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Honoring Willie Mays is honoring Mets history—regardless of his time in Queens

The Mets retiring Willie Mays’s number 24 is long overdue, and it about much more than 1972 and 1973.

Willie Mays At Home Plate, Shea Stadium Photo by Walter Leporati/Getty Images

The Mets, surprising virtually everyone in attendance and watching on television, announced that Willie Mays’s iconic number 24 will never be worn by a New York Met—and in essence, any New York National League team—again.

Without proper context, it is easy to question Mays getting his number retired by the Mets; after all, he only played 135 of his ,2992 Major League games in a Mets uniform. However, the number retirement has nearly nothing to do with those games. With a productive 1972 campaign and how instrumental he was throughout the 1973 playoffs, Mays helped the Mets reach their second World Series in his final season, though they came up short, losing in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. It is about something much deeper than that.

Mays played six years in New York, winning an MVP award and a World Series trophy in 1954, before following the Giants as they left New York City and the Polo Grounds for San Francisco, where he spent the overwhelming majority of his career. While the move from the East Coast to the West was heartbreaking for fans, their love for players like Mays would never waver. When Mets owner Joan Payson—who, which in completely unsurprising fashion, was a Giants fan and shareholder—made it so Mays would end his career where it started, in New York on a National League ballclub, he was a beloved fan favorite here yet again.

A legend in the city and the game of baseball had returned home.

While the Mets do not, and will not ever, share any records with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, they arguably share something much deeper: a heart and a soul. The Mets were birthed solely to replace those two teams leaving New York for California, and along the way picked up two fanbases that were desperate for baseball—with the Yankees, of course, never being an option for their fandom. They wear blue to honor the Dodgers, and orange to honor the Giants. The NY on the Mets cap is virtually identical to that of the New York Giants. Their first home stadium was the Polo Grounds. Their current home stadium, Citi Field, is an ode to Ebbets Field. The Mets are direct and spiritual decedents of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, with the trio intrinsically intertwined.

National League baseball in New York is storied, albeit in a unique way. The Dodgers and Giants were titans of the National League, with the Giants winning 17 pennants and 5 World Series, and the Dodgers winning 12 pennants and one lone World Series in 1955 during their time in the city. The Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, breaking the color barrier in baseball, arguably the most important moment in the history of the sport. While the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants do celebrate these achievements, there is little emotional connection between them — with the way the two franchises left, and the hurt that caused, it is a slippery slope. The Mets, under the guidance of Payson, brought those who were left behind by those two clubs back into the sport with the Mets — without those clubs the Mets would have nowhere to grow. While the Mets have an up and down history of their own, their miracle run in 1969 and dominance in 1986 are perfect additions to National League baseball in New York, and makes the three teams unique and storied history all the more. The Giants and Dodgers fans of old shed their fandoms to combine into one, making the adoring Mets faithful we are all apart of today.

Under the Wilpons, the Mets struggled to honor their own history, which is something that is rightfully being changed by Steve Cohen; first with the Tom Seaver statue and now with Old Timer’s Day, which was a rousing success. However, the Mets and their fans would be remiss to forget about National League baseball in New York before they existed. The chapters those New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers teams wrote are prologues to the story the Mets have written since 1962.

The Mets have a history of their own worth celebrating, as we saw multiple times this year. While they will not, and should not, share any official records with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, they share an emotional bond that should never be broken. With Jackie Robinson’s number rightfully retired league wide, and Willie Mays’s 24 being retired in Queens, no National League player in New York will ever wear 42 or 24 again—as it should be.