Jerry Koosman still wasn’t sure if his No. 36 uniform should be adorned atop the left-field stanchions at Citi Field, but the southpaw received the most exclusive and highest honor that the New York Mets could adorn upon a player, enshrining his number Saturday night.
“Humbly thankful that they thought that much of me to retire my number,” Koosman said. “I know I’m joining a great crew that’s already had their numbers retired. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I guess we’re going to get on with it.”
Koosman became just the third Mets player to have his number retired, joining Tom Seaver (41) and Mike Piazza (31) to receive such an honor. Gil Hodges (14) and Casey Stengel (37) are managers who also have had their jersey numbers retired.
The 78-year-old is probably the only one who felt that kind of uncertainty.
“Jerry, welcome home,” Piazza said while partaking in the pregame ceremonies. “This is your home, and this is your family.”
A rightful perch for arguably the best big-game pitcher in franchise history.
Koosman is the Mets’ winningest left-handed pitcher ever, going 140-137 over 12 years with the team from 1967-1978. He also ranks third in franchise history with 1,799 strikeouts, sixth in ERA (3.09), and second in innings pitched (2,544.2), games started (346), complete games (108), and shutouts (26).
A two-time All-Star creating a dynamic duo with Seaver, Koosman won 14 or more games in six of his seasons with the Mets, including a 21-10 1976 campaign in which he posted a 2.69 ERA with 200 strikeouts.
He was at his best when the stage was grandest, punctuated by his heroics in the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles when he went 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched. That included the infamous complete-game, championship-clinching victory in Game 5 in which he allowed just five hits over nine innings against a potent Orioles lineup that featured future Hall of Famers like Frank and Brooks Robinson.
“Coming out of the army, signing with the Mets, it was a huge deal. I’ve never seen a big-league game and all of a sudden, I was playing pro ball… I loved it,” Koosman said. “It was a great organization.
“To be up there with these other greats is quite a feather in your cap.”
Mets president Sandy Alderson hinted that this is just the start of the long-overdue process of honoring some of the franchise greats — a concept that had been lost under previous ownership.
“I think [owners Steve and Alex Cohen] and the organization are committed to celebrating our history,” Alderson said. “It’s a storied franchise, some would say iconic. It’s only that way because of the history we have and the players who created that history.
“Jerry is among the foremost who’ve done that. Baseball is a game of history… it’s important that we recognize our history and to some extent, educate current fans of what took place years and years ago.”