When Jason Bay runs out to play left field for the Mets on Opening Day in April, he will be doing so with a #44 on his back. It is the same number he wore during his season and a half in Boston. Here’s a brief history for you on his uniform number choices.
Before being traded to the Red Sox in 2008, Bay wore #38 during his tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He changed from #38 to #44 after being shipped off to Boston because Curt Schilling was already wearing #38 (even though he never pitched for the Red Sox in 2008). His reasoning for choosing #44? Because it was the number of his boyhood idol, Eric Davis.
Generally, #44 is associated with power hitters. Although Eric Davis was hurt most of the time, he still managed to hit 282 HR over the course of his career, It was a fair amount of homers, but not as many as three of the best power hitters of all-time, all proud wearers of a #44 jersey.
Willie McCovey hit 521 HR over a 22-year career, mostly with the San Francisco Giants. He won the NL Rookie of The Year Award in 1959 and when the Mets won the World Series in 1969, it was McCovey who won the NL MVP Award. The cove behind the right field fence at AT&T Park in San Francisco is named after McCovey to honor the all-time great Giant.
Reggie Jackson hit 563 HR over 21 seasons in the major leagues playing mostly for the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and California Angels. Although he wore #9 in Oakland, which has since been retired by the A’s, he changed his number to #44 (in honor of Hank Aaron; more on him later) when he became a Yankee because Graig Nettles was already wearing #9. Mr. October played for five World Series-winning teams (three with Oakland, two with New York) and won the AL MVP Award in 1973, the year the Mets lost the World Series to his Oakland team.
Lest we forget, the man who held the all-time home run record for over three decades, Hank Aaron, also wore #44. He finished his 23-year career with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers with 755 HR. He was an All-Star every year from 1955-1975 and won the NL MVP Award in 1957 when he helped the Milwaukee Braves win the World Series.
Jason Bay has hit 185 HR over his six full seasons in the major leagues, an average of slightly over 30 HR per year. He is already 31 years old, so he has practically no chance of reaching the three Hall-of-Famers mentioned above. However, he is still very much a significant power threat, as evidenced by his career-high 36 HR this past season as a member of the Boston Red Sox, which tied him with the Blue Jays’ Aaron Hill for third place in the American League home run race.
The #44 has been associated with power hitters for many generations. When Jason Bay dons the number for the Mets, he will be following the footsteps of legends like Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson and Hank Aaron. Those are big names to live up to, but Bay has proven that he can compete with the current big boppers in the major leagues. At the very least, he should do far better than previous Mets players who wore #44. After all, he’s no Ryan Thompson.