The Mets are honoring their history and the #17 worn by Keith Hernandez is the fourth player in Mets’ history to have his number retired joining #41 (Tom Seaver), #31 (Mike Piazza), #36 (Jerry Koosman), alongside managers Gil Hodges (14), and Casey Stengel (37).
It’s been a long time coming for Hernandez who had his day in St. Louis last season as he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Some, though, will say, Hernandez will be remembered more for his time in St, Louis and a NL MVP award.
On July 9, prior to the Mets-Marlins scheduled game, #17 will hang with the others at Citi Field.
And for those who say that Hernandez is more St. Louis Red than Mets orange and Blue, well think twice. Perhaps no other Mets player handled first base defensively and aggressively against the bunt any better in a Mets uniform.
It was a coup when GM Frank Cashman made the trade that brought Hernandez to Flushing in 1983, and New York City embraced his presence as the franchise player.
It was true that he was not an original Met like Seaver, but a fan favorite. Three All-Star teams, five Gold Gloves, a slash line of .297/.387/429 with 80 homers and 159 doubles during seven seasons in New York.
Though, there is that St. Louis resume. A fan commented to me, “An outstanding player. However, in my opinion, he is a St. Louis Cardinal. Just like Piazza is a Dodger. Seaver and Koosman are absolutely true Mets.”
Becoming a fan favorite in New York, though, is more difficult than appeasing astute baseball fans in St. Louis. Then again, Keith Hernandez was different. New York and the 1986 World Series championship was symbolic with #17 and it was meant to be.
“It just seems like all the pieces are coming together,” Hernandez said Wednesday afternoon on a ZOOM media conference call. “It’s the 60th anniversary of the Mets, if you can believe that. We’re going to unveil Tom Seaver’s statue this year. It just seems like all the dominos are falling into place, and for me to be one of those pieces just means the world to me.”
The Mets have a new culture with owner Steve Cohen. Gone now are days when Mets greats and their numbers would hardly hang from the rafters because this owner also breeds orange and blue.
In years to come expect Gary Carter’s #8, and Dwight Gooden’s #16 will eventually have their numbers alongside #17.
“You dream of being a batting champion or an MVP.” Hernandez said. “The thought of having a number retired, I can tell you never crossed my mind.”
But it crossed the minds of Mets fans who are accustomed to seeing Hernandez in the broadcast booth at Citi Field. They cheer his presence and when Keith is not with Gary Cohen and Ron Darling they ask, “Where’s Keith?”
I recently asked Gooden about the significance of Keith Hernandez and seeing him handle the glove at first base. I also asked him about Keith Hernandez, his teammate.
“He kept us together when the chips were down, absolutely,” Gooden commented. “We never saw defeat. Keith was a leader.”
And there was this sarcasm from #17, and at times coming out of left field with a comment that caused a media buzz. In fact, some would say Keith Hernandez was meant to be a New York Met and the real personality developed during that 1986 championship year.
My longtime colleague Howie Karpin recently authored a book, “162-0, Imagine a Mets Perfect Season” and here is an excerpt from a Mets 4-2 win over the Cubs on September 17, 1986 as the Mets secured their third NL East title at Shea Stadium:
“Mets first baseman Dave Magadan was in the lineup for Keith Hernandez, who was battling the flu and a 102-degree fever. Magadan came through with three hits. Hernandez got into the game as a defensive replacement and caught the final putout.
After Magadan got his third hit, Hernandez reportedly kidded manager Davey Johnson by saying, ‘Maybe you should trade me.’”
The Mets made the right trade almost 36 years ago. I am sure July 9 at Citi Field, before the unveiling and retirement of #17, there will be more to that story.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso