Monday, September 26, 2022

Mets to retire No. 24 jersey formerly worn by Hall of Famer Willie Mays

The New York Mets announced on Saturday that they have retired the No. 24 jersey once worn by Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays as part of their Old Timers’ Day ceremonies. The Mets tweeted out the following video to accompany the news:

Mays is best known, of course, for his time as a member of the Giants organization. He spent 21 of his 23 seasons in Major League Baseball with that organization. That includes several seasons with the club when they were located in New York, as well as more than a decade with them in San Francisco following their relocation after the 1957 season. As it so happened, Mays’ connection to those New York Giants later paved the way for him to finish his career as a member of the Mets.

The short version of the story goes something like this. The only member of the Giants board who voted against relocating to San Francisco was a woman and minority owner named Joan Payson. She would later become the Mets owner, at which point she arranged to acquire Mays — who’s said to be her favorite player — in 1972 in exchange for pitcher Charlie Williams and cash. 

Payson promised to take care of Mays, and the Mets signed him to a personal service contract that paid him well into retirement. As the New York Times reported in 1973:

The Mets were understood to have sweetened his decision. They already are paying Mm $165.000 a year as an active player and are pledged to pay $50,000 a year until he reaches 50, whether he plays or not. They reportedly will also cover the rent on his Riverdale apartment, a going‐away gift worth about $10,000 a year.

Legend has it that Payson also told Mays he would be the last player in Mets franchise history to wear No. 24. He wasn’t. (To be fair to Payson, she died just a couple years afterward.) The Mets did resist handing out the number for close to two decades following his retirement, however, before awarding it to Kelvin Torve in 1990. Later, they handed it out to Rickey Henderson and Robinson Canó.

Mays would appear in 135 games with the Mets over the course of the 1972-73 seasons. Though he was far removed from his statistical prime, he nevertheless batted .238/.352/.394, good for a 112 OPS+. He accumulated 14 home runs and 1.6 Wins Above Replacement during that span, pushing his career totals to 660 and 154.5.

Mays’ No. 24 is the sixth number to be retired in Mets franchise history, joining Gil Hodges’ 14, Mike Piazza’s 31, Jerry Koosman’s 36, Casey Stengel’s 37, Tom Seaver’s 41 and Jackie Robinson’s 42. Mays’ 24 is also retired by the Giants.

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