Keith Hernandez’s retirement number shows the Mets are embracing history

Keith Hernandez’s retirement number shows the Mets are embracing history

For a long time, the Mets tried to mute and conceal their history. This has always been a mystery, because the Mets have a very important history. Think about it: Always, when you’ve had a tough year in fantasy football and you’re 1-10, the excitement in the text string jumps from one sport to the next:

“You” 62 Mets out of this league! “

Likewise, if your team on the slow pitch has been squabbling for years and suddenly you start winning game after game, some in a way that’s hard to explain, within five minutes of tapping the post-game barrel, someone will say, “Who do you think you are,” 69 Mets? You do this while talking a lot about trash, just write “86” instead of “69”.

How many organizations have three such iconic teams, spanning from the highest levels of their sport to hangovers?

However, the Mets never embraced that. At first, out of respect for relay fans who started out their lives as Giants or Dodgers fans, they adopted the Mets in ’62. At times, the Mets seemed intimidated even broaching the topic because Yankees all over town had built a local annex to Cooperstown.

When Citi Field opened in 2009, there was no Mets history to be found anywhere. No museum. There is no bridge. No outside statues. The guides wore a chestnut outfit resembling Velez’s exercises. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda was the only real nod to history – and Robinson retired six years before the Mets were born.

That’s why the Mets’ latest catching-up wave is not only welcome, it’s long overdue.

Keith Hernandez’s retirement number shows the Mets are embracing history
Keith Hernandez and Steve Cohen
Getty Images AP

“We’re close to turning 60,” Keith Hernandez said on Wednesday. “think about it.”

It was a day to celebrate Hernandez, the man in motion at the 1986 World Championships, one of the most important names in the team’s history. The night before, Steve Cohen had called Hernandez at his winter home in Florida. Hernandez thought the Mets owner might want to discuss the team’s crowded state, and possibly talk about 2022.

Instead, Cohen made public Hernandez.

And many of his fans, too.

“He said ‘We’re going to retire No. 17 this summer,’” Hernandez said, “and even in the retelling you can see Hernandez’s face blushing with pride. “This is the highest honor an organization can give a player.”

It should be noted, for the record and in fairness, that the decision to retire No. Hernandez was reached by the Mets Hall of Fame committee while the Welbone family was still owned by the team, and Jeff Welbone led that committee (the news was blocked., even from Hernandez, so Jerry Kuzman can enjoy single lights for one year). So was the decision, albeit belatedly, to commission a Tom Sphere statue, which will also be revealed this year.

It’s a testament to good timing that the new owner, who returns to the Polo Grounds with his Mets, will be the one to harvest the goodwill of the franchise finally coming to terms with its long and colorful narrative. Let Hernandez Get Away There will also be a commemoration of Old-Timers Day at Citi Field, with 50 veterans invited.

It’s all catnip for the fans, and it stirs the excitement of guys like Hernandez who have been so integral to building so much of the team’s story. It was the arrival of Hernandez in 1983 that signaled a dramatic change in the 1980s. The first serious piece of the puzzle. He nearly won the MVP award in 1984. He took big hits in the fall of 1986.

Mets Spring Training, from St. Lucy County Sports Complex/Port St. Lucy, Florida.  Exercise Mets Jugs & Catchers, #17 Special Coach Keith Hernandez returns to the Mets for the first time since leaving the 1989 season with Manager Bobby Valentine
Keith Hernandez, seen here in spring 1989 training with manager Bobby Valentine, has long been a Mets fan favorite.
Nori Hernandez

When he left the Mets after the 1989 season, I was honored to see David Cone sporting his old number, 17, which he was less impressed with when other outsiders started wearing it. Wed can laugh.

It wasn’t funny in 2004. I wrote a column saying May I wonder why the Mets didn’t bother to retire 17, and why the Knicks refused to hang Number 30 in Bernard King’s honor. The comments I received were overwhelming, especially for Hernandez. The next time I saw him I told him so. Smile.

“It should be posthumous,” he said. Here, ‘history’ is a dirty word.

Not anymore. 17 Hernandez will join the 14th, 31st, 36th, 37th and 41st this summer. Definitely No. 5 for David Wright wouldn’t be far behind. Statue of Sever is coming. The Day of the Ancients is back. The Mets is 60 years old. April 11. The new breed is now the old guard. There’s a lot of history in Queens, good and bad, and the people of the Mets are finally ready to get a taste of it. It’s about time.


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