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Mr. Met’s uniform number is not officially retired but Mets players feel a sense of obligation to avoid it, multiple team and league sources told SNY.
An investigation that touched at least three other organizations and led all the way to the top of the Major League Baseball Players Association began with new Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker’s comments on Tuesday.
Asked about his decision to wear number 99, Walker explained that he had preferred number 44 while growing up and breaking into the big leagues with Seattle. When the Seattle Mariners traded him to Arizona in 2016, star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt wore 44.
Walker switched to 99, figuring that he wouldn’t have to change it if traded again -- unless it was to the Yankees, where Aaron Judge is 99. But last year ended up in Toronto, blocked by number 99, Hyun Jin Ryu.
“So I was like, ‘OK, well, that didn’t work out,’” Walker said. “So I’m wearing 00. Something different, again. And, of course, this year, Mr. Met is 00. So I just went back to wearing 99.”
Asked if there was a ban on players wearing 00, Mets vice president of communications Harold Kaufman said, “[Walker] knows of the legend of Mr. Met and did not want to infringe on that.”
Additional team sources maintained that there was no written policy regarding Mr. Met’s number.
As it turns out, Walker was not the only Met dissuaded from wearing the mascot’s preferred digits. In 2003, first baseman Tony Clark signed late in the offseason with the Mets, on Jan. 20.
By that time, many uniform numbers were taken, and clubhouse staff offered him 83, 88 and 00.
“Assuming that someone would want to throw me passes as a tight end if I took 83 or 88, I decided on 00 – while being completely oblivious that 00 was Mr. Met’s number,” Clark, now the executive director of the MLBPA, told SNY late Tuesday.
“It wasn’t until Fan Photo Day, where fans came onto the field and we took photos with them, when I was confronted by a young fan about the number. This young man asked me if 00 was my favorite number – my response was ‘no.'
“He then asked if 00 was my lucky number – my response was ‘no.’ He then asked if 00 is not my favorite number and not my lucky number, why did I have the same number as Mr. Met – my response was only that it was a good question.
“At that point, I walked into the clubhouse and asked for a uniform change … moving to 52.”
The Mets are not the only team impacted by this issue. The Kansas City Royals’ mascot, Slugger, wears 00. No Royals players have ever done so.
Orbit, the adorable lime-green alien who cheers on the Houston Astros, is also 00. John Mayberry Sr. wore the number in 1968. But -- and this is crucial -- Orbit landed on earth in 1990.
There is a similar situation in Oakland, where Don Baylor was number 00 in 1988. Stomper the elephant now wears 00, but was not born until 1997.
There might be other mascots who wear a uniform number, but honestly, this story has gone on long enough already. This reporter is deeply embarrassed to have spent several hours on it.