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Is it really time to retire Gary Carter’s number?

Jun 1, 2011, 9:07 AM EDT

Gary Carter Mets

Today the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro calls for Gary Carter’s number to be retired by the Mets.

I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about when it’s appropriate to retire someone’s number — there clearly aren’t, as every team approaches it differently — but I do find myself approaching this with more questions than answers.

  • Question: Why, in the 22 years since Carter has retired, haven’t the Mets retired his number?
  • Question: If there’s a reason for that — say, someone just decided that Carter wasn’t worthy of such an honor — how has it changed due to Carter’s diagnosis?
  • Question: If there wasn’t a reason for that and it was mere lazy oversight, is changing course on that now — in light of a possibly terminal cancer diagnosis — an awkward thing for Carter? Does it turn the affair into a premature wake? If I’m Gary Carter, do I ask “hey, why didn’t you do this before now?”

Of course I also can’t help but think that none of these little questions matter. Serious illness changes things. It makes it excusable for someone like the Mets brass to change their minds. It also makes it OK for Carter to rise above any resentment he may have had that the Mets hadn’t honored him before now (if, indeed, he has any, and I have no idea if he does).  Oh, and it’s worth noting that the first ever retired number was Lou Gehrig’s, done in 1940, prior to his death but clearly done in response to its imminence.

Yet I’m still a bit ambivalent about this. Part of me wants to say that it’s weird to rush to honor Carter now, and that it sends an unsettling signal of finality when everything in our being tells us that it’s time to fight and think positively no matter how long the odds.  Part of me wants to say that there’s no downside to a celebration of Carter, even if the timing is a bit awkward. And I can’t ignore the fact that my ambivalence has a lot more to do with my discomfort with the idea of death than anything having to do with Gary Carter and retired numbers.

Ultimately I suppose all of this depends on Carter and how he’d feel about it all if the Mets approached him.

What do you feel about it?

  1. proudlycanadian - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    Are you trying to tell us that The Expos did not retire his number?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:12 AM

      This is just about the Mets.

      • proudlycanadian - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:51 AM

        I do not care about the Mets. I still think that The Expos were screwed by MLB.

    • Paul Zummo - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:01 AM

      The Nationals have been very weird about dealing with their Expos past. Actually, they’ve more or less vanquished just about any references to the Expos franchise save for having a few guys in the ring of honor.

      • rebarratige - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:12 AM

        Not nearly as weird as the Orioles have been about their St. Louis years. But then, the Browns weren’t much to remember.

      • Utley's Hair - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:26 AM

        The Thunder were ordered by the NBA to give up the entire history of the Sonics, including the team colors. I don’t remember what the deal was with the Expos-Gnats situation, but it isn’t unheard of for that to happen in pro sports. I’m not saying it makes any sense, just that it has happened.

      • rebarratige - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM

        Washington only just recently returned to honoring retired Expos numbers (including Carter’s). A few wanna-be gadflies substitute “Ex-pos!” for “Nation-als!” during the seventh inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

        This contrasts sharply with the significant effort the Nats have put into honoring the native history of baseball in Washington – statues of Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, and Josh Gibson at the Centerfield Gate, lots of mentions of the Senators and the Homestead Grays, and such. It is rather sad to see the franchise’s history slighted, but I suppose it’s there prerogative. From a marketing perspective it isn’t particularly surprising: What Washingtonian wants to go to the ballpark to hear about a team that played in Montreal?

      • catsmeat - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:35 AM

        As I recall it, there was no such agreement for the Expos/Nats. The Nats have simply chosen to ignore the Expos.

      • Utley's Hair - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:41 AM

        Of course, now the Winnipeg Thrashers—or whatever they’ll be called—will have to deal with this stuff. Atlanta has now lost two NHL franchises in the space of what? 25 years?

      • rebarratige - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:45 AM

        Well, the Flames left in 1981, but yeah. And both of them ran off to mid-market cities in western Canada. Don’t ask Jeff Schultz about this or he will have an aneurysm.

      • rebarratige - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:48 AM

        1980*

      • natstowngreg - Jun 1, 2011 at 2:33 PM

        Carter and Andre Dawson are in the Nationals Park ring of honor. They had a pre-game ceremony last year for Dawson, in keeping with his Hall of Fame induction. Carter was there.

        Interestingly, because the Nats’ ring of honor is only for those inducted in the Hall of Fame, Frank Howard, subject of one of the statues in the Centerfield Plaza, is left out.

