In several situations numbers are not retired until the player in question has taken his rightful place in Cooperstown, for example, with the exception of long time player and coach Jim Gilliam and retiring #24 for Walter Alston upon the longtime skipper’s retirement, the Dodgers have such a strict policy since the day Sandy Koufax was put into Cooperstown. And so his number, along with Jackie Robinson’s and Roy Campanella’s were retired on June 7th, 1972. And so on with Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Don Drysdale, Tom Lasorda and Don Sutton.
Then again, some teams tend to honor their soon to be Hall of Famers, sometimes as soon as they retire. For example, the Cardinals are a bit of a hybrid of this and the Dodgers’ policy, retiring Stan Musial’s #6, Bob Gibson’s #45 and Ozzie Smith’s #1 after all three had played their final games with the Cardinals. While Whitey Herzog’s #24 and Bruce Sutter’s #42 had to wait until those two Cardinal greats were announced as Hall of Famers.
Doing it ahead of eventual enshrinement though can be seen as a bit of political football being played out. Case in point with the Cubs retiring Ron Santo’s #10 or the Yankees retiring Phil Rizzuto’s #10. Were they worthy of being retired by those teams? Santo’s yes, while Scooter on the other hand, well even that is up to debate among Yankee enthusiasts. Point being is that a case can be made that both were done in almost defiance of years of both players being right at the gate of Cooperstown, but never quite getting in. Both put in their 15 years of being on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, and later on for many years in the old Veterans Committee. They would eventually get in, Rizzuto via the Veterans Committee in 1994; about 9 years after the Yankees retired his number and put a plaque for him in Monument Park. Ron Santo’s number was hoisted above Wrigley Field in 2003, but was finally put into Cooperstown in 2012.
So what exactly does this mean for the Mets? Well, despite honoring Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges upon their final moments as Met managers (Casey’s retirement and Gil’s tragic death) and officially putting #41 in mothballs a year after Tom Seaver officially called it a career, it did seem apparent that the reason Mike Piazza has not been honored in some fashion by the franchise, was that they were waiting for the day Piazza was elected into Cooperstown. That has not happened yet.
Most likely it will happen someday, but it is possible this was a worst case scenario for the Mets, as the ever image conscience Mets are probably worried as soon as they honor Piazza, or he gets inducted, that the other show will drop somehow when it comes to him and PED use.
So, then, let what happens a year from now, or whenever happen, now is the time to retire #31 and put Mike Piazza’s plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum at Citi Field. What could be the worst that can happen? Piazza’s name being on that infamous original list of players that failed the test? Piazza coming out in a second book detailing his sordid past with PEDs? Well, either way it would mean the Mets would have to take a stand one way or the other.
Of course, there is a reason Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were considered persona non grata for years, but at the same time, now is the time, as the Mets seem to be embracing their history a little bit more and more at Citi Field, to throw caution to the wind when it comes to honoring a suspected PED user!
Will it be considered a middle finger to the Hall? Some might see it as though, but it’s not like Piazza’s day will never come, the way it must have felt for Ron Santo fans or Phil Rizzuto fans. And while a case or two can actually be made not to retire #31 (logjam of numbers that should be retired first, Met career just wasn’t THAT worthy enough of number retirement (yeah I know, not to many baseball players are Tom Seaver), etc.) but at the very least, the time has come to put Mike Piazza in the Mets’ Hall of Fame.