Finally, a funny, feel-good story from sports. You know, like it used to be pre-cancel culture. Instead of the misguided rhetoric from LeBron and Kaepernick, we actually have a baseball story that should make everyone smile.
Perhaps the New York Mets fortunes are really changing. Instead of talking about firing managers who’ve never managed a game or complaining about anything Wilpon-ish, these Steve Cohen Mets seem to be loosey-goosey at Spring Training. The biggest controversy of late? Mr. Met’s jersey number!
Along with the huge acquisitions of shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher James McCann, the Mets have also added some capable arms to an already talented pitching staff. Earlier this month, New York picked up Taijuan Walker as a free agent. The club is hoping that Walker can help bolster a starting rotation that has skyscraper-high expectations. But, first things first. What to wear?
Growing up, Walker always wore #44. He donned that very number as a member of the Seattle Mariners as well. But when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Walker had to change his number because 44 was already taken by hard-hitting Paul Goldschmidt. Walker wanted to change his number to something that would prevent another change from happening again. So, he went with 99.
The thought process was-unless he’s traded to the New York Yankees, Aaron Judge’s team, 99 would probably be a safe number to hold on to.
Not so fast.
Walker was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays where he quickly discovered Hyun-jin Ryu wears 99. Back to the drawing board.
This time, Walker went the foolproof route, or so he thought, choosing 00 as his new and permanent numeral. Heading to the Mets, Walker knew no player in Queens wears that distinctive number. Finally, the math adds up. Or so it was thought.
While no Mets player wears 00, the longest tenured Amazin does. Mr. Met, himself. Yes, Mr. Met-the iconic mascot of the Mets. Walker is losing his number yet again. Not to a six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and four-time Silver Slugger like Goldschmidt. Not to an All-Star pitcher and former MLB ERA leader like Ryu either. But, to a baseball-headed humanoid named Mr. Met.
Understanding Mr. Met’s importance to the franchise, Walker is going back to 99. Now, he has a number without any fuss. At least, without any negative fuss.
The only previous Met to wear 99 was quirky relief pitcher Turk Wendell, who wore the highest of double digits from 1997-2001 at Shea (and on the road). When Wendell heard about Walker’s numeric journey, he reached out to the new Mets hurler.
Wendell sent Walker a gift box filled with a toothbrush, licorice, and a shark-tooth necklace. You see, superstitious Wendell used to chew licorice while on the hill. He’d also brush his teeth between innings-and he’d do it all while wearing a necklace made of teeth from animals Wendell got the better of while hunting. Only in baseball.
The Mets tweeted about the arrival of Turk’s gifts. “From one 99 to another. Turk Wendell’s package for @tai_walker has arrived,” the club tweeted. The team included a picture of the goodies, as well as a shot of Walker brushing his teeth while wearing his new homemade necklace and holding a piece of licorice.
Whether Walker will be slamming rosin bags down on the mound or leaping over foul lines like Wendell used to do, remains to be seen. Either way, the only two Mets to ever wear 99 will forever be linked.
As for Mr. Met, he comes out on top again- and this time things were a lot less messy. In the 2003 season, first baseman Tony Clark became the first and only Mets player to ever wear 00. After being repeatedly asked by children as to why he was wearing Mr. Met’s number, Clark switched to 52.
These are the types of things that only happen in baseball. It’s part of why we love the game so much.
We are all looking forward to the 2021 season–and for the Mets, the vibes seem to all be good so far. Now, the team just has to keep that Walker-Wendell spirit up when they eventually leave Port St. Lucie and head to Flushing. No injuries, no controversy, just fun. With the Wilpons gone and Mr. Met happy, you may just have to believe. And keep Mr. Met away from Mr. Potato Head.
Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla, on IG @kevinschollausa, and on Parler @kevinscholla45