At long last! Keith Hernandez’s day with New York sports destiny has arrived, well deservedly I might add. The greatest honor any sports team can bestow on a player is to have his jersey number retired, and Hernandez’s legacy as a New York Mets icon will be confirmed when his No. 17 is raised to the rafters before today’s game against the Marlins.
There are a select few that have endeared themselves to Mets fans and New Yorkers like Hernandez did that spans generations for four decades following his arrival to Flushing.
First, there was the generation that saw Keith Hernandez as the impact first baseman for the 1986 World Series champions, and played a huge role in the Mets’ successes in the 1980s.
All the die-hard fans knew the Mets were finally serious again when they acquired Hernandez from the Cardinals on June 15, 1983 in one of the greatest trades a team has ever made, reversing six years of ineptitude in the process. Hernandez was a proven winner and perhaps the greatest defensive first baseman in baseball history, and his arrival (and of his famous mustache) finally made fans believe in the Mets again.
And boy, did he deliver the goods for the Mets. In 880 games from 1983-89, he batted .297, had a .387 on-base percentage, collected 939 hits, hit 80 home runs, drove in 468 runs, won six straight Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award, and was essential in the Mets winning the 1986 World Series with his fingerprints over major comebacks in the postseason, such Game 6 of the NLCS at the Houston Astrodome and Game 7 of the World Series at Shea Stadium.
Also, how can we forget the memorable TV appearances over the years, highlighted by the episode on Seinfeld where he dated Elaine Benes to his encounter with Count von Count and Snuffy alongside Mookie Wilson on Sesame Street? Keith is surely a man suited for all ages.
And then there is the generation that grew up to Keith Hernandez's colorful commentary for two decades as a Mets television analyst on SportsNet New York, alongside Ron Darling and Gary Cohen.
Gary, Keith, and Ron have endeared the current generations of Mets fans through their succinct analysis of the game using their expertise and experience, and have made all their games worth watching, even making the blowouts interesting. And Keith has offered lots of laughs for the fans from the booth, to his “stroking out” comment this season, to sleeping in the booth, to the “media guide musings” in blowout losses where they read from the team’s media guides to pass time. Also remember he shaved his famous mustache for charity in 2012?
Keith’s presence in the SNY booth helped Mets fans get through the good times and the bad, the winning and the losing, and makes fans wonder what might happen next, appealing to the old school fans that are against the universal DH and an environment where hitters rely on the three true outcomes more than ever.
And it took Steve Cohen’s brass, fitting enough, to finally place Keith’s number atop the rafters at Citi Field. And this season, the Mets begin their tribute series of connecting bobblehead giveaways of the SNY booth with Keith’s bobblehead giveaway to the first 25,000 fans in attendance before the pregame ceremony this afternoon. Ron Darling bobbleheads will be given out on August 13, while Gary Cohen bobbles are set to be distributed on September 17.
And how about the players who deserved their number to be retired but weren’t under the archaic rule the Wilpons had that you had to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Met to have his number retired. Jerry Koosman’s number retirement was announced before the ownership change, but now you’ve got Keith Hernandez’s No. 17, David Wright’s No. 5 is probably going to be retired in the next few years, and hopefully Gary Carter’s No. 8 soon after.
Today’s occasion gives Mets fans another reason to not only celebrate one of their very own, but also to salivate an ownership that actually cares about its own history and the players the fans grew to love.