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By Honoring Hernandez, the Mets Fully Embrace Their Past

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It’s a really feel factor, the notion of retiring a participant’s quantity, because the Mets will now do for Keith Hernandez’s No. 17. It’s extra about symbolism than statistics, a referendum on the which means of a participant to a group and a city.

Many groups have lengthy understood this. There isn’t a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y., for Thurman Munson, however the Yankees retired his No. 15 anyway. Identical with Johnny Pesky and the Boston Pink Sox, Frank White and the Kansas Metropolis Royals, Randy Jones and the San Diego Padres and on and on and on.

The Mets took a very long time to understand the idea. It took them till their fifty fifth season, in 2016, to retire a second participant’s quantity. That was as a result of Mike Piazza had simply been elected to the Corridor of Fame, which means his No. 31 may be a part of Tom Seaver’s No. 41 on the going through of the highest deck within the left subject nook at Citi Area.

The Mets had additionally retired the numbers of managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14), and Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired all through Main League Baseball. However the group was notoriously stingy in recognizing gamers; even Gary Carter, the Corridor of Fame catcher whose No. 8 has been out of use since 2001, was not honored with a quantity retirement earlier than his death in 2012, a merciless and pointless oversight.

Hernandez, 68, remains to be right here. You could find him on SNY broadcasts and Twitter and “Seinfeld” reruns on Netflix. After a ceremony on July 9, additionally, you will discover him in a lineup with different important Mets gamers: Seaver, Piazza and Jerry Koosman, whose No. 36 was retired last year. No Met has worn No. 17 since Fernando Tatis Sr. in 2010, and now it belongs to Hernandez endlessly.

“He introduced a successful tradition, simply the best way he moved and the best way he acted and the best way he performed,” stated Ron Darling, Hernandez’s teammate on the sector and within the broadcast sales space, including later, “I didn’t know the sport may very well be performed that accurately.”

In his 20s, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Hernandez achieved almost every little thing a participant may hope to do: a World Sequence title, a Most Worthwhile Participant Award, a Silver Slugger, two All-Star picks and 5 Gold Gloves at first base.

He additionally used cocaine, clashed with Supervisor Whitey Herzog, and got traded in June 1983 to baseball oblivion: the last-place Mets, for the giveaway value of pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

“I bear in mind Dave Kingman assembly me within the clubhouse — Dave Kingman, who was so deadpan, by no means any emotion, straight face, I by no means noticed him smile,” Hernandez stated. “He had a giant smile on his face to greet me and shake my hand, and he stated, ‘Thank gosh you’re right here, since you’re my ticket out of right here.’”

The Mets had been in a spiral since buying and selling Seaver in 1977, however by 1983 he was again for a second stint. Issues had gotten crazy for the franchise and The Franchise.

“Seaver comes as much as me and says, ‘Welcome to the Stems,’” Hernandez stated. “I am going, ‘Stems?’ He goes, ‘Mets spelled backwards!’ I went, ‘The place am I?’ I left a group in first place, was a defending world champion, and I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh.’

“I get on the bus after the ballgame to return to the lodge, there’s nobody on the bus. I am going into the lodge bar after the sport, there’s nobody within the lodge bar. I went, ‘Oh, boy.’ So I had three months to essentially soak all of it in.”

The Mets completed the 1983 season 68-94, worst within the Nationwide League. Hernandez, a California native, thought-about signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Diego Padres. His father, John, persuaded him to remain in New York, reminding him of the Mets’ loaded farm system. After seven dropping seasons in a row, the Mets would have the majors’ finest document (575-395) throughout Hernandez’s six full seasons in Flushing.

Hernandez ready himself with psychological and bodily adjustments earlier than his first spring coaching with the Mets. Newly separated from his spouse, he spent the winter in Philadelphia on the suggestion of a buddy, Gary Matthews, who had simply completed the season with the Phillies. Matthews appreciated to run for train, and whereas Hernandez had by no means skilled a lot within the low season, he took to Matthews’s program, working alongside the Schuylkill River, previous Boathouse Row, right down to the Artwork Museum. He reported to camp in peak situation, able to embrace a brand new function for his 30s: wizened clubhouse chief and debonair man about city.

Hernandez, who had stopped utilizing cocaine simply earlier than the commerce, discovered a mentor in Rusty Staub, the veteran pinch-hitter. Staub inspired Hernandez to dwell in Manhattan, on the East Aspect, in Turtle Bay. Hernandez took to his environment, on and off the sector, and was the runner-up for M.V.P. The Mets turned contenders, then added Carter for the 1985 season and received the World Sequence in 1986.

To do it, they first needed to outlast the Houston Astros in a tense Nationwide League Championship Sequence. Earlier than the ultimate out, within the sixteenth inning of Recreation 6 on the frenzied Astrodome, Hernandez met with Carter and Jesse Orosco on the mound. Orosco had given up a homer off a fastball within the 14th, and a homer by Kevin Bass would lose the sport. Hernandez advised Orosco he would kill him if he threw Bass a fastball.

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

“I used to be attempting to consider the historical past of New York sports activities, and I consider Keith somewhat bit like I consider Mark Messier — a world champion with one other group, an M.V.P. participant, a man that, as soon as he wore a New York uniform, introduced on the spot credibility,” Darling stated. “And that’s what Keith was for our ’86 gamers.”

Hernandez received six Gold Gloves with the Mets, with a .387 on-base share and 80 house runs. His .297 common ranks second in membership historical past to John Olerud’s .315 amongst gamers with at the very least 1,500 plate appearances. The Corridor of Fame has eluded Hernandez, however he would appear to have an opportunity within the subsequent few years.

Hernandez had extra wins above substitute (60.3) than Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Minnie Miñoso and Hodges, who’ve all been elected by committees within the final 4 years. He didn’t have the ability of Eddie Murray or Tony Perez or different star first basemen of his period. However he wouldn’t look misplaced in Cooperstown.

“Hopefully I’ve bought one other, what 15, 16, 17, 18 years of life?” Hernandez stated. “Perhaps it’ll occur earlier than I kick the bucket.”

The Mets and their proprietor, Steven Cohen, didn’t look ahead to a committee to validate Hernandez’s legacy. They perceive — lastly — that they’re stewards of their previous, and Hernandez is significant to their story.

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