Keith Hernandez was the heart and soul of the 1980s Mets teams that went from languishing at the bottom of the National League East to winning two division titles and a World Series championship. The former first baseman was a leader both on and off the field, and was given the captain’s “C” to honor his leadership on the team. However, despite numerous pleas by Mets fans to retire his number 17, the Mets have not yet honored their former captain by doing so.
Let’s compare Keith’s career with the Mets to that of another first baseman who played on the West Coast for another expansion team from the 1960s. Perhaps if the people from the Coalition To Decide New Reasons To Put Off Retiring Keith’s Number read the following, they might have to rethink things.
Keith Hernandez was a member of the Mets from 1983-1989. Over his 6½ years with the team, he batted over .300 four times, scored over 80 runs four times and drove in over 80 runs four times (including two 90-RBI seasons). He won six Gold Gloves while with the Mets, made the All-Star team three times, finished in the top ten in the MVP voting three times (including two top five finishes) and won a Silver Slugger Award in 1984.
During his first four full seasons with the Mets (1984-1987), an average season for Keith Hernandez looked like this: .305 batting average, .396 OBP, .836 OPS, 32 doubles, 14 HR, 89 RBI and 88 runs scored. More importantly, he was an instrumental player in the Mets’ march to the 1986 World Series championship.
So which of his contemporaries am I comparing him to? Let’s peruse over the numbers of a certain Steve Garvey, especially after he joined the San Diego Padres.
Steve Garvey joined the Padres as a free agent before the 1983 season (the same year Hernandez was traded to the Mets). He played four full seasons as San Diego’s first baseman and part of a fifth in 1987, playing in only 27 games during his final season in the big leagues. During his tenure in San Diego, Garvey did not win any Gold Gloves (Mr. Hernandez was winning all of those), made the All-Star team twice and never finished higher than 20th in the MVP voting. He also did not win any Silver Slugger Awards. Furthermore, he never batted over .300 in any of those four seasons, never scored more than 80 runs and drove in over 80 runs three times (but no 90-RBI seasons).
During those four full seasons in San Diego (1983-1986), these were the numbers for an average Steve Garvey season: .278 batting average, .311 OBP, .725 OPS, 26 doubles, 15 HR, 77 RBI and 72 runs scored. He helped lead the Padres to one National League pennant in 1984, but did not win the World Series that year.
Clearly, Hernandez’s numbers and awards with the Mets were superior to Garvey’s numbers and lack of awards with the Padres. However, Garvey can claim one thing that Keith Hernandez can’t.
STEVE GARVEY’S NUMBER HAS BEEN RETIRED BY THE SAN DIEGO PADRES!
Apparently, the Padres cared enough to acknowledge the fact that Garvey was instrumental in bringing the team back from being also-rans prior to 1983 to pennant winners in 1984. The Mets were cellar dwellers prior to 1983 as well. Then Keith Hernandez came aboard and things started to change, eventually leading to the World Championship that Garvey wasn’t able to bring to San Diego.
How can the Mets not retire Keith Hernandez’s number when the Padres have bestowed that honor to Steve Garvey? Instead, they continue to hand out the number to Fernando Tatis and various pitchers like Jose Lima, Graeme Lloyd and Dae-Sung Koo. At least Gary Carter’s number hasn’t been worn by a Met since Matt Galante wore it as a coach in 2002.
It’s time for the Mets to retire the #17 in honor of their former captain and team leader, Keith Hernandez. The left field wall at Citi Field is high enough for more retired numbers. Let’s end this oversight once and for all by raising the #17 for all Mets fans to see. Say it loud. Say it proud. Retire #17!