As many of you know, I’m a lifelong Mets fan who grew up watching Tom Seaver in the 1970s. So like a lot of Mets fans, I was very happy when the team finally unveiled its long-awaited Seaver statue last month. By all accounts, it’s a magnificent piece of work and a fitting tribute to the team’s greatest player.
I haven’t seen the statue in person because I haven’t yet attended a game this season. But longtime Uni Watch reader Steve Dodell recently saw it, and he spotted a surprising error in the rendering of Seaver’s uniform. On the back of the statue, the “4” in Seaver’s familiar No. 41 is wrong — it doesn’t have the little stub extending off the right side of the numeral. Dodell sent me a photo so I could see for myself.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Okay, so the statue doesn’t match that one photo of Seaver. But maybe the Mets wore a slightly different ‘4’ in one of his other seasons.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Throughout the Mets’ 60-year history, they have used only one rear-number font, called Block Standard, on their pinstriped home uniforms. They still use it today, in fact. Moreover, in addition to being historically inaccurate, the numeral on the statue practically qualifies as a typographic unicorn, because almost every standard number font includes the stub on the “4.”
Despite all of that, I hadn’t noticed the error in any of the media coverage of the statue’s unveiling — and neither had the sharp-eyed Dodell, until he saw the statue in person — because all of the press photos, understandably, showed the statue from the front.
“Most people won’t care about this and will consider the statue to be magnificent, which it still is,” says Dodell. “The real irony is that Seaver himself was such a perfectionist and a stickler for detail.”
True enough. But I still had a lot of questions. For example, what about the “4” on the front of the statue? That one, it turns out, is correct.
In addition, the Mets used the proper font for the Seaver memorial patches that the team wore in 2020 and 2021. The ’21 patch design was based on Seaver’s retired number placard, which also uses the correct font. So this isn’t a systemic problem — the only place the incorrect numeral appears is on the back of the statue. It gives new meaning to the familiar baseball term “E-4.”
In other words, the Seaver statue wasn’t Behrends’s first rodeo. Did he really botch the numeral (and did all the Mets officials who presumably signed off on the design really miss it?), or was this some sort of artistic license on his part? Maybe the odd “4” was some sort of Easter egg with a hidden meaning?
I wanted to know more, so I emailed Behrends and the Mets, showing them the same Seaver comparison photos that appear in this article. Behrends responded first and agreed to a phone interview last Thursday morning. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Uni Watch: So what’s the story behind the “4”?
William Behrends: You know, when I first got your email, I thought, “How the heck did that happen?” So I went back and looked at my original clay model to see if the number mistake had happened in the foundry. But no — the clay model has it that way too. It’s not like me to miss something like that, but that’s what happened. It’s something I missed.
That clay model, I worked on that for about 10 and a half months. I laid out the torso, laid out the the uniform, and blocked in the letters. At an early stage, I know I had that little stub on the “4.” But during the process of adjusting the model, you take things off and rebuild them elsewhere. So those numbers were probably built and rebuilt five or six times in the process. And in the later part of the process, I clearly was not thinking about the number — I was thinking about other things, and I just missed it. It’s embarrassing.
UW: I’m sure you use all sorts of photos and videos for visual reference. And so I was wondering to myself, maybe there was a game or two where Seaver actually wore the wrong “4” for some reason, and then a photo from that game turned out to be one of your reference images.
WB: I wish I could say that, but that’s not the case. For reference, I do look at every photo I can get, along with video. Also, are you familiar with the book Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century?
UW: Here at Uni Watch, we simply call that the Bible.
WB: Yeah, well, it’s my Bible, too. So I had that, and I had a Mitchell & Ness throwback jersey. But as you construct these things, I was really focusing on how his body was moving under that uniform, just changing the anatomy and changing the fabric on top, so it conveys movement. The idea is for the uniform to cover but not conceal the physicality of the athlete. So that’s what I was looking at, trying to look past the fabric. The numbers and the pinstripes and everything, that’s sort of like the last bit of icing on the cake.
UW: And so somewhere in there, that one little piece of icing got omitted.
WB: Yeah. Again, I’m shocked that I did that. I don’t think I’ve ever missed something that significant in any of my other sculptures. Detail is always very important to me, to get the details right on the uniform. I’ve always been very careful about that.
