Keith Hernandez on having his No. 17 retired: 'Highest honor an organization can give to a player'

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  • Keith Hernandez
    Keith Hernandez
    Baseball player
  • Mike Piazza
    Mike Piazza
    American Hall of Fame baseball player
  • Jerry Koosman
    American baseball player
  • Tom Seaver
    American baseball player
Keith Hernandez headshot in a suit, field behind him
Keith Hernandez headshot in a suit, field behind him

On July 9, Keith Hernandez's No. 17 will be the seventh number hanging in the Citi Field rafters.

He will join Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Jerry Koosman, and Jackie Robinson.

His former teammate Daryl Strawberrry said it's a long overdue honor, but Hernandez still isn't taking it for granted.

"This is the highest honor that an organization can give to a player...," Hernandez told the media on Wednesday. "I do feel like I’m lost in space, it happened to me, an honor like this, and it’s something I never dreamed of. You dream of being on a world championship team, you dream of being a batting champion or an MVP. The thought of having a number retired never crossed my mind as a kid growing up and as I was playing in St. Louis or in New York."

Hernandez won five Gold Glove Awards and the 1986 World Series in his six-and-a-half seasons in Queens, and immediately made an impact on a team that needed veteran leadership and was ready to pounce. In his first three full seasons with the Mets, he finished second, eighth, and fourth in NL MVP voting.

He found out about his number retirement shortly before all of us found out, as he got a phone call from Steve Cohen on Tuesday afternoon.

“His name popped up on my screen, I’m going ‘Oh, okay, maybe he wants to talk about the team.’ So we had around a 10-minute conversation about the events that have happened – I think positive events that have happened – for the Mets. And then he said, ‘Well, this isn’t the reason why I’m calling.’ And then he dropped the bomb on me. So it caught me completely by surprise, I had no idea," said the 11-time Gold Glover.

Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez

Hernandez, who admitted he was happy when former teammate David Cone wore the number in his honor when he went to play for Cleveland, did say he hadn't thought about having his number retired while playing, but couldn't help but think about it more in recent years, as the Mets retired Mike Piazza and Jerry Koosman's numbers.

“I never inquired [why it took this long]. I just took each year as it came by," he said. "It wasn’t something that crossed my mind very often. I was very pleased that Piazza’s number was retired. It was very much worthy, and also retiring Koosman’s number, so I think when those things happened – and remember, Mike was the first number to be retired in quite some time, so maybe [things] was starting to turn a bit. Then they retired Koosman’s, then I thought that things were kind of going in right direction, that maybe it could happen. It’s not something that I thought about, it wasn’t gonna ruin my day. If it happened, it happened, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Hernandez has been in the Mets' Hall of Fame since 1997, and he joined the St. Louis Cardinals' Hall of Fame last season.

But he admitted that the fact that 17 will never be worn again hits a bit different, especially in the franchise's 60h anniversary when the Mets already have plans to commemorate The Franchise.

“It kind of puts you on different stratosphere, I think..." Hernandez said. "It’s rarified air. I’m in a wonderful group. … It just seems like all of the pieces are coming together, it’s the 60th anniversary of the Mets, if you could believe that. We’re gonna unveil Tom Seaver’s statue this year, it just seems like all the dominos are falling into place. And for me to be one of those pieces just means world to me.”