Keith Hernandez by no means wished to return to New York and now he’s ceaselessly a Met: ‘Best thing that ever happened to me’


The man who may anticipate every thing on the baseball diamond swears he didn’t see this coming. In reality, he thought it would by no means occur in any respect.

Keith Hernandez was caught completely by surprise when the Mets introduced that they might be retiring his quantity. The ceremony, set for July 9 at Citi Field, is an extended overdue recognition for one of many staff’s greatest gamers. For so long as there are the New York Mets, there might be a No. 17 plaque on show, making Hernandez immortal in a spot he by no means wished to be within the first place.

“There was no excitement for coming to New York, because they were a last place team,” Hernandez says. Speaking over the telephone from his yard in California, Hernandez remembers the day in 1983 when he was traded from the Cardinals to the Mets.

“It was a very sad day for me,” he admits. “I was a Cardinals fan as a kid. I came up in the ‘70s when New York was going bankrupt. It was kind of a dangerous town. I didn’t go out when we’d visit, I’d stay close to the hotel or didn’t leave. I had no idea what would happen, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

A short synopsis of his accomplishments with the Mets consists of three journeys to the All-Star Game, 5 consecutive Gold Gloves, and naturally, the World Series title in 1986. Bringing a championship to Queens will at all times be the most important spotlight of his Mets’ tenure, however Hernandez says that the relationships he fostered carry him extra satisfaction than any World Series jewellery.

“In 1984, my first full year with the Mets, I was 30 years old and there were a bunch of young kids,” Hernandez says. “I could have turned inward and just come to the park every day and put my numbers up, or with all the young players that were so eager, I could impart my experiences on them. That’s what I’m most proud of. It puts a big smile on my face when I get a call from Kevin Mitchell or Wally Backman. They say nice things about me and how I helped them. That means a lot to me.”

Don’t simply take it from Hernandez, take it from Mitchell (who can’t for the lifetime of him perceive why his former captain isn’t the Hall of Fame) and Backman (who misses the postgame beers they’d share within the clubhouse).

“It’s taken a long time for Keith to get anything, bro,” Mitchell says. “He deserves all of it. The man is unbelievable. He’s a leader, never a follower. He led us that whole year in ‘86.”

“He was always a step ahead,” Backman marvels. “It’s what you want all your guys to do but it just doesn’t happen. Most guys just go out and play the game. He was actually managing the game in his head, which is not an easy task.”

Then there have been the extracurriculars. The ‘86 Mets were a famously hard-partying group, one that would beat the brakes off everyone despite varying degrees of sobriety or hangovers. Bobby Ojeda, who joined the Mets for that ‘86 run and played five seasons with Hernandez, remembers getting introduced to the first baseman’s suave way of life.

“It was early in the season, and Keith was like, ‘Come on. Let’s go out in the city,’” Ojeda says. “I show up at his apartment in standard jock uniform: jeans, sneakers, T-shirt and probably a leather jacket. He’s like, ‘No. This isn’t going to work.’ He pulls out some leather pants and these cool shoes, really cool stuff.”

Hernandez understood the facility of drip lengthy earlier than social media and the web’s obsession with every thing athletes do, say and put on.

“He completely dressed me, and I needed it,” Ojeda laughs. “That outfit was working. I walked out that door feeling pretty strong about my look. We went to some model party, and all of a sudden, I noticed that the clothes do make a difference. A few hours later I’m like, ‘OK, this did work.’ He was a full service teammate.”

Today, almost 33 years faraway from his final recreation as a Met, the 68-year-old Hernandez continues to be very a lot part of the group. His job as a shade commentator for SNY has given Hernandez a second life in baseball. He started calling Mets’ video games in 1998, that means a complete technology of followers know him just for his wisecracks within the sales space and never for his refined method on the plate or silky glovework at first base.

“A lot of people have told me that they were absolutely surprised that I have a sense of humor and I’m a little goofy,” Hernandez says. “They figured I’d be this stern and serious guy.”