UW: What sort of review process did the Mets have for the statue?
WB: I had a contact at the Mets throughout the process. I sent weekly photos of the full-size clay model, showing what I was working on. And then they had a number of former players who were also part of the process. So it wasn’t just one person in the front office.
UW: In other words, a lot of people missed this.
WB: Yes, but I don’t want to shift any of the blame to the Mets. This is all me.
UW: So here’s the million dollar question: Is it possible to fix it, to make the “4” more historically accurate?
WB: It could be done. It’s not easy, though — once something’s installed on-site, then it becomes much harder to do than if it were in a foundry setting. It’s not unprecedented, but it would be quite a production. The hardest part would be matching the patina.
But as I look at the bigger picture of it, this is also evidence — unfortunate as it is — that all of this was made by human hands. Every pinstripe, every button, it was a human hand that did that, and humans are fallible.
UW: That sounds similar to the idea of replacing umpires with robots — the robots might get every call correct, but you’d lose the human element, the organic element.
WB: Exactly. A CNC machine or digital process wouldn’t have made the mistake on the number, but that’s not how I work.
You know, after I got your email, I was talking with my wife. In Rome they have a number of sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who I love. And one day I was looking at this one marble figure of his, David, and I noticed that one of the feet was bigger than the other. And I said to my wife, “You know how that happened? When he got to that point [in the sculpture], he was thinking about other things, he was looking at other things.”
UW: Just like you were looking at other things on the Seaver statue! So in that regard, you’re in very good company.
WB: Well, I don’t want to compare myself to Bernini. But when you spend that long staring at something — I mean, sometimes I’ll be working on something all day for eight hours, and then I come in the studio the next morning and I see something that I didn’t see yesterday. You know, why didn’t I see that? So it does happen.
And there you have it. After I spoke with Behrends, however, I discovered another wrinkle to this story: The Mets gave away a replica model of the Seaver statue to fans attending their game on April 16. And in a bizarre twist, the replica has the correct “4,” which could be viewed as either a good thing (it matches what Seaver wore) or a bad thing (it doesn’t match the statue).
I followed up with Behrends about this. He replied, “That replica given away by the Mets was based on one of my early maquettes [small scale models] for the sculpture.” So he was right when he said he used the proper numeral at an early stage of the design process — the replica proves it!
As for the Mets, I later heard back from a team official who said the organization would have no further comment beyond my interview with Behrends, which apparently means they’re not planning to fix the number, at least for now. Maybe they’ll consider addressing it during the offseason. Or maybe, as Behrends suggested, the flaw is a nice reminder of human imperfection.
Does a slightly inaccurate numeral matter that much in the grand scheme of things? Of course not. Still, there’s something uniquely, almost quintessentially Metsian about this episode. There’s a reason LOLMets is a longstanding internet meme, after all. Remember, this is a team that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its greatest moment — the 1969 “Miracle Mets” championship — by mistakenly announcing that two former players were dead when they were actually still alive, and then compounded that gaffe by misspelling one of the players’ names when issuing an apology.
The Seaver statue — something fans had long lobbied for, although an unheeding ownership inexplicably resisted the idea for years — was supposed to symbolize the righting of the team’s ship under new owner Steve Cohen. But these are the Mets, so of course the statue has a design flaw, and of course Behrends never made this kind of mistake until now. It’s the kind of thing that seems to be baked into the franchise’s DNA, regardless of ownership.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll go to a Mets game and get my first in-person look at the statue. I’ll walk around it and take some photos, and there will no doubt be some other fans doing the same thing. Maybe we’ll exchange pleasantries about the statue and our memories of Seaver. Will I say anything to them about the ahistorical “4,” just to sound like a know-it-all?
No, I won’t. Like Dodell said, most fans won’t even notice or care, and that’s fine. But the more detail-oriented among us will know the full story. In the years to come, maybe we’ll shake our heads and smile a bit each time we see the back of the statue, knowing that the number glitch was an honest mistake that neatly encapsulates the Mets’ history of amusing and mostly harmless foibles.
So in the end, the wayward numeral is an Easter egg after all, even if Behrends didn’t intend it that way.
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years (and has been a Mets fan for over 50 years). If you like his Bulletin articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.