Willie Mays was a great player.
In fact, many will argue that he was the best all-around player in Major League Baseball history. Check out his stats and all the highlights in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Mays was far from great when he wore a New York Mets uniform the final two seasons of his career.
Sadly, it was memorable in the worst way. Picture Mays, one of the greatest centerfielders ever, misjudging fly balls in the outfield. Envision Mays, also fast on his feet, stumping and bumbling around third base trying to score.
If you’re old enough, that’s the stuff you remember about Mays’ days at Shea Stadium.
That’s why the Mets’ surprise announcement to retire his number 24 as part of Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field on Saturday was embarrassing and unnecessary.
Mays was a Giant. First in New York and then in San Francisco. He wasn’t a Met — even if he played in Queens in 1972 and 1973. Nobody remembers Joe Namath as a Los Angeles Ram.
Sure, for some Mays fans, it was a great and touching moment. Still, there are other former Mets deserving of having such an honor.
We should start and stop with Darryl Strawberry.
His impact on this do-nothing franchise when he arrived can’t be minimized. He was billed as a star when he broke into the bigs in 1983 and was that for the Mets until 1990. Back then, the Mets dominated the back pages of the tabloids over New York Yankees’ coverage.
He was the National League Rookie of the Year. He made eight straight All-Star teams (seven for Mets 1984-1990). He won Silver Slugger Award twice. He led the NL in homers in 1988.
Best of all, he helped the Mets win their second — and last — World Series in 1986. Nobody who is a Mets fan will ever forget that homer off Bob Nipper late in Game 7 to seal the deal.
Strawberry is the Mets’ all-time HR leader with 252. He’s second in RBI. And Straw is ninth all-time in hits. Yes, No. 18 was a Mets’ favorite.
And even while Straw went through Hell in his personal life in the past, he has cleaned up his life and become a good member of society through his ministries.
The time has come to recognize Straw for the thrills he provided. In the case of Mays, it is another example of the Mets doing too much.
The Yankees, arguably the most-storied team in sports history, would be the most logical place to salute the greats of New York Baseball.
But they have no Jackie Robinson statue, no shrine of Mays.
It’s not out of disrespect. It’s out of logic.
The Yankees celebrate their own history, tradition, and players. The Baseball Hall of Fame is in place to celebrate all the greats. Teams should be left to celebrate their players, so when new fans — the kids — come to the ballpark they can learn and eventually appreciate the players that came before the current stars they root for.
Some love new Mets owner Steve Cohen, the billionaire who grew up a Mets fan, and has embraced the team’s past. But quite honestly, he has botched everything he’s touched so far in recognizing what and who is important in Mets’ lore.
Tom Seaver Day was mishandled and downgraded. Somehow, the Mets had Seaver’s statue unveiling and tribute on April 15 — Jackie Robinson Day.
So on the day all of baseball was celebrating Robinson’s legacy of breaking the color barrier in 1947 when he took the field for Brooklyn Dodgers, Seaver’s story played second fiddle.
It should have been the talk of baseball. After all, the Hall of Fame pitcher was the greatest player to wear a Mets’ uniform. He shouldn’t have shared a stage with anyone else on his day. Recently, the Mets retired Keith Hernandez’s number 17. Again, he was a St. Louis Cardinal who came to NYC and helped the Mets win a World Series. It just seemed like a stretch and flew under the radar, too.
Then Saturday’s Mays’ celebration. The city of San Francisco already had that party. There’s big statue out front of the ballpark honoring the “Say Hey Kid.”
It’s appropriate and fitting.
This keeping a promise of Joan Payson, the first Mets’ owner, to Mays just felt like a stretch 40 years later.
Mays was great, but never a Mets great. Strawberry was, however.