While the magnitude of the New York Mets retiring his number is “taking in” for him, Keith Hernandez can only wonder if the Hall of Fame could still be in his future after falling off the ballot in 2004 after nine years.
Hernandez, a beloved captain and commentator in Queens for nearly four decades, said Wednesday that Mets owner Steve Cohen took him “completely by surprise” Tuesday when he was told the franchise would retire his No. 17 on June 9. July.
“He dropped the bomb on me,” Hernandez, 68, said of becoming the fourth Mets player to have his number retired. “It took me completely by surprise.”
“I had no idea. It’s just soaking in and taking in now, today, the importance of this. It’s really, thinking about it, I feel so honored. This is the highest honor that an organization can bestow on a player.”
The five-time All-Star was on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot from 1996 to 2004, but never got more than 10.8% of the vote, well below the 75th threshold. % for consecration.
However, the wave of baseball analysis has shed new light on his talent. In particular, his .386 on-base percentage was underrated during his career, but through a modern lens, he compares well to others in the Hall.
It’s possible that Hernandez could still find his way to Cooperstown through an era committee vote, and this recognition from the Mets could help.
“The retired number is something enormously significant and a great honor,” Hernandez said. “Whether I’m considered for that in the future, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Hernandez’s No. 17 will join Tom Seaver’s No. 41, Mike Piazza’s No. 31 and Jerry Koosman’s No. 36 at Citi Field. Trainers Gil Hodges (14) and Casey Stengel (37) also have their numbers retired.
“You know, I grew up a kid like everyone else, going to baseball games and going to some of those parks with the names on the wall,” Hernandez said. “Is incredible.
“I don’t think bewilderment is the right term, but I feel like I’m lost in space because of what happened to me, an honor like this. It’s something I never dreamed of. You dream of being in a world champion team,” you dream of being a batting champion or an MVP. The idea of having a retired number, I can tell you, never crossed my mind as a kid.”
Hernandez was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1997 and also joined the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame last year. He ranks second in Mets history with a .297 batting average, and won six of his 11 Gold Gloves in New York, a team record.
A fan favorite who built on his success in appearances on “Seinfeld” and elsewhere, Hernandez joined the Mets’ broadcast booth in 1999 and won three Emmys for Outstanding Sports Analyst.
“It just brought a winning culture,” said former teammate and current television partner Ron Darling. “In the way he moved, the way he acted and the way he played. The one thing that I think Keith did for the whole ballclub, he wasn’t a rah-rah guy, he wasn’t a guy that said a lot in that clubhouse, but he brought it every night.
Fourteen players have worn No. 17 since Hernandez left New York, but none since Fernando Tatis in 2010. Hernandez retired in 1990, and the following year, ace David Cone wore it to commemorate Hernandez’s career.
Associated Press contributed to this report.