Honoring Hernandez, Mets fully embraces his past

It’s a sensual thing, the idea of ​​giving up a player’s number the way the Mets would do for No. 1 Keith Hernandez. 17 on Saturday. This is more symbolism than statistics, a referendum on the value of a player for the team and the city.

Many teams have long understood this. There is no Thurman Munson memorial plaque in Cooperstown, New York, but the Yankees retired his number 1.15 anyway. Same with Johnny Pesci and the Boston Red Sox, Frank White and the Kansas City Royals, Randy Jones and the San Diego Padres and on and on.

It took the Mets a long time to understand the concept. It took them until their 55th season in 2016 to retire the player’s second number. This was because Mike Piazza had just been elected to the Hall of Fame, which means he’s number one. 31 can join Tom Seaver’s number. 41 on the front side of the upper deck in the left corner of the field at Citi Field.

The Mets also retired the numbers of managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14), while 42 Jackie Robinson retired in all of Major League Baseball. But the team was notoriously stingy with player recognition; not even Gary Carter, a Hall of Fame catcher whose No. 1 8 has been inactive since 2001, had not previously been honored with a retirement. his death in 2012cruel and senseless oversight.

Hernandez, 68, is still here. you can find it live on SNY and Twitter, and Seinfeld reruns on Netflix. After Saturday’s ceremony, you’ll also find him lined up with other big Mets players: Seaver, Piazza and Jerry Kusman. whose number 36 retired last year. But the Met didn’t wear No. 17 years since Fernando Tatis Sr. in 2010 and now belongs to Hernandez forever.

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

In his 20s with St. Louis Cardinals, Hernandez achieved just about everything a player could hope for: a World Series title, a MVP, 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 sold in June 1983. into baseball oblivion: bottom-place Mets for the free price of pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownby.

“I remember Dave Kingman meeting me at the club — Dave Kingman, who was so deadpan, without any emotion, with a deadpan face, I never saw him smile,” Hernandez said. “He had a big smile on his face as he greeted me and shook my hand and he said, ‘Thank God you’re here because you’re my ticket out of here.’

The Mets had been in a spiral since the Siver trade in 1977, but by 1983 he was back for a second term. The franchise and The Franchise have reached an impasse.

“Siver comes up to me and says, ‘Welcome to Stems,'” Hernandez said. “I’m going,” Stems? He says, “Mets is spelled backwards!” I asked, “Where am I?” I left the team in first place, was the current world champion, and I say: “Oh my God.”

“I get on the bus after the ball game 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 in the hotel bar. I said, “Oh boy.” So I had three months to really soak it all in.”

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

Hernandez prepared himself with mental and physical changes ahead of his first spring training session with the Mets. Recently separated from his wife, he spent the winter in Philadelphia at the suggestion of friend Gary Matthews, who had just finished a season with the Phillies. Matthews loved to run for exercise, and although Hernandez never trained much in the off-season, he chose Matthews’ program, running along the Schuylkill River, past Elling Row, to the Museum of Art. He showed up to camp in great shape, ready to take on a new role for his 30s: shriveled club leader and cheerful man in town.

Hernandez, who stopped using cocaine shortly before the deal, found a mentor in Rusty Staub, a seasoned hitter. Staub encouraged Hernandez to live in Manhattan, on the East Side, in Turtle Bay. Hernandez embraced his surroundings, on and off the field, and finished second in the MVP rankings. The Mets became a contender, then added Carter in the 1985 season and won the World Series in 1986.

To do this, they first needed to outlast the Houston Astros in a tight National League championship streak. Before the final out, in the 16th inning of Game 6 at the frenzied Astrodome, Hernandez faced Carter and Jesse Orozco on the mound. Orozco turned down a homer after a fastball in 14th and Kevin Bass’s homer would lose the game. Hernandez told Orozco that he would kill him if he threw a fastball to Bass.

Orozco threw all sliders and struck out Bass to win the pennant. Such was the authority of Hernandez.

“I’ve been trying to think about the history of New York sports and I think of Keith a bit the same way I think of Mark Messier – a world champion from another organization, an MVP player, a guy who once wore a New York uniform, caused instant credibility” Darling said. “And that’s exactly what Keith was for our ’86 players.”

Hernandez won six Golden Gloves with the Mets with a .387 on base and 80 home runs. His .297 batting average is second in club history behind John Olerud’s .315 among players with at least 1,500 appearances. The Hall of Famer has eluded Hernandez, but it looks like he’ll have a chance in the next few years.

Hernandez has had more wins over substitutes (60.3) than Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Minnie Mignoso and Hodges, who have all been elected by committees in the past four years. He didn’t have the strength of Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, or other first base stars of his era. But he wouldn’t look out of place in Cooperstown.

“I hope I have more, what are 15, 16, 17, 18 years of life?” Hernandez said. “Maybe it will happen before I die.”

The Mets and their owner Stephen Cohen didn’t wait for the committee to confirm Hernandez’s legacy. They finally realize that they are the guardians of their past, and Hernandez plays a vital role in their story.