|Keith Hernandez being presented a mural made up of his baseball cards. Photo by Jason Schott.|
Keith Hernandez's number 17 was retired by the Mets in a pregame ceremony before their game on Saturday afternoon against the Miami Marlins. It was a full house at Citi Field, and some of Keith's former teammates, including Tim Teufel and Mookie Wilson, owner Steve Cohen, legendary catcher Mike Piazza, and members of his family, including his brother, Gary, were on hand for the special occasion
Hernandez was the Mets' first baseman from 1983 to 1989, an anchor of one of the best eras in team history, capped off by the 1986 World Championship. He was named the first captain in Mets history in 1987 and won six Gold Gloves in his time in New York.
Hernandez is just the fourth player in Mets history to have his number retired, and his 17 will take its place next to Tom Seaver's 41, Mike Piazza's 31, and Jerry Koosman's 36. The Mets also retired numbers for a pair of Managers, their first skipper, Casey Stengel's 36 and Gil Hodges' 14, the man who led them to the 1969 World Championship. There also is a circle for longtime announcer Ralph Kiner, Bill Shea, who helped create the team after the Dodgers and Giants left; and a 42 for Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn Dodgers colors.
Hernandez gave a very heartwarming speech and here it is:
It is such an honor. It is the biggest honor that can be bestowed on a player by the organization, and I've been here for almost 40 years (he stretched this out and the crowd gave a rousing applause).
My brother was introduced earlier, Gary. You have a lot to be grateful, you Mets fans, for this man right here. Ths game has lots of ups and downs, we are fragile, he was always my good luck charm, and Gary, I love you, I'm so glad you're here, along with the rest of - everybody, my girls, my grandson, all of them.
Well, June 15th, 1983, I've learned and read that it was a joyous day in Met nation. Little old me in St. Louis, wasn't very happy, what did I know?! A life and career-changing event I cannot tell you!
I remember Frank Cashen talking to me on the phone, our first conversation, saying, 'welcome to the Mets, we have not squandered out draft picks and we feel we're ready to turn the corner!'
I was disbelieving. The last-place Mets for the last seven years, but when I went to spring training in '84, and I saw the group of talented athletes, all young, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed looking up at me, I knew we had something special, and we did!
I also realized that, as I came over as a veteran from a World Championship team, that there was a responsibility that went along with just being a player and being a teammate. I realized that I had to set an example of how I conducted myself on and off the field, and I embraced that.
I have a lot to be grateful for to Lou Brock. We always make fun of Lou Brock up in the booth, but Lou really groomed me for a leadership role in the latter parts of his career for the Cardinals. Well, I brought all that knowledge with me to New York and Flushing.
All these young guys, Darryl, Doc, Ron, Walt, Ed, Mookie (to which the crowd started their Moooooookie! chant), Roger, Fitzie, and Jesse, they rejuvenated my career. I was a little listless at this stage of my career having won the final brass ring, a World Series championship in St. Louis. I needed another goal, and I came here, and these young guys inspired me and rejuvenated my career.
I never dreamed that we would turn it around so quickly, and I say 'we,' it's a team. I always thought of myself as just a player, one of 25, nothing special about me, just one of the guys, and then having a great time and working hard, and working hard for a championship, and we did! In three years!!
108 wins, and then we felt, since we won by over 20 games, we thought we'd make it a little interesting for our fans and have a hard time in Houston and against Boston.
This is just a great moment for me. I never dreamed I would be this long in the organization, 17 years in the booth with Ron and Gary. Our friendship and camaraderie mean so much to me, and those in the truck, our unseen team behind us, it's just a very special thing.
New York has been great to me, the Mets have been great to me. New York has been great to my children, they got to come to Manhattan and take in the culture of New York, everything New York has to happen.
I will say a couple more words. This current team - I love to watch. You Met fans know, you're on top of it, this team comes out and hustles, they play hard and comport themselves like professionals. It is a treat, and you should give your support to this team like you gave to us in the '80s.
I must mention my Mom and Dad, who groomed my brother and I. Everything was for us - I remember living paycheck to paycheck, but we had the best bikes, the best gloves, the best bats, and in football, the best spikes; basketball, the best basketball; and they sacrificed everything for us. And my father taught us how to play, and I am forever grateful, and I know they're up there watching.
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.
60 years of New York Mets! I thank you all, I am truly overwhelmed!