Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Hasn't Jerry Koosman's Number Been Retired?

Photo by Walter Kelleher/Daily News

I was recently doing research for another piece when I came across the career numbers of three pitchers - Bert Blyleven, Randy Jones and Don Wilson.  In particular, I focused on what Blyleven achieved during his 11 seasons in Minnesota, as well as what Jones did in eight years with the Padres and what Wilson accomplished in his nine years with the Astros.

As many of you know, Bert Blyleven is a member of the Hall of Fame.  Randy Jones and Don Wilson are not.  In fact, Jones and Wilson combined to win fewer games than Blyleven won on his own in his illustrious 22-year career.  So what's their connection and why are they relevant to this piece?

Let's look at the career numbers for Blyleven, Jones and Wilson, focusing solely on what they did while they were members of the Twins, Padres and Astros, respectively.  And while we're at it, let's stick in Jerry Koosman's career numbers as a Met, just for comparison's sake.

Win %
Bert Blyleven
Randy Jones
Don Wilson
Jerry Koosman

There's not that much of a disparity between the players, is there?  Koosman had the lowest ERA of the foursome and finished close to Blyleven in wins, winning percentage, WHIP and shutouts.

Koosman was superior to Randy Jones, finishing with 48 more wins, 37 more complete games and 1,122 more strikeouts.  The only category in which Jones fared better than Koosman was in WHIP and that was very close.

Don Wilson trailed Koosman in wins, ERA, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts.  Wilson had the best winning percentage of the two (although he was only 12 games above .500 during his tenure with the Astros) and barely edged Koosman in WHIP.

So why am I making such a hubbub about what these four pitchers did for the teams they're most associated with?  The answer is quite simple, especially if you noticed the title of this piece and have the sleuthing skills of the Scooby Gang.

  • Bert Blyleven's uniform number has been retired by the Minnesota Twins.
  • Randy Jones' uniform number has been retired by the San Diego Padres.
  • Don Wilson's uniform number has been retired by the Houston Astros.
  • Jerry Koosman's uniform number is being worn by Collin McHugh.

"I'm so confused.  I thought the Mets had already retired Jerry Koosman's number."

It's understandable why Blyleven's number has been permanently removed from circulation in the Twin Cities.  After all, he had a Hall of Fame career and is most associated with Minnesota's ballclub, collecting more than half of his 287 career victories as a member of the Twins.  But his numbers as a Twin are quite similar to those achieved by Koosman as a Met.  Also, Blyleven made the All-Star team as a Twin once and never finished higher than seventh in the Cy Young Award vote as a Twin (he did finish third in 1985 when he split the season between Cleveland and Minnesota, but made most of his starts as an Indian that year).  Blyleven won two division titles in Minnesota (1970, 1987) and one World Series as a Twin (1987).  Koosman knows the feeling, as he won two pennants and one World Series championship with the Mets.

As for Jones and Wilson, their uniform numbers were retired solely because of where they rank on their respective teams' all-time pitching leaderboard.  And in Wilson's case, a tragic incident also contributed to his digits being taken out of circulation.

Randy Jones is in the Padres' top ten in wins (T-2nd), ERA (8th), WHIP (7th) and strikeouts (8th).  He is also the team's all-time leader in starts, innings pitched, complete games and shutouts.  Jones was selected to two All-Star teams, had two 20-win seasons, and won the 1976 NL Cy Young Award (with Koosman finishing second).  Jones was the runner-up for the 1975 NL Cy Young Award, finishing behind Koosman's teammate, Tom Seaver, for the coveted prize.  But if you take out Jones' 1975 and 1976 numbers, the rest of his Padres' résumé isn't very impressive.

During Jones' other six years in San Diego, he went 50-79 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.  In other words, he pitched like Craig Swan, only slightly worse.  (Swan was 59-71 as a Met with a 3.72 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.)

Don Wilson pitched two no-hitters as an Astro and once struck out 18 batters in a single game.  That's three games out of a career in which he made 245 starts.  Wilson's career would have been longer had it not been for his accidental death at the age of 29 (Wilson and his five-year-old son died of carbon monoxide poisoning).  The Astros immediately retired his number at the beginning of the 1975 season.

Wilson never won more than 16 games in any of his nine seasons with the Astros and only made one All-Star team.  He also had losing records in each of his last two seasons before his untimely death.  Although Wilson surely would have added to his cumulative career numbers had he not passed away, he is currently in the Astros' top ten in wins (7th), ERA (7th), starts (8th), innings pitched (5th), complete games (3rd), shutouts (4th) and strikeouts (7th).

Now let's look at the career of one Jerome Martin Koosman and see where he ranks on the Mets' all-time pitching leaderboard.

Ed Charles is still waiting to dance at Jerry Koosman's uniform retirement ceremony.

Jerry Koosman was the runner-up to Johnny Bench for the 1968 NL Rookie of the Year Award.  He was also a two-time All-Star, received MVP votes in three seasons (1968, 1969, 1976) and was the runner-up to Randy Jones for the 1976 NL Cy Young Award.  Koosman was a part of two pennant winners and was on the mound when the Mets won the 1969 World Series.  In addition, Koosman never lost a postseason game for the Mets, going 4-0 in six starts.

Koosman ranks highly in just about every career pitching category for the Mets.  He's in the team's top ten in wins (3rd), ERA (5th), starts (2nd), innings pitched (2nd), complete games (2nd), shutouts (2nd) and strikeouts (3rd).  Jesse Orosco and Jon Matlack both had lower ERAs than Koosman.  Otherwise, Koosman would be the team's all-time leader in every category for left-handed pitchers.

Clearly, Koosman had more individual success than Randy Jones and Don Wilson.  He also had better success on a team level, as Jones and Wilson never reached the postseason for their respective teams.  And Koosman's numbers as a Met were quite similar to what Bert Blyleven produced in his two stints with Minnesota.  But that's not enough to get Koosman's number on the outfield wall next to Casey Stengel's No. 37, Gil Hodges' No. 14 and Tom Seaver's No. 41.

Jerry Koosman wasn't perfect on the field.  He also hasn't been perfect off it, as he has been involved in legal troubles and other unfortunate situations.  But none of that should have kept his No. 36 off the Shea Stadium and Citi Field outfield wall for as long as it has.  If Bert Blyleven, Randy Jones and Don Wilson can have their numbers retired by their respective teams, then why can't Koosman have his number retired by the Mets?  It's a travesty that been ignored for too long.

But it could be worse.  At least the Astros haven't retired former Met Mike Scott's number, right?  What?  They have?  Ah, crap.

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