New York Mets finally retire #17 because HE is Keith Hernandez
By Alan Karmin
Don Zimmer was the first of 17 people to wear the #17 for the New York Mets before Keith Hernandez arrived in 1983 in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. Some other names that may ring a bell who wore that number were Rod Gaspar, Teddy Martinez, Felix Millan and Ellis Valentine.
You have to wonder what the equipment manager was thinking after Keith left. Because the No. 17 was handed out to an additional 15 players. David Cone was the first to don the uniform, one of three numbers he would wear with the Mets, to honor Hernandez. Bret Saberhagen would look to do the same a couple of years later, but all he did was disgrace it. As did some of the other pretty obscure names to wear that number.
Hernandez wore the No. 37 with the Cardinals, however, of course, that number had long been retired having only been worn by Casey Stengel. Hernandez just wanted a jersey that had the No. 7 somehow incorporated. And so he received the No. 17.
The last player to actually wear No. 17 was Fernando Tatis, who spent parts of three years in a Mets uniform. Tatis, of course, was known for hitting two grand slams in one inning and now, more notably, as the father of Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Ironically, Tatis wore No. 27 with the Cardinals, however, that number was being worn. So…like Hernandez, Tatis opted for whatever available jersey he could have that included the No. 7 in it.
And for as many people wore that No. 17 on their jersey, it will forever be most closely associated with Keith Hernandez. And now that number will hang from the rafters with the Nos. 14, 37, 41, 42, 31, and 36.
Following his career in Major League Baseball, Hernandez became famous to another audience when he joined New York Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld and played himself on the iconic sitcom.
Every Mets fan, every Seinfeld fan, can hear Hernandez say that line which has, itself, become iconic - "I'm Keith Hernandez!" I, too, wouldn't want to help the guy move. But, I have always believed that Keith Hernandez belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was truly a marvel to watch if you got the pleasure of seeing him play regularly.
Hernandez hit .296 for his career, finishing with 2,182 hits. He received over 1,000 free passes, and actually walked more times than he struck out in his career. He finished with a high on base percentage of .384. The one thing that is keeping Hernandez from the Hall of Fame, and quite unfairly, is that he only slugged 162 home runs at a position that is unfortunately known for power hitters. Wade Boggs didn’t hit for power and he was elected as a third baseman. Just doesn’t make sense.
He was the batting champion and co-MVP in 1979, and led the league in each of these categories at least once – doubles, runs scored, walks, OBP. He was a five-time All Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. But his 11 Gold Glove Awards is what is the most noteworthy. Because the way Ozzie Smith was a magician at shortstop, Keith Hernandez matched him playing first base. He was that good.
Hernandez enjoyed success in St. Louis. He won his batting championship and MVP, and a World Series title, as a Cardinal. But what he did when he came to the Mets was to transform the mindset, the attitude, the work ethic. On the field he played like Ozzie Smith. But in the clubhouse, he was that generation’s Tom Seaver. He didn’t really want to come to New York and, he certainly didn’t want to come to New York to be a loser. And not only would the Mets be relevant again, they would soon win their second, and last, World Series title.
Numbers don’t say everything about what a player means to a team. But retiring a uniform number certainly does. You can now be sure never to again look down and find No. 17 in your program. Because from now on you will have to look up and find it hanging from the rafters…where it belongs.