carter, who played for the Mets for five seasons but went into the Hall of Fame as an Expo, died in 2012.
Mets committee member and SNY broadcaster Gary Cohen said in a phone interview, “The process is supposed to be opaque, so I guess I have to leave it that way.’’
But Cohen said Piazza certainly was deserving. “He had so many fabulous moments,’’ he said, “whether you’re talking about leading them to the postseason in ’99 where they hadn’t been in for 11 years. Being the central figure in getting them to the World Series in 2000. He was also such a lightning rod for attention. His battles with Roger Clemens became almost bigger than the game itself. He was the guy who you never took your eye off when he was at the plate. He was always right in the middle of everything good that happened to that team for over the years he was in a Mets uniform.’’
Piazza also galvanized Mets fans — and perhaps the city — with his iconic homer September 21, 2001, in the team’s first game back after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
It took Piazza four tries to gain election to Cooperstown — there were some rumors of performance-enhancing drugs — and perhaps the Mets committee was waiting for him to pass muster there first, though Cohen seemed to discount that.
“I don’t envy anybody who has a Hall of Fame vote these days,’’ Cohen said. “I think it’s very difficult to parse the guys who are accused to those who are rumored from those who have actually been proven to have cheated. Absent from those considerations, Mike was an absolute first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Piazza, who hit .296 with 220 home runs in parts of eight seasons with the Mets, was reported to have had a cooling of relations with the team in 2013 — the year he went into the Mets’ Hall of Fame — when his biography criticized Jeff Wilpon for allegedly asking Piazza to play in a sold-out exhibition game despite an injury.
Jeff Wilpon was at Piazza’s news conference in Manhattan the day after his election to Cooperstown was announced.
Said Cohen: “Mike’s impact on the franchise changed the perceptions of the Mets in the late 1990s and into the 2000s . . . I think he’s different than Tom Seaver. Seaver really helped establish the franchise but in many ways Mike revitalized the franchise. He’s the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game, he’s the greatest offensive player the Mets have ever had, so he’s certainly highly deserving of the honor.’’