In Old Timer’s Day surprise, Mets retire Willie Mays’ No. 24: ‘New York was a magical place to play baseball’

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NEW YORK — On a day when Mets fans, players and coaches old and young gathered to celebrate Old Timers’ Day, the team made a surprise announcement.

Before the Old Timers’ Day game, team broadcaster Howie Rose announced in a pregame speech that Willie Mays’ No. 24 will be retired. No Met will ever wear the number again, which was always a dream of Joan Payson, the team’s original owner who was instrumental in bringing Mays back to New York in a trade with the San Francisco Giants.

Rose read a statement prepared by Mays, who could not be in attendance but was represented by his son, Michael.

“The Mets retiring my number? Number 24? Man, that’s the best,” part of the statement read.

“You might lose a lot of details after so many years, but what I can never forget is the way it felt to be back in New York City playing for the fans. Mets fans are loyal. Mets fans are passionate. Mets fans are loud.”

The announcement elicited a huge round of applause from the packed stadium. Mays’ number will hang next to those of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Casey Stengel, Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez. Though Mays only played two seasons for the Mets, he was an All-Star in 1973 and helped the team reach the World Series.

When the Giants left New York for San Francisco prior to the 1958 season, they took National League Baseball and one of the game’s best players from the city. Now, as a blue and orange 24 will hover over Citi Field for as long as it stands, the city will always have a piece of Mays with them.

“I want to thank Steve and Alex Cohen for making this day possible and embracing Mets history,” Mays said through a team press release. “New York was a magical place to play baseball.”