  2. steve keane - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    As Vaccaro said, Jeffy Skill Sets is a clueless a$$ hole (well, MIke didn’t say it like that but myself and every Mets fan thinks of Jeffey that way) the retirement of The Kid’s #8 shoul dhave come right after his HOF induction but the Wilpon’s being the Wilpon’s figured Carter played for the LA Dodgers and not the BROOKLYN Dodgers so his number doesn’t fit the Brooklyn Trolly Dodger motif of Citi Field

  3. yankeesfanlen - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    It is a tribute without foresight, a crude measure sprung from guilt. Sure, do it now but realize it shows front office small thinking, almost similar to opening CitiField in memory of the Brooklyn Dodgers instead of the Metropolitans.

    • The Rabbit - Jun 1, 2011 at 1:02 PM

      Hi Len,

      Never underestimate the power of guilt. It’s what keeps a society civil and empowers many organized religions.
      That said, Gary Carter’s unfortunate medical circumstances may give the Mets management the opportunity to focus on something other than its financial situation .
      The question: Should the Mets (or any other team) establish a policy that reads that any player elected to the Hall and plays for them for x number of years will have his number retired (in addition to any players/managers they choose that are not HOF members)? I put in “x years” because given free agency and management trade rules there will be fewer players spending entire careers with any one club.
      Yes, I think of Carter more of an Expo than a Met but he was a big contributor in the years when the Mets were winning and interesting to watch.
      I don’t know what Carter thinks about it, but when you watch ballpark tributes, you can see that the players are moved by the experience.
      If in fact the Mets decide to implement a policy, I would think it would be more meaningful if it were not done posthumously….and from a PR standpoint, if the Mets decide to retire Carter’s number, you know the management will take a boatload of chit if that’s how they decide to do it.

      Rabbit

      PS If you do have a beer with Gator and discuss Foote, ya gotta call me and give me details. I have an extensive non-fiction library that includes a large section on the Civil War.

  4. paperlions - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    He played for the Mets for only 5 years; this would be like the Cardinals retiring Scott Rolen’s number or Jim Edmonds (who played 8 seasons for them). So, no, I don’t think Carter’s time with the Mets rises to the level of number retiring, I don’t think it is even close.

  5. philsieg - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    He only played 5 seasons for the Mets as opposed to 12 for the Expos. He went into the Hall in an Expos cap and his HoF case arguably rests more on his Expose career than his Mets career.. The 1986 season aside, why exactly would the Mets have wanted to retire his number before now?

    Given all the bad publicity surrounding the Mets and the Wilpons right now, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder about their motivations should management go down this road now.

  6. Paul Zummo - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    I’m a Mets fan and one of my first great baseball memories was Carter homering off of Neil Allen on opening day in 1985, and then of course the celebrations at the end of the 1986 playoff series. But as others have said, Carter built his Hall-of-Fame career with another team and really only had a few good seasons with the Mets. Besides, there are frankly more deserving candidates based on their tenure with the team, starting with Keith Hernandez and possibly even Darryl Strawberry. I am not sure either of those guys deserve to have their numbers retired, but if they don’t Gary Carter certainly doesn’t.

    • missthemexpos - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      Very few players have played well enough for more than one team to get their number retired by both teams. I think of the Expos and Carter is rightfully at the top of the list, however the same is not true for when I think of the Mets. However, I do associate Carter and the 86 Mets, a great season, but as others have said not enough for a number retirement. Regardless, good luck in your current battle Gary.

    • sdelmonte - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      What about Mike Piazza? He’s probably the single best hitter the Mets ever had (though whether he gets in the Hall is doubtful due to those endless steroids rumors). And he played longer in Shea than Keith or Straw.

      I also think John Franco is worthy of mention.

      Strangely, neither of these players is even in the Mets Hall of Fame yet.

      • Paul Zummo - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:15 AM

        It’s been suggested that the Mets are waiting for Piazza to make the Hall-of-Fame before retiring the number. I have no idea if that’s true or just speculation, but I think his number ought to be retired. Franco’s a tougher case. Yeah, he was a long-tenured guy who had some great seasons, but was he really a great pitcher or just someone who pitched long enough to accumulate saves?

      • gammagammahey - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:29 AM

        Franco should probably be in the Mets Hall of Fame someday but I’d stop well short of retiring his number. I’m a “small retired numbers” kind of guy but I think Keith should have his retired someday. Hasn’t happened yet so probably never will but I’d like to see it. But maybe I just have a soft spot for the guy because I listen to him talk nearly every day.

        Piazza will get his soon enough, probably on the day they honor his HoF induction in Flushing.

  7. ngearhart1981 - Jun 1, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    HOF enshrinement and number retirement are mutually exclusive honors. Just as the Royals were 100% right to retire Frank White’s number even though he never sniffed the hall, Carter’s time with the Mets in no way warrants the honor even though those 5 years were a big part of his overall HOF case. Time spent with one team needs to be viewed in a vacuum when considering whether to retire a number. His Expos number is right to be retired, but not his Mets number. Otherwise, the Mets should next look into retiring Nolan Ryan’s number, as well.

    • heynerdlinger - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      You need to review the meaning of the term “mutually exclusive”. I think I understand your post (and agree with it), but it only makes sense if you mean that the HOF and number retirement are independent of each other, not mutually exclusive.

      Personally, numbers should be retired for icons of the franchise. Carter is a symbol of the ’86 Mets, but he’s not really an icon. He’s in the same category as Curt Schilling with the Red Sox.

  8. fryban - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Retiring a number is a way for a team to honor a player without having to answer to the MLB as a whole. The reason the team chooses to honor the player is their own business; he played for 20 years, worked in the community, saved a cat from a fire, doesn’t matter. Carter was a very valuable member of one of the Mets only two championships, which kind of makes him one of their most valuable players ever, even though he only played a few years there. Retiring his number would be a very appropriate way to honor Carter, the ’86 team and the Mets fans.

  9. sdelmonte - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    1. The Mets don’t go much for retiring numbers. So far, it’s Seaver and Casey Stengel. Of course, the number of players who put up great numbers as Mets is small, but you could argue that at least a few fan favorites – Piazza, Franco, Doc, Straw, Keith, and Carter – deserve a more visible honor than being in the Mets Hall of Fame – see here:

    http://mlb.mlb.com/nym/history/nym_history_halloffame.jsp

    2. We all love the Kid. We all know what he meant to bringing us a title. But his best days were in Montreal, and I don’t love the idea of retiring a player’s number more than once just because he’s in the Hall of Fame. (Will add that Casey Stengel didn’t do anything for the Mets that deserved his number being retired.)

    3. I honestly don’t know how you do this in a way that it doesn’t feel like a premature wake. (Am dealing with a relative who is terminal now, and it’s surreal enough on a personal level. How do you manage it at a communal level and not get too painful for all?)

    • catsmeat - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:19 AM

      Don’t forget Gil Hodges — #14 is retired as well.

      • sdelmonte - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:24 AM

        Right. I need to get to more games and see those numbers on the wall.

        He’s another strange case. His role in turning the Mets into winners is undisputed, but he was not that great a manager. I think his number was retired because he died suddenly and because he was a beloved native of Brooklyn. Sometimes, it’s about more than what you do on the field.

  10. catsmeat - Jun 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I don’t see it happening right now, although Gil Hodges was associated with the Mets for five or six years and got his number retired after his untimely passing, so perhaps it will happen eventually. If it does happen, I don’t want it to be a knee jerk reaction by the Wilpons to make some good press in a bad PR season for them. At the beginning of the season, I don’t know that many would have been clamoring for it based on Carter’s short tenure with the team. The Mets have done well by honoring Carter at the last few home games in either case.

    But, hey, whatever. I don’t particularly care either way.

    • gammagammahey - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:24 AM

      Hodges also passed away while still an active manager of the Mets, which is a little different than Carter’s case. Hodges also had a pretty big impact on the franchise as a whole. Any interview you hear with Tom Seaver, he’ll go on and on about how Hodges was the biggest factor in changing the culture around the Mets. On the topic of retired numbers, do the Dodgers only retire HoFers’ numbers? I don’t get why Hodges’s number was never retired with them.

  11. cur68 - Jun 1, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Montreal retired an entire team, Gary’s number along with it, so it’s been done and then some. The Mets aught to be openly rooting for Gary, not preparing to hold a wake. I know for a fact that a large number of Canadians out East are openly rooting for Mr. Carter, not holding a wake or anything that can be remotely construed as such.

    The Mets need to do the same; have a Gary Carter day. Give out bobble heads. Donate to cancer research. Make a public address on a game day encouraging others to pray for Gary and to donate to cancer research. Not act like he’s buried or something.

    I hope Carter comes out of this, forms an ownership group and buys out the Wilpons a la Ryan & the Rangers. Then they and Einhorn/Finkle can set about rebuilding that team. Carter knows more about winning, being a good honest person, and baseball that the Wilpons know about anything (especially investing; the don’t squat about investing).

    Gary’s gonna make it. He just has to.

    • bigdicktater - Jun 1, 2011 at 5:20 PM

      Amen to all of that.
      I would hope the Mets ask Gary Carter his feelings on the number matter (and anything else), not just unilaterally announce something. Do it the right way, don’t appear selfish.

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