Trying to think about Hernandez as a stern and critical man is laughable for the thousands and thousands of people that have been launched to him by way of the printed sales space. Those who shared the sphere with him can see how he made the transition so seamless, although.

“When he started to do it, I went, ‘He’s going to be good at this,’” Backman says. “The knowledge he has of the game, he knows every aspect.”

“I’d say, ‘You’re a mind reader, Keith,’” Mitchell tells the Daily News. “It’s unbelievable stuff. Straight instincts.”

Still, as the remainder of the Mets’ dugout revered him, there have been occasions when No. 17 doubted himself. This led to one in all many quirks within the distinctive story of Keith Hernandez. When he felt he wanted some swing recommendation, Hernandez would name his household throughout video games. He’d usually chat together with his older brother, Gary, or his father, John, who handed away in 1992.

“He did it all the time! He’s the only guy I know in baseball that ever did that,” Backman says.

“I have never seen that in my whole career except for Keith. He amazes me,” Mitchell provides.

Gary, who is 2 and a half years older than Keith, had one telephone name locked and loaded when requested about probably the most memorable one.

“When he called me from Houston [during the 1986 NLCS] in the clubhouse during the important game when he was facing Bob Knepper [in Game 6],” Gary says. “I had played against Knepper in the minor leagues. Keith would call me because, like anyone else, he wanted to have everything he possibly could in his arsenal. He wanted the confidence that I would give him.”

The brothers have been very shut and stay so to today. While he was enjoying at Cal-Berkeley, Gary set various faculty information throughout his sophomore 12 months. He instructed his coach that whereas he was having fun with an All-American season, their actual precedence must be making an attempt to signal Keith, who Gary joked would transfer him to the bench.

During these conversations on the Mets’ clubhouse telephone, Gary often shook his head and instructed Keith to do the issues that had allowed him to have such a fruitful big-league profession.

“I was a worry wart with my swing,” Keith says. “I knew that Gary was watching. He’s always been my biggest supporter and my good luck charm. It basically shows a lot of insecurity, if you ask me.”

“I’d tell him, ‘Keith, you’re going to rip this guy. You’re swinging great.’ It’s amazing how even great players need that,” Gary chuckles. “There’s still fear of failure.”

Failure was hardly ever a part of Keith’s recreation. He performed components of seven seasons for the Mets and slashed .297/.387/.429, numbers that made him a more-than-deserving quantity retiree and assist give him a robust Hall of Fame case for the Modern Baseball Committee to think about.

As for a way he ended up with 17 on his again — he wore 37 for many of his Cardinal days however stated he was “never really happy with that number” — Hernandez stated it was a tribute to his childhood idol, Mickey Mantle.

“When I got to the big leagues, I never felt like I could wear 7, but I wanted a 7 on my back,” Hernandez stated, referencing Mantle’s well-known quantity but additionally the sensation that he’d by no means dwell as much as Mantle’s not possible customary if he wore his quantity.

“When I got traded to the Mets, Charlie Samuels was our clubhouse manager,” Hernandez says. “He said, ‘I can’t give you 37. That’s Casey Stengel’s. It’s retired.’ He said we have 17 and I said that’s perfect.”

A couple of gamers wore the quantity after Hernandez retired, however that’s a factor of the previous now. When he was instructed that he’d be receiving this honor, Hernandez says he by no means dreamed this could occur in 1,000,000 years, including that it places a participant in a “different stratosphere”. The listing of Mets’ gamers with retired numbers is now 4 names lengthy: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Mike Piazza and Hernandez.

“There’ve been a lot of incredible athletes who have played for the Mets,” Ojeda says. “The Mets have an incredible fanbase and they hold their former players who have done memorable things for them in high regard. I think this is great for Mets fans. It’s cool, it’s very fitting.”

Keith’s rock, talisman, and infrequently long-distance telephone companion will get emotional eager about what it will likely be wish to lookup on July 9 and see his brother’s quantity alongside these legends.

“I’m dumbfounded, and I’m so proud that his number is going to be there for eternity,” Gary says. “I almost get teary eyed when I think about it. To see my brother’s number going up on the wall, it’s the greatest honor a team can give a player.”

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