Mets retire Willie Mays’ No. 24 during Old Timers Day upset originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
When Willie Mays joined the New York Mets in 1972, his arrival came with a promise.
Joan Payson, then owner of the Mets, told Mays that his number would be retired by the organization after his career ended.
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Payson passed away before she could fulfill her promise,” Mets broadcaster Howie Rose said Saturday at Citi Field during an Old Timers Day ceremony. “And all these years later, it remained unfulfilled. Until today.”
After the signings — with legends like Cleon Jones, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza returning to the paths in Flushing — the Mets made a surprise announcement by retiring Mays’ late-career No. 24 of the Hall of Fame in 1972 and 1973.
“The New York Mets are proud to announce that, in accordance with Mr. Payson’s wishes, and at the urging of his former Mets teammates, in recognition of his contributions to the Mets, as well as baseball in New York and the nation at large, the 24 of Willie Mays will take his place in the left field corner here at Citi Field along with the other greats in Mets history,” Rose said.
Mays, 91, arguably baseball’s greatest living player, was not present Saturday. He was represented by his son, Michael, who donned Mays’ No. 24 jersey and was joined by his father’s former Mets teammates, Jones, Ed Kranepool, John Matlack and Felix Milian.
Rose read a statement from Mace.
“I want to thank Steve and Alex Cohen for making this day possible and embracing Mets history. I can never forget how it felt to come back to New York to play for all the loyal Mets fans.” I am very proud to have finished my career in Queens with the Mets during the ’73 World Series. I am honored to have my number retired in my two favorite cities, New York and San Francisco. New York was a magical place to play baseball.”
Mays spent the first 21 seasons of his 23-year career with the Giants, first in New York and then in San Francisco after the team moved to the West Coast in 1958. He hit .301 with 660 home runs, sixth most in MLB record and 1,909 RBI.
Mays was dealt by the Giants to the Mets in May 1972 for Charlie Williams and $50,000, reuniting him with fans from the city where his big league career began at the Polo Grounds. Mays homered in his Mets debut, hitting a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth inning.
In two seasons with the Mets, Mays hit .238 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs, helping the Mets reach the 1973 World Series.
Mays becomes the sixth former Met to retire, joining managers Gil Hodges (No. 14) and Casey Stengel (No. 37) and players Tom Seaver (No. 41), Jerry Koosman (No. 36), Mike Piazza (No. .31) and Keith Hernandez, whose No. 17 was retired by the team in July.
“I know in his heart, this is a big deal for him,” Mace’s son Michael said after the ceremony.
Mays delivered some key postseason hits for the Mets, driving in a run in Game 5 of the NLCS and a go-ahead two-run single in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series. Days later, she would wear the iconic No. 24 for the last time in his career.
After Mays’ retirement, the number was worn by three Mets — Kelvin Torve, Ricky Henderson and, most recently, Robinson Cano. From today on, no Met will wear the No. 24 of Mays.
“Mets fans have always given me the biggest applause and loudest thank you,” Mays said in a statement. “Today, I return those thanks from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, Mets.”