Willie Mays’ No. 24 retired by Mets ahead of 2022 Old Timers’ Day

Willie Mays New York Mets
The son of former New York Mets player Willie Mays, Michael Mays, left, talks with former Mets’ player Felix Milan (17), Jon Matlack (32), Ed Kranepool, second from right, and Cleon Jones, right, after the team retired No. 24 in honor of Willie Mays during an Old-Timers’ Day ceremony before a baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the Mets, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

If Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field couldn’t be any more special, the Mets managed to find a way, announcing after pregame introductions of 65 former players that Willie Mays’ No. 24 would become the seventh number retired in franchise history. 

The decision from the organization fulfills the wish of the team’s first owner, Joan Payson, who promised Mays upon acquiring him in 1972 that the team would retire his number. 

Fifty years later, it happened in a surprise announced by long-time Mets radio announcer Howie Rose. 

“Let me share how I feel today: The Mets retiring my number? Number 24? Man, that’s the best!” the 91-year-old Mays said in a statement, as he couldn’t attend Sunday’s festivities. “And how do I feel? Like I’ve hit a walk-off!”

Mays played just two seasons with the Mets — the final two of a 23-year career that began in New York with the Giants before moving out west to San Francisco where he flourished into one of the greatest ballplayers ever. 

Payson passed away in 1975 without fulfilling the promise — something the next ownership group also did not observe.

“There has been a 50-year gap if you will between a promise made and a promise kept,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said. “We felt that on this occasion today in light of all the players that we had here, all the generations, this was the time to keep that promise and make sure as many as possible… understood where Willie Mays fit in the overall spectrum of New York and the Mets.”

Fourteen of his 660 career home runs, which ranks sixth all time, came with the Mets as the center fielder helped lead the organization to the National League pennant in 1973. 

“I can never forget the way it felt to return to New York to play for all the loyal Mets fans. I’m tremendously proud I ended my career in Queens with the Mets during the ’73 World Series,” he said. “It’s an honor to have my number retired in my two favorite cities – New York and San Francisco. New York was a magical place to play baseball.”

His final hit in the majors came in Game 2 of the World Series that year — a go-ahead single in the top of the 12th inning to catapult the Mets to a victory to tie the series. 

“I sat down and thought about how it was playing for the Mets back in the 70s. You might lose a lot of details after so many years but what I can ever forget is the way it felt to be back in new york city playing for Mets fans,” Mays said. “Mets fans are loyal, Mets fans are passionate, Mets fans are loud. They let you know right now how they feel.”

Mays joins Casey Stengel (37), Tom Seaver (41), Gil Hodges (14), Jerry Koosman (36), Keith Hernandez (17), and Mike Piazza (31) as the only Mets players or managers to have their jersey number retired. In the last two years alone, the Mets retired the numbers of Hernandez and Koosman as owner Steve Cohen continues to take huge leaps in preserving the organization’s history.

“Mets fans always gave me the biggest ovations and the loudest thank yous ever,” Mays said. “Today, I return those thank yous from the bottom of my heart.

“I want to thank Steve and Alex Cohen for making this day possible and embracing Mets history.”

For more on Willie Mays and the Mets, visit AMNY.com