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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Keith Hernandez Never Wanted To Come To New York And Now He’s A Mate Forever: ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me’

The man who could guess everything on a baseball diamond swears he didn’t see it. In fact, he thought it could never happen.

Keith Hernandez was completely surprised when the Mets announced they would be retiring their number. The ceremony, scheduled for July 9 at Citi Field, is a long-pending recognition for one of the team’s best players. As long as the New York Mets are there, there will be a number 17 plaque on display, immortalizing Hernandez in a place he never wanted to be in the first place.

“There was no excitement to come to New York, because they were a last-place team,” Hernandez says. Speaking on the phone from his backyard in California, Hernandez recalled 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 fan of the Cardinals as a kid. I was in the ’70s when New York was going bankrupt. It was kind of a dangerous city. I didn’t go out when we went to visit, I was near the hotel He lived or didn’t go. I didn’t know what would happen, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

A brief summary of his achievements with the Mets includes three trips to the All-Star Game, five consecutive Gold Gloves and, of course, the 1986 World Series title. Bringing a championship to Queens will always be the biggest highlight of their Mets. tenure, but Hernandez says the relationships they build bring them more glory than any World Series jewel.

“In 1984, my first full year with the Mets, I was 30 and had a bunch of little kids,” Hernandez says. “I could turn in and just come to the park every day and put in my numbers, or I could share my experiences with all the young players who were so eager. That’s what I’m most proud of. When I get a call from Kevin Mitchell or Wally Beckman, I have a big smile on my face. They say nice things about me and how I helped them. that means a lot to me.”

Don’t just take it from Hernandez, take it from Mitchell (who can’t for the life of him figure out why his former captain isn’t a Hall of Fame) and Backman (who remembers the postgame beer they’d share at the clubhouse) .

“It’s taken Keith a long time to get through anything, bro,” says Mitchell. “He deserves it all. The man is incredible. He is the leader, never the follower. He led us all year into ’86.

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

Then there were extracurriculars. The ’86 Mets were a well-known hard-partying group that would beat the brakes despite varying degrees of sobriety or hangovers. Bobby Ojeda, who joined the Mets for that ’86 run and played five seasons with Hernandez, remembers being introduced to the first baseman’s sober lifestyle.

“It was early in the season, and Keith was like, ‘Come on. Let’s go out on the town,'” Ojeda says. “I show up at his apartment in standard jock uniform: jeans, sneakers, T-shirt and Maybe a leather jacket. He’s like, ‘No. It will not work.’ He takes off some leather pants and these nice shoes, really cool stuff. ,

Hernandez understood the power of the drip long before social media and the internet’s obsession with everything athletes say, and wear.

“He fully clothed me, and I needed it,” laughs Ojeda. “That dress was working. I walked out the door feeling very strong about my look. We went to a model party, and suddenly, I noticed that clothes make a difference. A few hours later I was like, ‘Okay, it worked.’ He was a full service teammate. ,

Today, nearly 33 years away from his last game as the Met, the 68-year-old Hernandez is still a part of the organization. His job as color commentator for SNY has given Hernandez a second life in baseball. He began calling the Mets the game in 1998, meaning an entire generation of fans would know him only for his sense of humor in the booth, not his sophisticated approach to the plate or silky gloves at first base.

“A lot of people have told me that they were absolutely shocked that I have a sense of humor and that I’m a little goofy,” Hernandez says. “They thought I’d be such a tough and serious guy.”

Trying to imagine Hernandez as a stern and serious person is laughable to the millions of people who were introduced to him through the broadcast booth. Those who shared the area with him can see how he made the transition so smooth.

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

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

Still, as the rest of the Mets dugout respected him, there were times when No. 17 doubted himself. This led to one of the many quirks in Keith Hernandez’s unique story. When he felt he needed some swing advice, Hernandez would call his family during the game. He usually chatted with his older brother Gary or his father John, who passed away in 1992.

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

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire career except for Keith. That amazes me,” says Michelle.

Gary, who is two and a half years older than Keith, had a phone call locked and loaded when asked about the most memorable calls.

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

The brothers were very close and remain so today. While he was playing at Cal-Berkeley, Gary set several school records during his sophomore year. He told his coach that while he was enjoying the All-American season, his real priority should be to try to sign Keith, who Gary joked would lead him to the bench.

During those conversations on the Mets clubhouse phone, Gary usually nodded his head and told Keith to do things that could lead to such a fruitful big-league career.

“I had a worry wart with my swing,” Keith says. “I knew 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 gonna rip this guy off. You’re swinging great.’ It’s amazing how even great players need it,” chuckles Gary. “There’s still a fear of failure.”

Failure was rarely a part of Keith’s game. He played parts of seven seasons for the Mets and dropped the numbers .297/.387/.429, which made him a more-than-deserving retiree and earned him a strong Hall of Fame for the Modern Baseball Committee’s consideration. Helped to deliver the Fame Case.

How he ended up with 17 on his back – he wore 37 for most of his Cardinal days but said he was “never really happy with that number” – Hernandez said it was a tribute to his childhood idol Mickey Mantle .

“When I went to the big leagues, I never felt like I could wear a 7 but I wanted a 7 on my back,” Hernandez said, referring to Mantle’s famous number, but also feeling that He will never live up to Mantle’s impossible standard. If he was wearing his number.

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

Some players wore numbers after Hernandez’s retirement, but that is now a thing of the past. When told that he would receive this honor, Hernandez says that he never dreamed it would happen in a million years, adding that it puts a player in a “different stratosphere”. The list of retired Mets players is now four names long: Tom Seaver, Jerry Cosman, Mike Piazza and Hernandez.

“There have been so many 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 esteem. I think it’s great for Mets fans. It’s cool, it’s so fitting.” “

Keith’s rock, amulet, and often long-distance phone partner gets emotional wondering what to watch on July 9th and sees his brother’s number with those legends.

“I’m dumb, and I’m so proud that his number will last an eternity,” says Gary. “My eyes almost moisten when I think about it. Watching my brother’s number go up the wall is the greatest honor a team can give to a player.”


World Nation News Desk
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