It took him by surprise.
When Keith Hernandez fielded a phone call from Mets owner Steve Cohen on Tuesday, he thought they were going to discuss the team.
And although this was a topic of conversation for the first 10 minutes of the call, it turns out that Cohen was actually contacting Hernandez to let him know that the Mets were going to retire his No. 17 jersey number in a ceremony at Citi Field next season on July 9.
“It caught me completely by surprise. I had no idea,” Hernandez said in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s just kind of soaking in and sinking in today."
While Hernandez admittedly did not ever think about receiving this honor, he is ecstatic about the franchise's decision.
“I do feel like I’m lost in space that this happened to me, an honor like this and something I never dreamed of,” Hernandez said. “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, I can tell you, never crossed my mind as a kid growing up and as I was playing in St. Louis or in New York.”
Playing for the Mets from 1983 to 1989, Hernandez won six Gold Glove Awards, produced a .297 batting average (second all-time in Mets history) and helped them capture a World Series title in 1986.
As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Hernandez won the 1982 World Series, was the co-NL MVP in 1979 and a recipient of five Gold Gloves.
Hernandez was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Cardinals Hall of Fame last year. Hernandez will now join Casey Stengel (37), Gil Hodges (14), Tom Seaver (41), Jerry Koosman (36) and Mike Piazza (31) in the elite group of Mets to have their jersey numbers retired.
The Cardinals traded Hernandez to the lowly Mets in June of 1983, and although he was initially hesitant to stick around in the long-term, his father convinced him to stay put.
According to Hernandez, he bought his father a satellite during the 1981 labor strike. With ESPN televising minor league games with the major league season on hold, Hernandez's father watched the likes of promising youngsters such as Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
Because of what he saw from Gooden and Strawberry, Hernandez's father believed the Mets were on the upswing.
While Hernandez was mulling a return to the west coast after the '83 season, his father's advice led to his eventual decision to sign a five-year contract with the Mets. And it wound up paying off.
During the following spring training in 1984, Hernandez was enamored by the talent the Mets had and knew he had made the right choice.
In the end, Hernandez helped turn the Mets into a winning baseball team and would go down as one of the franchise's all-time greats. Hernandez was also named as the first captain in Mets history in 1987.
And speaking of the Mets' all-time greats, Hernandez is very happy with the direction that the organization is taking in honoring their history.
“That is significant," Hernandez said. "There is history and there should be tradition...I think it’s very important that the fans have a sense of the history of their team. It’s generational."
After purchasing the Mets in 2020, Cohen has made it a priority to honor the club's history. Last season, they retired Koosman's No. 36, and this year, they will unveil a Seaver statue outside of the stadium.
Hernandez also let it slip that the Mets may have an Old-Timers' Day in the works as well.
Mets team president Sandy Alderson was also on the call and confirmed that It's "definitely on the agenda." But, it all depends on logistical and scheduling factors as to whether this event actually occurs next season.
Hernandez, who has been a team broadcaster on SNY for the last 16 years, put together a remarkable career with the Mets. Now, no Met will ever wear his No. 17 ever again.