Saturday afternoon at Citi Field, the New York Mets retired No. 17 in honor of longtime first baseman Keith Hernandez. The gesture was long overdue — Hernandez was the first captain in Mets history and he played his final big league game in 1990 — and was said to be a priority for new owner Steve Cohen.
“It’s very touching. It’s a good moment,” Hernandez said prior to the number retirement ceremony Saturday. “I did my speech this morning. I’m a great procrastinator. I woke up I believe 8 o’clock, 8:30, had coffee, and then I sat down for around an hour, did this speech.”
The Mets presented Hernandez with several gifts on the field prior to their game against the Miami Marlins, and Hernandez threw out the ceremonial first pitch from first base. His brother, Gary, caught the first pitch with the mitt Keith used during the 1986 postseason. Here’s the tribute video the Mets played on the scoreboard:
No. 17 is the seventh retired number in Mets history, joining No. 14 (Gil Hodges), No. 31 (Mike Piazza), No. 36 (Jerry Koosman), No. 37 (Casey Stengel), No. 41 (Tom Seaver) and the universally retired No. 42 (Jackie Robinson). It stands to reason No. 5 will be retired for David Wright in the near future.
“I am absolutely humbled and proud that my number will be up in the rafters for eternity along with Casey, Gil, Tom, Mike and Jerry,” Hernandez said during Saturday’s ceremony. “Sixty years of New York Mets.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who started at first base across town with the New York Yankees while Hernandez played for the Mets, came out of the visiting dugout during the ceremony to offer his congratulations.
Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in June 1983, Hernandez was simply one of the best first basemen of his era despite not being a traditional first base slugger. He authored a .297/.387/.429 (129 OPS+) batting line with 80 home runs in parts of seven seasons with the Mets, and the case can be made he is the great defensive first baseman in baseball history.
Hernandez hit .320/.402/.440 during his three-year peak with the Mets from 1984-86 and of course led the club to the 1986 World Series championship. Those three years Hernandez finished second, eighth and fourth in the NL MVP voting. All told, Hernandez was a five-time All-Star (three with the Mets) and an 11-time Gold Glove winner (five with the Mets).
The 1979 NL co-MVP with Willie Stargell while with the Cardinals, Hernandez retired with 2,182 hits and 162 home runs in parts of 17 big league seasons. His career 60.3 WAR is better than that of several Hall of Fame first basemen, though Hernandez fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in his ninth year of eligibility in 2004. He topped at 10.4 percent of the vote in 2000.
Hernandez has covered the Mets as a television color commentator with SportsNet New York since the network launched in 2006.
The Mets issued No. 17 to 15 players after Hernandez left the team, including David Cone (1991-92), Bret Saberhagen (1994-95) and Kevin Appier (2001). No. 17 was last worn by Fernando Tatis Sr. from 2008-10.