Forever 14

In honor of the off-day yesterday, I wanted to pay homage to a guy who usually doesn’t get enough recognition in today’s Mets world, though plenty recognition in Mets history. And that guy is Gilbert Raymond Hodges, aka Gil Hodges.

If you are familiar with the book Mets by the Numbers, I asked Jon Springer (one of the authors) a simple question — besides Gil Hodges, did anyone else ever wear the number 14?

Of course, Gil Hodges was part of the original Casey Stengel’s “Amazin’ Mets,” a bridge to New York National League’s baseball history by being a part of Brooklyn Dodger history (and went to LA for a time), prior to returning to NY in ’62. Being #14 for the Dodgers in both Brooklyn and L.A., he immediately was issued #14 in his return to NY NL baseball. According to MBTN, he was the original #14, until his retirement from playing after the 1963 season.

We all know #14 is retired by the Mets in honor of Hodges. However, it was retired with Hodges’ success as a Mets manager, not due to his playing (Tom Seaver holds the honor of being the only Mets player with a retired number).

With Springer’s due diligence, we are able to see that in addition to Hodges as a player, Ron Swoboda wore the number in 1965 (and was #4 throughout the remainder of his Mets career), and Ken Boyer wore the number from 1966 to 1967.  Hodges joined the Mets as team manager in 1968 and no one besides him has worn #14 since then.  The number was retired in 1973, one tear after Hodges’ death.

The numbers 14 and 37 have been retired for the Mets since I’ve been old enough to understand baseball and since I’ve been a fan.  Seaver’s #41 was retired in 1988 (I attended that ceremony at Shea too!).  Numbers are one of those arbitrary things that we agree or not with vehemently as fans.  Some fans may think honoring a player by retiring his number is a classy act, or that it borders on being overrated.  I’m of the ilk that it’s a classy move.  I think the Mets need to get on the boat with this and acknowledge there is more to Mets history than Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel and Tom Seaver (though they’d have to redesign the whole stadium to acknowledge anyone else!).

In Gil Hodges’ case, retiring #14 was not only a classy move, but he is truly the embodiment of Mets history. He was one of the original Amazins, and led a young Mets team to believe in themselves and reach for the stars as manager of the storied 1969 Miracle Mets. Truly, there are few like him today, and few like him before. Gil was a hero in Brooklyn Dodgers lore and in New York Mets lore, truly gone before his time.