On Jan. 28, 2020, the Mets announced plans to induct three of their former greats into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Jon Matlack, Ron Darling and Edgardo Alfonzo were supposed to be honored in a pregame ceremony on May 17 at Citi Field to swell the Mets’ Hall of Fame roster to 30.
The announcement was made by Jeff Wilpon.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Mets are no longer owned by the Wilpons. The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the ceremony indefinitely.
The three men — all from different, storied eras in Mets history — waited. Maybe not by the phone, but still, they waited.
Eventually, the Mets under new owner Steve Cohen were able to reschedule the ceremony. So on Saturday, July 31, before a 7:10 p.m. game against the Reds, the Mets' Hall of Fame will add its first members since Mike Piazza was inducted in 2013.
Ceremonies will begin at 6:45.
"To me, I think it really is great that way — three from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s," said Darling, the middle man of the inductees as a member of the 1986 World Series championship club. Darling was 99-70 with a 3.50 ERA for the Mets from 1983-’91 and has spent 16 seasons as a Mets broadcaster on SNY.
"Jon Matlack was with the Texas Rangers in my first big-league spring training, so that was the first time I met him," said Darling, 60. "I certainly know about his amazing career — underrated career, unsupported by runs career — so I know everything about Jon Matlack, what he meant to this organization and what kind of pitcher he was with [Tom] Seaver and with [Jerry] Koosman.
"Edgardo, I know that he's probably up there with Keith [Hernandez] as one of the smartest players to ever wear the Mets uniform. And you know what he did for those championship-caliber teams in the late ‘90s, 2000s, will never be forgotten by fans. Just an amazing player. So very, very honored to be going in with those two gentlemen."
Matlack, 71, is the senior honoree. The lefthander was 82-81 with a 3.03 ERA for the Mets from 1971-’77. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1972 and a key member of the 1973 NL championship team. Matlack will join Seaver (1988 Mets' Hall of Fame inductee) and Koosman (1989) as starting pitcher inductees from that era.
"It's going to be extremely exciting — and terrifying," Matlack said. "I'd rather be standing on the mound facing the team in the other dugout. I don't think at age 71 I'd be able to get them out, but I feel a lot more comfortable in that role. If I happen to end up being in the spotlight, doing what I do, that's OK because I'm focused on doing what I do. If I’m in the spotlight because of what I've done, it's a humbling experience. It's a little unnerving."
Adding these players to the Mets' Hall of Fame was an initiative started under the Wilpons, the former owners who were often criticized for a lack of interest in the team’s history (among other things).
Matlack said he learned of his selection in a phone call from Fred Wilpon.
"I was driving down the road, actually," Matlack said. "I got a phone call and I answered it. Didn't recognize the number, and a female voice said, ‘Will you take a call from Fred Wilpon?’ And I drove off the road. I had to pull over and I said, ‘Yes, ma'am.’ He proceeded to tell me the good news. It was very exciting."
Alfonzo was with the Mets from 1995-2002 and hit .292 with 120 home runs and an .812 OPS. "Fonzie" is remembered fondly by Mets fans of a more recent vintage as a professional hitter who starred on the 2000 World Series team and went on to manage in the team’s minor-league system.
"When I heard the news, it was something that you’re not thinking about when you start playing baseball — being inducted in any organization’s Hall of Fame," said Alfonzo, 47. "But I played many, many years in New York. That was a great experience. That was a great honor. So happy to be there, to be part of an organization, be right next to the biggest Mets players."
The night before the Hall of Fame ceremony, the Mets are reintroducing the black jersey tops that Alfonzo and the players of his era wore, much to the delight of many fans.
That is an initiative started by Cohen, who grew up a Mets fan in Great Neck and is committed to enhancing the team’s celebration of its history.
Darling said he was personally congratulated on his induction by Cohen. Matlack and Alfonzo have yet to speak with the new owner.
Perhaps on July 31?
"Definitely, definitely. I would like to meet him," Alfonzo said. "Because he’s the new boss."
Said Matlack: "It would certainly be nice to meet him if it works out. I don't necessarily expect that to happen."
Former Mets pitcher, coach and executive Al Jackson also will be posthumously honored on that night with the Mets' Hall of Fame achievement award. Jackson, an original 1962 Met, passed away in 2019 at age 83.
The July 31 ceremony is not the only time the local baseball teams will honor their former players over the next year.
The Mets will retire Koosman’s No. 36 jersey on Aug. 28. That was rescheduled from 2020, too.
On Sept. 11, the Mets will host the Yankees on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Piazza and other members of the 2001 Mets are scheduled to be involved in ceremonies on what is sure to be an emotional night.
Next season, the Mets will unveil the long-awaited Seaver statue outside Citi Field before the team’s first home game. That, too, was delayed by the pandemic.
As for the Yankees, they will be sending a front office contingent to Cooperstown on Sept. 8 to attend the rescheduled Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Derek Jeter.
A Yankees spokesman said the team is planning to honor the induction of their former captain next season at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees did not hold Old Timer’s Day either this season or last, but the popular event is expected to return in 2022.
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