Earlier this season we all heard the gut-wrenching news that our beloved Gary Carter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As the tears dried and the reality began to settle in, a discussion ensued. The Mets need to retire #8 for Gary. Others countered that if #8 is retired, then #17 for Keith must be retired as well. The debate raged on about who had more of an impact on the Mets: Keith or Gary?
Safe to say without either one of them there is no Championship in 1986.
However, I feel that there is a Met who needs to have his number retired before both of these players. Someone who, like Keith and Gary, can be referred to by a single name: Tug.
I am not at all diminishing what Gary and Keith meant to this club and this organization. The acquisition of Keith turned us from losers into contenders. And then Gary put us over the top. Hell, if I could, I’d retire the number of almost the entire 86 roster.
Noted sports columnist Tom Verducci was once asked how does he decide who to vote in to the Hall of Fame. Verducci replied he considers if the game was better off after the individual in question retired. He looks not just at stats but what the player meant to Baseball.
Using this logic #45 should be retired. Tug was the heart and soul of this franchise. He taught us to “believe,” that miracles do happen in Flushing. And to never ever give up on the Mets. He displayed leadership both on and off the field. He was charismatic, funny, clever, clutch. And so damn good.
Keith wore a Mets jersey for 6 ½ seasons. Gary for just 5. Tug wore his for 9 years. Over that time he tossed 792 IP, more then any other RPer in team history. He has appeared in the 3rd most games of any pitcher on our staff (361.) Over that time he compiled a solid 3.17 ERA . During a 5 year span he surpassed 100 IP 4 times–and was only on the DL once–for 3 weeks back in 74.
In 1965, he made a start, going up against Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 18-0 against the Mets but Tug out pitched Koufax and became the 1st Mets pitcher to earn a win against the Dodger legend.
Whereas Seaver was the heart of this team, Tug was our soul.
In 73, as the Mets floundered at the bottom of the NLE in late August, Tug’s war cry of ’Ya Gotta Believe’ began to take form. Ironically, McGraw should have been the LAST person to talk about believing. He was having the worst year of his career. His ERA was over 5.00. But Tug held fast to his belief. Soon, his teammates started to believe. Then, fans started to believe. And shortly thereafter, the rest of the NL started to believe.
In the last month of the 73 season, Tug went 3-0 with an 0.57 ERA. The Mets as a whole went 20-8 and walked away with a pennant.
Tug tossed a total of 8 IP in the 69 and 73 LCS. He never allowed a run.
He threw in 5 games during the 73 World Series where he went 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA. He also represented the Mets in the 72 All-Star Game where he fanned 4 of the 6 batters he faced and came away with a win.
It’s about more then the stats. Over 900 players have worn a Mets jersey and we’ve only deemed one worthy of having his # retired. 41 was retired not only due to Seaver’s accomplishments but what he meant to this club. He embodied the Mets for over a decade–Just like Tug.
Case in point: In the day when the Mets were dominated by one of the most feared starting staffs in baseball, we had one constant legitimate hitter during this time. But yet I don’t ever recall any discussion about retiring # 21. For 12 years, twice as long as Keith was a Met, Cleon Jones was our first offensive hero. His 340 BA in 1969 stood as the highest single season batting average for almost 30 years-And still remains 2nd highest in team history. It’s been over 35 years since Cleon played for the Mets. But in spite of that, he remains in the Top 10 of all hitting categories including RS, RBI’s, 2B and hits.
He was a fan favorite. But he didn’t leave the team with the legacy Tug did.
Tug displayed character, heart, He believed when no one else did.
For those of us lucky enough to see Tug pitch in his prime, it was a sight to behold. Seeing him warming up beyond the green RF wall in the 8th inning meant the Mets were just 3 outs away from victory. There was electricity in the air as he rode in from the bullpen, walked to the mound. We cheered as he aggressively pounded his glove on his right leg after recording an out.
The Mets used to pride themselves on honoring our past, our history. We need to get back to that again and secure the fact that no other player wears #45.