By honoring Hernandez, the Mets fully embrace their past

It’s a matter of feel, the idea of ​​retiring a player’s number, as the Mets will now do for Keith Hernandez’s number 17. It’s more abo...


It’s a matter of feel, the idea of ​​retiring a player’s number, as the Mets will now do for Keith Hernandez’s number 17. It’s more about symbolism than statistics, a referendum on what a player means to a team and a city.

Many teams have understood this for a long time. There’s no plaque in Cooperstown, NY, for Thurman Munson, but the Yankees retired his number 15 anyway. Same with Johnny Pesky and the Boston Red Sox, Frank White and the Kansas City Royals, Randy Jones and the San Diego Padres and so on.

The Mets were slow to grasp the concept. It took them until their 55th season, in 2016, to retire a second player’s number. That was because Mike Piazza had just been elected to the Hall of Fame, meaning his No. 31 could join Tom Seaver’s No. 41 on the top deck siding in the left corner of Citi Field.

The Mets had also retired the number of managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14), and Jackie Robinson’s 42 are retired in Major League Baseball. But the team was notoriously stingy in recognizing players; even Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame wide receiver whose No. 8 has been out of action since 2001, was not honored with a number retirement before his death in 2012, a cruel and unnecessary oversight.

Hernandez, 68, is still there. you can find it on SNY shows and Twitter and “Seinfeld” reruns on Netflix. After a ceremony on July 9, you will also find him in a composition with other essential Mets players: Seaver, Piazza and Jerry Koosman, whose n°36 was withdrawn last year. No Met has worn number 17 since Fernando Tatis Sr. in 2010, and now it belongs to Hernandez forever.

“He brought a winning culture, just the way he moved, the way he acted and the way he played,” said Ron Darling, Hernandez’s teammate on the court and in the broadcast booth, adding later. : “I didn’t know the game could be played properly.

In his twenties, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Hernandez achieved almost everything a player could hope to achieve: a World Series title, a Most Valuable Player award, a Silver Slugger, two All-Star selections. and five Gold Gloves at first base.

He also used cocaine, clashed with manager Whitey Herzog and was traded in June 1983 to baseball’s oblivion: last-place Mets, for prize giveaway from pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

“I remember Dave Kingman meeting me at the clubhouse – Dave Kingman, who was so deadpan, never any emotion, straight face, I never saw him smile,” Hernandez said. “He had a big smile on his face to greet me and shake my hand, and he said, ‘Thank God you’re here, because you’re my ticket out of here. “”

The Mets had been on a spiral since trading Seaver in 1977, but in 1983 he was back for a second stint. Things had gotten crazy for the franchise and The Franchise.

“Seaver walks up to me and says, ‘Welcome to the Stems,'” Hernandez said. “I go, ‘Stems?’ He goes, ‘Spelled it backwards!’ I went, ‘Where am I?’ I left a team in first place, I was the reigning world champion and I’m like “Oh my God”.

“I get on the bus after the football match to go back to the hotel, there is no one on the bus. I go to the hotel bar after the game, there is no one at the hotel bar. I went, ‘Oh, boy.’ So I had three months to really soak it all up.

The Mets finished the 1983 season 68-94, the worst in the National League. Hernandez, a native of California, considered signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Diego Padres. His father, John, persuaded him to stay in New York, reminding him of the Mets’ busy farming system. After seven straight losing seasons, the Mets would have the majors’ best record (575-395) in Hernandez’s six full seasons at Flushing.

Hernandez prepared with mental and physical changes ahead of his first spring training with the Mets. Freshly separated from his wife, he spent the winter in Philadelphia at the suggestion of a friend, Gary Matthews, who had just finished the season with the Phillies. Matthews liked to run for exercise, and although Hernandez had never trained much in the offseason, he followed Matthews’ schedule, running along the Schuylkill River, past Boathouse Row, to the museum. of art. He showed up at camp in prime condition, ready to embrace a new role for his 30th birthday: wizened club leader and good-natured townsman.

Hernandez, who had quit cocaine just before the trade, found a mentor in pinch veteran Rusty Staub. Staub encouraged Hernandez to live in Manhattan, on the East Side, in Turtle Bay. Hernandez took advantage of his surroundings, on and off the field, and was an MVP runner-up. The Mets became contenders, then added Carter for the 1985 season and won the World Series in 1986.

To do that, they first had to outlast the Houston Astros in a tense National League championship series. Before the final, in Round 16 of Game 6 at the frenetic Astrodome, Hernandez met Carter and Jesse Orosco on the mound. Orosco had given up a homer on a fastball in the 14th, and a Kevin Bass homer would lose the game. Hernandez told Orosco he would kill him if he threw a fastball at Bass.

Orosco threw all sliders and retired Bass to win the pennant. Such was the seriousness of Hernandez.

“I was trying to think of New York sports history, and I think of Keith a bit like I think of Mark Messier – a world champion with another organization, an MVP player, a guy who once ‘He wore a New York uniform, brought instant credibility,’ Darling said. “And that’s what Keith was for our 1986 players.”

Hernandez won six Golden Gloves with the Mets, with .387 on-base percentage and 80 homers. His .297 average ranks second in club history after John Olerud’s .315 among players with at least 1,500 plate appearances. The Hall of Fame eluded Hernandez, but it looks like he might have a chance in the next few years.

Hernandez has won more wins over the replacement (60.3) than Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Minnie Miñoso and Hodges, all of whom have been elected by committees over the past four years. He didn’t have the power of Eddie Murray or Tony Perez or other star first basemen of his day. But he wouldn’t look out of place in Cooperstown.

“I hope I have another, what 15, 16, 17, 18 years of life?” Hernandez said. “Maybe it will happen before I set foot in the stirrup.”

The Mets and their owner, Steven Cohen, did not wait for a committee to validate Hernandez’s legacy. They understand – finally – that they are keepers of their past, and Hernandez is vital to their story.

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Newsrust - US Top News: By honoring Hernandez, the Mets fully embrace their past
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