On the same date the Miracle Mets clinched the franchise's first NL East division crown, 50 years earlier, the team announced Tuesday that Jerry Koosman’s No. 36 will be retired next season, joining his legendary ’69 rotation partner Tom Seaver high above Citi Field.
“He was honored to be the next guy,” said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, who called Koosman last week to deliver the news. “I think it bookends our celebration of the ’69 season pretty well.”
Koosman, the winningest lefthander (104 victories) in team history, becomes only the third Mets’ player to have his number retired, joining Seaver (41) and Mike Piazza (31) along with managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14). He ranks second on the Mets in starts (346), complete games (108), innings (2,544 2/3) and shutouts (26) as well as third in strikeouts (1,799) and sixth in ERA (3.09).
“I’m enormously proud of the time I played in the orange and blue uniform of the Mets,” Koosman said in a statement. “It was a privilege to play alongside some of the most wonderful and talented teammates for more than 11 years and to hone my craft under Gil Hodges.
“This honor isn’t only for me and my family, it’s for the legions of fans I grew to love. To know that my number will be retired and sit alongside other team legends is one of the greatest tributes I could ever be granted. I was always proud to be a Met. Today, I am even prouder.”
Of all Koosman’s accolades, he’s best known for his two victories in the ’69 World Series, capped by going the distance in the Game 5 clincher over the Orioles. Wilpon recalled his father, Fred, taking him down to the field that day at Shea, where fans were tearing up the grass as souvenirs.
The Mets’ Hall of Fame committee, a seven-person group, voted unanimously to retire Koosman’s number earlier this month, but Tuesday’s announcement came as a bit of a surprise. As reporters filed in to the conference room for the daily pregame meeting with Mickey Callaway, they found Wilpon waiting instead, with a replica of Koosman’s jersey.
Callaway had been wearing the No. 36 the past two years, so he surrendered it with only six days remaining in the season, taking No. 26 in its place. Despite the Mets’ traditionally strict policy of retiring numbers -- Piazza was the last in 2016, after Seaver in 1988 -- Wilpon suggested Tuesday that more could be on the way before too long.
“Yeah, I think we see the fans want it,” Wilpon said. “And I think now that we’re 50 years plus in the making, there’s time to do it, and some guys have cemented themselves. There’s a plan going forward for the Hall of Fame and number retirement that we’re going to spread them out. Not to overload anything, but I think we have a plan to catch up and do some neat things for the fans.”