Keith Hernandez is still absorbing it all in six months after receiving a phone call from Mets owner Steve Cohen that the organization would retire its No. 17 in a ceremony at Citi Field on July 9.
Time hasn’t changed his perspective and the excitement he has ahead of his special day.
“Well, I’m a big procrastinator. I didn’t work this week and I had my family. It’s been pushed a little bit as each day gets closer, you realize that,” Hernandez said in a press conference ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game at Citi Field. “I gave my speech this morning. I am a big procrastinator. I woke up, I think, at 8 in the morning, had a coffee, then sat for about an hour and gave the speech. It will hit me when I get there today. I just drove up right now and I see all the number 17 jerseys there, which is kind of touching and nice.
The Mets retired Hernandez’s No. 17 ahead of Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins in an emotional on-field ceremony before a packed house. Hernandez’s wife, daughters, Jesse, Melissa and Mary, and brother, Gary, were on hand to honor his legacy.
Former teammates from the 1986 team – Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel and Ron Darling – were in attendance as well as former Mets great and Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.
Hernandez gave a touching speech, thanking his former teammates, family and friends, while recounting his career in New York. He threw the honorary first pitch.
Hernandez is only the fourth Mets player to have his number retired and the seventh overall, joining Jerry Koosman (#36), Tom Seaver (#41) and Mike Piazza (#31). The Mets also retired manager Gil Hodges’ No. 14, manager Casey Stengel’s No. 37 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
It’s the second number in as many years the Mets have retired with Koosman honored last August. Cohen prioritized the history of the Mets, which celebrate their 60th year this season.
The theme for the day was Hernandez, whose name, image and number were prominently displayed throughout the stadium, including the scoreboard and digital displays. The number 17 was carved into the grass at center field and a large illustration of Hernandez playing first base covered home plate. Mets players wore a No. 17 crest on their jerseys, and the first 25,000 fans received a Bobblehead from Hernandez.
The organization presented Hernandez with several gifts, including a one-of-a-kind mosaic of his likeness made up of more than 6,000 of his various baseball cards.
The first captain in franchise history, Hernandez ranks among the best to wear a Mets uniform and is considered one of the greatest first basemen in major league history.
During his seven-year stint at Queens (1983-1989), the southpaw won the Rawlings `Gold Glove award every year except his final season. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1984 and led New York to its second World Series title in 1986.
He is second in Mets history with a .297 ERA and fourth in club history with .387 on-base percentage and his 468 RBI ranks 10.e.
“It’s certainly a great honour. He’s started a last-place team for about six years since the infamous Tom Seaver trade. I come here from a world championship side after a troubling 1983 season and I’m really soaked up all the culture of the New York Mets But then Spring Training in 1984 and in 10 days I realized I was surrounded by a great group of talented young players and everything Frank Cashen told me the day I was traded that we think we’re ready to move up. We hadn’t wasted our draft picks. Everything was there for me to see in spring training.
Hernandez finished second in MVP voting in 1984 after hitting 15 homers, 94 RBIs and 83 .311 runs at bat. The following year, the Mets missed the playoffs despite winning by 97 games. Hernandez posted a .309 team average with 10 home runs and 91 RBIs. He finished fourth in MVP voting in 1986.
“When I think of Keith, I probably think of defense. He was one of those guys who could provide what the team needed that day. He was a guy you could hit and run with. He could hit the ball off the ball. I tend to watch and listen to teammates a lot about playing with him. Keith made his teammates better,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “We talk a lot in the offseason about players and acquisitions. One of the criteria you look at is whether they improve their teammate. It’s not a question of what they say, but sometimes it’s is just their actions and the karma they create around the club because of who they are and the way they choose to conduct their business professionally.As a manager you are looking for things you can count on every day You can count on Keith every day.
Hernandez was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1997 and was voted Mets All-Time First Baseman by fans on the team’s 40th anniversary in 2002.
Prior to joining the Mets, Hernandez played nine seasons with St. Louis where he won five Gold Gloves and was named to the All-Star team in 1979 and 1980. In 1979, Hernandez shared the player award most valuable in the National League with Willie of the Pirates. Stargell after leading the league with an average of .344, 48 doubles and 116 points. He led St. Louis to the World Series title in 1982.
In 17 Big League seasons, Hernandez batted .296 with 2,182 hits, 162 homers and 1,071 RBI. He batted over .300 seven times in his career and led the National League in runs scored (1979 and 1980), batting average (1979), doubles (1979), on-base percentage (1980) and the steps (1986) during his career. Hernandez won 11 Gold Glove awards for his first base defense, setting a Major League record for the position that still stands.
He signed with the Cleveland Indians for the 1990 season and played in just 43 games, batting .200 with one homer and eight RBIs. He retired at the end of the season.
“Another thing is that my perspective of the game for so long has been in the booth watching the action with Gary [Cohen] and Ron [Darling]. You lose perspective when you walk on the field in front of a packed house,’ said Hernandez, who served as the Mets color commentator on broadcasts with Gary Cohen and former teammate Ron Darling. “Before, it was commonplace every day when you were playing. You would go to the game, look up in the fifth inning and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s a full house. You would be so used to playing in front of so many people.
“I will definitely look around and it will be a different perspective. It will be like old times, but I will be in a suit instead of a uniform.”
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