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When Should Sports Franchises Retire A Jersey Number?

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Having a team retire a player’s jersey number is an honor every sports franchise thinks long and hard about before doing; even if it’s just to make sure they are doing it at the right time. For every team in every sport, the judgement of if or when to retire any player’s jersey number falls upon them. There are no preset standards from league to league, and fans are rarely asked for their opinion on the matter. So, my question is simple: when should franchises retire a jersey number?

The honor of having a jersey number retired by a franchise is an interesting topic among New York baseball fans. One team in town, the Yankees, has so many jerseys retired, the joke is they will need to start giving out triple digit Pinstripe tops soon. The other team in town, the Mets, has acted more like a little league team who needs to give out the same uniforms every year and can’t afford to take any number out of circulation.

The New York Mets retired Jerry Koosman’s jersey number 36 this past weekend over four decades after the lefty starter played for the franchise and a half century after he was part of the Miracle Mets who won the 1969 World Series championship.  The #36 is the fifth number in Mets history to be retired, but only the third wore by a player, with the other two belonging to managers.  Koosman joins Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza as the only players to have their number retired and becomes the first player not to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame to receive the honor from the team.

The Mets have long been criticized by older fans for using the threshold of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame as the standard for having their jersey number retired by the team.  Others have said that haphazard way the New York Yankees bestow the honor of retiring a player’s jersey number goes too far in the other direction, leaving baseball fans to wonder where the middle ground is.

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The ultimate question about a player’s importance to a team is if the emotional meaning or the statistical production will be used as the larger factor.  Clearly when a team like the Mets has Tom Seaver, who was called “The Franchise,” the emotions and the stats are in sync and there’s no debate what a team should do with his jersey number.  Many are expecting and almost demanding that recently retired third baseman David Wright will have his #5 jersey forever removed by circulation by the Mets after his career was cut short by injury.

Where the Mets have complex decisions are with players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight “Doc” Gooden.  Both players had very successful runs with the franchise, each winning the 1986 World Series with the Mets, with each also facing demons with the team and during their careers.  Strawberry left the team in free agency before dealing with alcohol problems that he has recently overcome, while Gooden was addicted to drugs while it was still with the team and has had continuing substance abuse issues in his retirement.  Why this all matters to me is simple: Are you going to disregard a player’s character when retiring their jersey number and only look at what they did on the field?  Or are we looking at the person who wore the jersey and not just the player?  Because if you are going to include character, then the New York Giants need to un-retire #56 for Lawrence Taylor since his issues are on par with what Strawberry and Gooden did in their careers. 

For my money, whenever giving an honor that will outlive a person, the standards should be higher than, how many home runs or sacks they had as an athlete.  At the end of the day, however, every franchise deserves the right to make their own decisions about every player who takes the field for them.  I just hope that the New York Mets and every other sports franchise understand what the honor of retiring a jersey number means and how embarrassing it would be to revoke that honor if called upon by the same fans clamoring to have that number retired in the first place.

 


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TooAthletic Takes is the News division of TooAthletic. Launched in 2019, TooAthletic Takes is a source for all your sports takes. TooAthletic Takes will make you laugh, cry, get mad, and even call us “idiots.” We strive to give our readers another viewpoint on any sports situation, and we look forward to disagreements with the hopes that it leads to healthy discussions and debates.

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