From the Times Herald Record’s Dave Buscema. (link courtesy Jon Solomon)
On a day when watching players hit the field in uniform for the first time should stir every deep-down baseball fan to think the same words Willie Randolph uttered – “that’s what I’m talking about” – the flaw could have easily escaped into the background.
But it shouldn’t.
Because the sight of spring-training invitee Jose Lima in a No. 42 jersey blurred the picture just enough to taint it.
What the heck were the Mets thinking?
That’s Jackie Robinson’s number.
That fact was decided on the Mets’ very field nine years ago.
When Robinson’s family gathered and Bud Selig spoke and Shea Stadium became an extension of Ebbets Field, the Mets again showing their status as an heir to the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
All of baseball was to retire the jersey that night in honor of a man whose impact reached well beyond the game.
And there were the Mets yesterday ho-humming all of it, handing over the jersey nine years after being handed the privilege of hosting the ceremony.
Yes, Lima had worn the number before the league retired it – which would allow him to continue wearing it. That’s what happened when Mo Vaughn became a Met, but Vaughn was truly wed to that number in a public tribute to Robinson.
Mariano Rivera is the last active player to wear the number because he had worn it already, too, and has often spoke of the honor associated with it.
Lima likes the number because he won with it. Which is perfectly fine, but should leave him open to accepting another number. Especially since he has had to do that for the last four years because other teams denied him the opportunity. (And, for the record, it’s questionable how he acquired the number in the first place since he said Houston assigned it to him in 1997 – apparently a few months before the ceremony honoring Robinson.)
But when Lima played for the Dodgers, he obviously did not wear the number.
And the Kansas City Royals did not assign it to him either, which could very well have something to do with the fact Robinson once played in that town, which is now home to the Negro League Hall of Fame.
But the Mets?
They asked permission from the league office, spokesman Jay Horowitz said initially before later clarifying they had not received official clearance.
They shouldn’t even have tried.
They should have politely told Lima to pick another number.
An updated column from Buscema indicates the Mets have thought better of their decision, and Lima is once again, donning the number 99.
All’s well that ends well. Until Butch Huskey comes out of retirement, that is.