Mets retire Koosman's No. 36: 'I'm thankful'

August 29th, 2021

NEW YORK -- It was a special day for Jerry Koosman on Saturday evening at Citi Field.

Koosman's No. 36 was retired by the Mets, as he became the third player in franchise history to receive that honor. Tom Seaver (No. 41) and Mike Piazza (No. 31) are the others. Former managers Gil Hodges (No. 14) and Casey Stengel (No. 37) also had their numbers retired.

Koosman’s family and former teammates, including Art Shamsky, Wayne Garrett and Ed Kranepool, were in attendance, as well as Piazza, who played for the Mets from 1998-2005. It was Piazza who introduced Koosman’s No. 36, which is now displayed at the top of Citi Field.

“I’m thankful that they thought so much of me to retire my number,” Koosman said. “I know I’m joining a great crew that they had their numbers retired. I don’t know if I deserve it. I guess we are going to get on with it.”

Koosman shouldn’t have to think twice. He and Seaver formed a great duo atop the Mets’ rotation. During his 12 years with New York from 1967-78, Koosman won 140 games, posted a 3.09 ERA and had a 21-win season in '76.

Koosman helped the Mets upset the Orioles in the 1969 World Series, as well as the Reds in the National League Championship Series in '73. If he would have had more offensive support, Koosman likely could have won even more games. For example, he lost 20 games in 1977, despite recording a respectable 3.49 ERA.

Koosman said his fondest memories were going to the World Series in 1969 and '73. He also remembered the black cat going near the Cubs' dugout at Shea Stadium on Sept. 9, 1969. The Mets and Cubs were battling for the NL East title at the time. The jinx was on the Cubs, as the Mets won the game, 7-1, and captured the division title by finishing with an eight-game lead.

“A lot of things pop up -- different memories. You see something, you have a related story,” Koosman said.

But Koosman will never forget when he won 21 games in 1976. Before the season started, his father, Martin, suffered eight heart attacks and died. While Martin didn’t witness his son’s best season, Jerry felt his father was with him in spirit.

“I started the season by first going to his funeral, going home to Minnesota, and then rejoined the ballclub,” Koosman said. "I felt his presence and spirit were on my shoulder every game, every pitch. My concentration was never better. I had good stuff, great mechanics. I was very consistent.”

The following year, Koosman endured his 20-loss season, which he called the toughest year of his baseball career.

“Nobody likes to lose, especially me,” Koosman said. “We weren’t scoring any runs. We didn’t have the Mike Piazzas on our club. We were in a rebuilding situation, and we had a lot of Double-A players. We just couldn’t compete. Opposing runners were going from first to third, second to home. No question about it, we just didn’t have a competitive club.”

Koosman’s time with the Mets ended after the 1978 season. He was traded to the Twins for reliever Jesse Orosco. Ironically, while Koosman pitched the final inning of the ’69 World Series, Orosco helped the Mets win the '86 World Series by pitching the final two innings of Game 7 against the Red Sox. Koosman and Orosco met several times over the years talking about what they have in common.

“We didn’t have long conversations because we met here [at Citi Field] or some [other place],” Koosman said. “We did get to chat and were able to get to know each other a little bit. I was proud of him and our left-handed reputation. He did a great job. He played for a long time.”

Koosman had a 19-year big league career that also included stints with the Twins, White Sox and Phillies. The two-time All-Star finished with 222 wins and 2,556 strikeouts.