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Mets judicious about retiring player numbers

The Family of former New York Mets catcher

The Family of former New York Mets catcher and Hall of Famer Gary Carter, including his wife Sandy, son D.J. and daughters Kimmy and Christy, unveil a sign an the outfield wall which reads "Kid 8". (April 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Gary Carter's No. 8 is displayed in a memorial logo on the outfield wall at Citi Field, so near but likely so far away from joining the only four numbers to be retired in the 51-year history of the Mets.

It might be easier to get into Cooperstown -- as Carter did in 2003 -- than to gain Mets immortality by joining Casey Stengel (37), Gil Hodges (14), Tom Seaver (41) and Jackie Robinson (42). (Robinson's number is retired in every big league ballpark.)

The Mets' seven-member Hall of Fame committee appears to be on the fence about retiring additional numbers. "I think the general point of view is we don't want to get to the point where it's somewhat gratuitous and you've got dozens and dozens of people whose numbers are retired,'' said Dave Howard, the Mets' executive vice president of business operations. "Historically, from a Mets perspective, this is a very high honor. Certainly from a player standpoint, it's only been Tom Seaver. He's in a class by himself.''

Broadcaster Howie Rose, a media representative on the committee, said, "I think we're all of a mind that if we're going to do it, do it very meticulously, properly. You don't want a situation where you wind up saying if we did this one, you have to do the next one. Right now, we'd rather be very judicious, as opposed to, OK, it's time to retire another number. I'm far more comfortable being a minimalist than I am being gratuitous.''

That seems reasonable to Keith Hernandez, perhaps the most prominent member of the Mets' 1986 World Series team. "Too many teams are retiring too many numbers,'' Hernandez said Saturday during an appearance at Coin Galleries of Oyster Bay in East Setauket. "They lose their import. So I'm in the camp that it should be something that is special, it shouldn't be marginalized. Who wouldn't want to have their number retired? But it's not something that I think about.''

The Yankees have retired 15 numbers for 16 players, most in the majors.

The Mets' committee has many eras to consider. "It's not just the '80s team, there's a backlog,'' Rose said. "You could even go as far back as to, say, Jerry Koosman, and I'm just using him as an example of a player from a far earlier era.''

Darryl Strawberry, a big part of the success in the 1980s, disagrees with the conservative approach, saying, "A Carter, Gooden, Mookie, myself, Hernandez. All the players who played in that day, at that time, were an impact not only on the field but also for what the city was all about. When you look at retiring numbers, I think it's important. You are never going to be able to replace that player.''

Howard said Carter's outfield logo will remain in place for at least this season. His number, which has been worn by six others since his last season with the Mets in 1989, is not likely to be issued to anyone for years to come, if at all.

Dwight Gooden (16), Hernandez (17) and Strawberry (18) have had many others wear their numbers. In 1997, Luis Lopez was assigned Hernandez' number.

"He comes out on deck wearing No. 17,'' Rose said. "It just looked so odd to me. I said, 'Boy, wouldn't it be nice if no Met ever wore that number again, because Keith Hernandez' contributions to this organization were so great.''

Hernandez said he doesn't mind. "It only bothered me once,'' the former first baseman said, "when they gave it to a pitcher.''

That actually occurred eight times.

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