|Keith Hernandez (right) with Gary Cohen at the recent screening of his SNY documentary. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Keith Hernandez's number 17 was retired by the Mets on Saturday at Citi Field, in honor of the stellar run he had in New York from 1983 to 1989, in which he he led them in the best era in their history, which included the 1986 World Championship.
After the Mets did not re-sign him after the 1989 season, in which Hernandez fractured his knee cap, and he played in 75 games, and hit .233 with four home runs and 19 RBI.
Hernandez wound up signing with the Cleveland Indians, the first time he would be playing in the American League. This was Cleveland pre-1990s two-time American League pennant winning teams, pre-Jacobs Field, as the team was still mired in losing and playing in the very old Memorial Stadium. (Just think of the how Indians were captured in the 1989 movie Major League for further context)
The amazing thing is who else was a part of that team, starting with two of his former teammates with the Mets, Relief pitcher Jesse Orosco, who made the final out of the 1986 World Series, pitched for the Mets from 1979 to 1987, then was a member of the 1998 Los Angeles Dodgers team that beat the Mets in the playoffs on the way to a World Series title, joined the Indians in 1989, where he pitched for three seasons as apart of a 24-year career that saw him pitch for the Yankees in his final season, 2003. Infielder Rafael Santana, who played for the Mets from 1984 to '87, went to the Yankees in 1988, missed the '89 season, and joined the Indians for the '90 campaign.
Hernandez is well-known for his guest spot on Seinfeld, and someone who was mentioned in one of the most memorable scenes in the series was his teammate in Cleveland: Ken Phelps. The slugger was part of what was one of the most infamous trades in Yankees history, as they sent then-prospect Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for him in a trade in 1988, and he lasted basically one year in New York before he was traded in Oakland in 1989. Buhner went on to anchor the best period in Mariners history, on those very successful 1990s teams with Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez, and one that beat the Yankees in the 1995 playoffs.
The Seinfeld scene Phelps is immortalized in was when George Steinbrenner things George Costanza is dead after seeing his wrecked car in the Yankee Stadium parking lot. Jerry had brought the car - which George left in the Yankee Stadium parking lot after getting his keys locked inside, which had them thinking he was working an 18-hour day - after he and Kramer were in a car accident while getting the car washed. Steinbrenner went to the Coastanzas house to informa Frank and Marie that George is dead, and at one point Frank screams out, "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, 100 RBI last year, he's got a rocket for an arm! You don't know what the hell you're doing," to which Steinbrenner replied, "My baseball people kept telling me about Ken Phelps' bat! They kept saying Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!"
The 1990 Indians were managed by John McNamara, who managed the 1986 Boston Red Sox, who lost the Series to the Mets. He managed in Boston from 1985 to 1988, a season in which they won the American League East. After not managing in 1989, he joined Cleveland in 1990, and after they were 77-85, he was dismissed during the 1991 season when the team was 25-52.
There was a member of the '86 Red Sox on the team as well, pitcher Al Nipper, who pitched there from 1983 to '87 before pitching for the Cubs in 1988, missing the '89 season, and trying a comeback with the Indians in '90 (you can see the pattern here), and he only pitched in nine games, including five starts, and went 2-4.
Other names of interest include: outfielder Dion James, who went on to play for the Yankees from 1992 to 1996; Mark McLemore, who went on to play for winning teams in Baltimore (1992 to 1994, Texas (1995 to 1999), and Seattle (2000 to 2003), pitcher John Farrell, who was the pitching coach for the 2007 World Series Champion Red Sox, and went back to Boston as their Manager in 2013 and won the Series again; and pitcher Bud Black, who was the pitching coach for the World Series Champion Anaheim Angels in 2002 (he was there from 2000 to 2006 alongside Manager Mike Scioscia), and went on to manage the San Diego Padres from 2007 to 2015, and the Colorado Rockies from 2017 to the present.
Three Indians on this team who would be part of the Indians' resurgence that started when they opened Jacobs Field in 1994 were: Sandy Alomar, who was in his first season in Cleveland after being traded from the San Diego Padres, where he played two seasons; infielder Carlos Baerga, who was in his rookie season, and played in Cleveland until he was traded to the Mets in 1996; and Albert Belle, who came up in '89 (played 62 games, and hit .225 with 7 home runs and 37 RBI), but played only nine games early in the '90 season.