The New York Mets’ 2023 season has caused pain and anguish among fans after dramatically failing to meet expectations. Yet owner Steve Cohen and the franchise continue to score other victories that have possibly brightened the future while also bringing attention to its history.
Most analysts agreed that the Mets significantly bolstered their farm system when they sold off their biggest pieces at the 2023 MLB trade deadline. The team also made another notable move to honor their past, announcing last week that the numbers of 1980s standouts Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry will be retired during the 2024 season.
“Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden each had an enormous impact on our franchise, and it’s my honor to continue our commitment to celebrating our wonderful history,” Cohen said.
Cohen, who is also the Mets Chairman and CEO, has continued to operate favorably in the eyes of many fans despite the team languishing in the standings in a startling manner that was completely unforeseen in the spring.
He was willing to take significant financial hits to stock the minor league system, and Cohen has progressively increased the recognition of the team’s history since he took over the direction of the franchise.
- Want to wager on baseball? Learn how to bet MLB odds.
In the earlier years of Citi Field, fans were unhappy with a perceived lack of recognition of the Mets’ bygone eras, as the ballpark’s exterior replicated Ebbets Field, as one example of a tribute to other past National League franchises.
While the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants are considered the true forefathers of the Mets, as indicated on the team’s uniforms and hats, team followers wanted more of Mets lore emblazoned around their park.
Cohen has made several strides to satisfy the team’s ardent followers, recently highlighted by bringing back Old Timer’s Day last season and retiring the numbers of 1969 World Champion starting pitcher Jerry Koosman and 80s team anchor Keith Hernandez, while also adding broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose into the team’s Hall of Fame along with former stars Howard Johnson and Al Leiter.
The Mets don’t have the deeply decorated lore of their neighbors in the Bronx, yet there’s no need to make such comparisons when the Queens residents have certainly had their share of great players on their own. The teams that won championships did so in memorable fashion.
Yes, there has been much frustration over the past 35-plus years, and many younger fans of the team have yet to experience championship glory. But Cohen and the franchise continue to pay fitting homage to the players and moments that have stirred the deepest emotions of the followers along the way.
When you attend Mets games at Citi Field, you will see people wearing jerseys of past team standouts, highlighting everyone from Gary Carter to David Wright. Ed Kranepool and Mookie Wilson are often seen at the ballpark to meet fans, and now, while they await the impact of the minor league haul of 2023, longtime loyalists and younger aficionados who want to learn more about yesteryear will revel in more of the positives.
Maintaining any feel-good environment is important for Cohen and other franchise decision-makers as the team attempts to look beyond the 2023 campaign. Recent rumors of Pete Alonso possibly being traded have stirred more grumblings.
Honoring two of the most exciting players to ever wear the uniform was a needed move to keep with the ongoing newer tradition of nodding to the glory years while giving the Mets public landmark days on the eventual calendar to look forward to.
Carter and Wright would logically be next in line to have their numbers retired, yet for now, the spotlight will be on two guys who rose to stardom in Flushing and were signature performers during the Mets’ most successful decade when they ruled New York City and were seen as rock stars in blue and orange.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the fans who supported me through the good times and bad times. I couldn’t have made it through without their encouragement,” Gooden said. “There is no greater honor a player can receive than having his number retired.”
Only Tom Seaver has more career wins and strikeouts as a Met than Gooden, who had 157 and 1,875, respectively, while also earning the franchise’s best winning percentage (.649). He was the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year, and Gooden’s 1985 Cy Young Award campaign is widely regarded as one of the greatest single pitching seasons in MLB history.
Featuring one of the most dominant two-pitch arsenals the game has ever seen, Gooden rode a rising fastball and a curveball with wicked drop to 24 wins, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA, winning the Triple Crown of pitching at just 20 years old. He was the ace of a fast-rising Mets team that elicited massive emotion from a hungry fanbase that had been starved for success, much like in the present times.
What younger fans never experienced was the incredible atmosphere of every Gooden start at Shea Stadium, especially from 1984 to ’86. For those who recall Matt Harvey starts ratcheting up the crowds a decade ago, multiply that by several times, as every “Doctor K” start was a major event in New York City.
“There was no more electric place to be than at Shea Stadium on a Friday night in the 80s when Dwight Gooden was on the mound,” Cohen said.
Strawberry was Gooden’s hitting equivalent of a delirium generator when he unleashed his incredible power. He drew local and national gasps of awe when he performed feats such as hitting a home run that ricocheted off the roof of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Opening Day in 1988.
When Strawberry stepped to the plate, his at-bats were simply not to be missed. Mets fans didn’t want to be at the concession stands when he launched a memorable bomb.
“Darryl Strawberry’s sweet left-handed swing made him one of the most feared hitters in the National League as his monster moon shots bounced off Shea’s scoreboard,” Cohen said. “Strawberry’s arrival to the Big Apple in 1983 re-energized the franchise.”
Strawberry and Gooden were indeed at the forefront of the Mets’ resurgence in the 80s, as their play elevated the team into consistent contention for the first time since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Strawberry is still the all-time franchise leader in home runs with 252 and ranks second in RBI (733).
The off-field troubles of both players have been well chronicled, as each of them seemed to be on early career tracks for the Hall of Fame in the 80s. While their personal stories prevented them from fulfilling such destinies, Gooden and Strawberry’s impact on the most successful stretch of Mets baseball, both as players and lightning rods of fan passion, are embedded into the souls of fans from that era.
“I had some ups and downs, but in the end, I am proud of my time in New York,” Strawberry said. “I owe so much to Mets fans – they are simply the best.”
Mets followers may not be feeling so good about today, but Cohen’s vision is to help fans remember or learn about what winning looks and feels like while remaining determined to eventually bring joy back to Queens.