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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Fixing a Hole

Keith Hernandez filled the hole between the two and four spots in the batting order for seven Met seasons. He filled holes between himself and either the first base line or the second baseman on balls that seemed destined for the outfield. He filled the hole in the knowledge base of one promising young pitcher after another before there was an All-Star catcher on the premises to guide them. He filled in who knows how many teammates on what to look for, what to think, how to be. Although it hasn’t been in uniform, he’s long filled a seat in baseball’s best booth with a proprietary blend of élan and absurdity. And now, finally, he fills a gaping void in Mets history.

Keith Hernandez’s No. 17 will be retired on July 9. With its official removal from circulation and its elevation above the left field stands, the 1986 New York Mets, the winningest team this franchise has ever known, will be represented at the highest level of consecration an organization can bestow.

It was strange that Keith’s 17 went unretired for more than three decades because, well, he’s Keith Hernandez. He transformed the Metropolitans upon his arrival and we view an entire decade for the better largely because of his impact. No number ceremony for Keith and none for anybody associated with 1986 was equally bizarre. Six members of our last world champions have been inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame along with their manager and general manager — Keith received his bust in 1997 — but not a soul responsible for the 108 regular-season victories had his digits totally and completely immortalized in the 35 years that followed their World Series celebration. Hell, Keith was the 17th-most recent Met to wear 17, which is to say 16 Mets have worn it since Keith, and that’s with nobody wearing it after Fernando Tatis in 2010.

The non-retirement of 17 and its continual random assignment made for a pretty dependable running gag in the SNY booth. Show the Mr. Koo clip (there’s only one) and Keith might let out a harumph. But after a while, fun was fun. How on Bill Shea’s green earth was 17 one of those numbers that any Graeme, Dae or Lima might take the mound in? Even Tatis the elder, a legitimate major league hitter during his Flushing residency, was a stretch. Keith Hernandez had to watch No. 17 in action on the back of anybody who wasn’t Keith Hernandez? While 1986’s hole went unfilled?

Enough of that, at last. We got Keith Hernandez in 1983. Keith Hernandez gets his number retired in 2022. Time lapse notwithstanding, it’s almost a good a deal as that June night we sent Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to St. Louis in exchange for one of the best things that ever happened to us.

13 comments to Fixing a Hole

  • Dave

    This is a nice enough surprise that I’ll save my usual complaints about how clumsy the Mets are with this kind of thing for some other time. Hey…he’s Keith Hernandez. The best #17 in town, even better than Felix Millan and Nate Bowman.

  • eric1973

    Nobody is better than Felix Millan, my favorite Met of all time. I will always remember him as 16, which he wore in ’73 and ’74, until after they traded Teddy Martinez.

    The only reason Keith’s number is being retired is because he’s been a great broadcaster around here for such a long time. So Darling is probably next.

    Keith only had a few good years here, and standards have been lowered over the years.

  • SandyistheGreatest

    Mets are a pathetic franchise. They are always injured and they always lose. I predicted they would collapse last year but I wad wrong: I had the Nats over the Braves.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    It’s so refreshing to have an owner that gets it. This is a party that’s long overdue, but it is truly better late than never.

  • Cobra Joe

    I remember watching the Mets on Channel 9 on June 15, 1983 with my late father, when the late, great Bob Murphy dramatically announced that the Mets had just acquired first baseman Keith Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals. My father, a New York Giants baseball fan as a kid and former bat boy for the Giants’ Triple AAA team, the Jersey City Giants, was absolutely ecstatic that the Mets had traded for the slick-fielding and line drive-hitting Cardinal first baseman.

    And, the Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey trade demonstrated the late, lamented Frank Cashen’s superb acumen as a baseball general manager. Keith went on to have a great career with the Mets, culminating with the Mets’ second World Series championship in 1986. Of course, it’s only appropriate that Keith Hernandez was tabbed to be the Mets’ first team captain, a position Keith handled with great leadership and insight.

    After a superb major league career, Keith transitioned seamlessly as a broadcaster for the Mets. In addition to Keith’s astute comments on the action on the field, I’ve always enjoyed Keith’s wry sense of humor during Met games. When a San Diego outfielder butchered a fly ball in left field against the Mets, Keith declared, “He’s a four in Strat-O-Matic!” And, when the Mets were in Milwaukee, Keith posed the question, “Where’s the Fonz?” as the Mets’ camera crew panned a shot of a statue of Henry Winkler attired as the immortal Arthur Fonzarelli on the Milwaukee waterfront.

    Congratulations on a well-deserved and long overdue honor to Keith “Mex” Hernandez.

  • Seth

    I don’t know why I’m so happy about this, but I am. Whether or not it has anything to do with his career as a Mets broadcaster, he was the greatest 1st baseman in team history, for the greatest team in team history — and he was the captain. Beloved and he totally deserves this.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    It took me a long time to warm up to Hernandez, well beyond 1986. First of all, there’s the inconvenient fact that initially he didn’t want to be here. And he was part of the band of cocaine users/enablers that was an embarrassment to baseball. And, on top of that, he was, er, Keith Hernadez, hated Cardinal.

    Ok, I’ve come around, to the point where I am very happy about July 9th. And yes, I now see how he revolutionized First Base play, he might have been the greatest ever at that, he was clutch, he was an ’86 Met, and, oh, then there was Seinfeld, and when he’s paying attention he’s great in the booth.

    All that, but sorry, I still don’t turn him up to Eleven…maybe 9.2 or so. He’s still Keith Hernandez.

  • Nick D

    Mission partially accomplished.

    This is wonderful – and of course absurdly overdue.

    Next up (in maybe around 2029?): Cooperstown.

  • Lenny65

    Anyone who doesn’t think he deserves it obviously didn’t see him play. It’s difficult to describe what Keith meant to the Mets when he arrived. Instant credibility and lofty expectations, everything changed when he joined the Mets. On top of that he’s become a beloved franchise icon on a nearly Kiner-esque scale. I’m thrilled for him and IMO it’s long overdue.

  • open the gates

    Of all the milestones on the way to ’86 – and there were many – the two most important were 1) the Mets trading for Hernandez in ’83, and 2) the Mets convincing him to stay in ’84. End of story. No one – not Straw, not Kid, not even Doc Gooden – was as crucial to that team. He was the game changer. Plus, he played first base like Perlman plays the violin. Long-awaited and beyond well-deserved.

  • eric1973

    Greg, thanks for being a good guy and not correcting me up top.

    Of course, Felix only wore 16 in 1973. In 1974, as we both discussed in this space last year, there was the famous 3-way number switch, where Millan took 17, Dave Schneck took 16, and Teddy Martinez took 23.

    As you get older, the Senior Moments creep in more and more.

    Boy, I miss the Senior League!
    Remember all our favorites on every team!

  • Seth

    The retirement ceremony is on July 9 — I wonder if the MLBPA will relax the lockout for that day so the ceremony can proceed?

  • Seth

    Can we have a new article, please? Every time I come to the site I leave with the Beatles’ “Fixing a Hole” in my head for the rest of the day. ;-)