Keith Hernandez entered the field to an 80-second standing ovation Saturday and left the field to handshakes and backslaps from players from the current Mets roster.
In between, the former first baseman managed to keep his composure as he reflected on a famous Mets career that culminated with his No. 17’s retirement from the club on Saturday. Hernandez was the only Mets to receive the honor, along with Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza and Jerry Koosman.
“I’m absolutely humbled and proud that my number will be in the rafters for eternity,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was joined on the field by his family, including his three daughters and brother Gary. The Mets delegation included Piazza, team owner Steve Cohen, manager Buck Showalter and former Hernandez teammates Mookie Wilson, Tim Teufel and Ed Lynch. Ron Darling was present in dual capacity as former teammate and current broadcast partner of SNY. SNY voice artist Gary Cohen was also on the field for the ceremony, which was moderated by Mets radio voice artist Howie Rose. Hernandez thanked Steve Cohen for bringing the entire Hernandez family to the event.
Hernandez reflected on his June 15, 1983 transfer from the defending World Series champion Cardinals to the rebuilding Mets.
“I learned and read that it was a happy day in the Mets Nation,” Hernandez said. “My little old me in St. Louis wasn’t very happy. what did i know A life and career changing event.”
Steve Cohen and Showalter presented Hernandez with a mosaic portrait of himself made from over 6,000 Keith Hernandez baseball and Strat-o-Matic cards. Hernandez’s No. 17 remained rooted in the midfield grass. Hernandez, standing on first base, tossed the ceremonial first throw to his brother Gary.
Hernandez was a centerpiece of the Mets’ last World Series-winning team in 1986. Of his 11 gold gloves he scored at first base, six came with the Mets. In 1987 he became the first captain in team history.
“For me, ’84 was the real turning point,” Hernandez said. “We won 90 games that everyone picked us for last and I certainly didn’t go into the game with those expectations. I really felt like this was my best year at the Met—my best year.
“Darryl [Strawberry] bloomed. doc [Gooden] had the big rookie year, of course, if the Cubs hadn’t traded for Rick Sutcliffe, who won the Cy Young [award]I think we would have won the division.”
The Mets traded for All-Star catcher Gary Carter before the 1985 season, adding a significant slugger to the roster.
“We got Carter in 1985 and that was the last bit,” Hernandez said. “When we got Carter, I felt like when we got him off-season, I said, ‘Now we have a chance. We have a really good chance of having a dominant team’ and it certainly turned out that way.”
The Mets rolled to the NL East title in 1986, winning an epic series against the Astros and the Red Sox in the NLCS and World Series, respectively.
“It was probably one of the funnest years of my life,” Hernandez said. “When you win 108 games, it’s a lot of fun to come to the stadium.”
Towards the end of his speech, Hernandez praised the 2022 Mets, who started the day with the second-best record in the National League.
“They rush, they play hard and act like pros,” Hernandez said. “It’s a treat.”