Former New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez is going to be awarded the highest compliment from a baseball club this coming summer.

Although no Mets player has worn a number 17 on their jersey since Fernando Tatis during the 2010 season, now, officially, 17 is permanently off the market in Flushing.  Having retired five previous Mets numbers ( plus hall of famer Jackie Robinson's 42 ), , with the most recent coming last August in honoring '69 Amazin' Mets hurler Jerry Koosman, Hernandez will have his day on July 9 at Citi Field.

Hernandez, who for the past 16 seasons has teamed with Gary Cohen and Ron Darling as the Mets' TV broadcast trio as seen on SNY and PIX11, was inducted into the club's hall of fame back in 1997.  As a leader of the organization's last World Series championship won in 1986, Hernandez has reached levels of respectability with new generations of Mets' fans who have come to know him for his candor during telecasts, as they did for his hitting during his all-star playing career.

"Gary, Keith and I have great camaraderie. Gary is our quarterback. He controls the flow of the broadcast," said Ron Darling during a press conference shortly after the announcement of his former teammate's number being retired.  "We have it divided up like this. I do pitching, and Keith does hitting. He is so down to earth and that's why fans love him.  He hasn't changed since he was a player."

Mets
FLUSHING, NY - 1988: First baseman Keith Hernandez #17 of the New York Mets fields a grounder during a 1988 game at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
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The catalyst for Hernandez's long overdue honor is the club's new owner Steve Cohen.  Since purchasing the club in December 2020 from the Wilpon family, Cohen, a hedge fund manager three years younger than Hernandez (68), has initiated a renewed push for Mets history to be recognized.

On June 15, 1983, the Mets acquired Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.  This trade is seen by many New York National League fans as the single most important transaction completed.  Three seasons later, along with fellow Mets' hall of fame members Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson, and Darryl Strawberry, the team general manager Frank Cashen assembled won the organization's second world championship in their history.

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Darling, a member of that '86 championship ball club, tells of Hernandez's importance to bringing a winning culture to the Mets.

"Keith was the most intense player I have ever been around.  You can't measure what Keith did for the Mets by pure stats alone.  He had a tremendous feel for the game.  He was like having another pitching coach on the field."

"When Keith came to the mound during my starts, he always had great advise.  If I was doing something wrong with my motion, he knew how to correct it.  Keith wasn't a rah-rah type of captain. He led by example."

League Championship - Chicago Cubs v New York Mets - Game One
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: Former Major League Baseball first baseman Keith Hernandez gets readt to throw out the first pitch prior to game one of the 2015 MLB National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets at Citi Field on October 17, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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During Hernandez's seven seasons playing in Queens (1983-'89), he collected six Gold Gloves, and was selected to three All-Star games.  Considered by many as the best defensive first baseman in MLB history, in total, Hernandez snagged 11 consecutive Gold Gloves (1978-'88). For the 1979 season, he shared the National League MVP with future hall of famer Willie Stargell.

The 1990 season, Hernandez's last of his 17 on the major league level, came as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX
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Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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