World Series champion and beloved SNY analyst Keith Hernandez will have his No. 17 retired by the Mets on July 9, becoming just the fourth player, plus managers Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges, in the history of the franchise to be bestowed that honor. This is the first in a 10-part daily countdown of Hernandez’s greatest moments and accomplishments following his 1983 arrival in Flushing.
No. 10. From St. Louis to Siberia to Satisfaction
Keith Hernandez, the batting champion and co-MVP of the National League in 1979, has said often that he believed he was being shipped to “baseball Siberia” when the Cardinals — the reigning World Series champions — dealt him to the lowly Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey on June 15, 1983.
The Mets were in the middle of their seventh consecutive losing season beginning with 1977, the year they traded away franchise cornerstone Tom Seaver.
“Why was it Siberia? The Mets were a last-place team and the only other worse place to play at that time was Candlestick because the Giants also were terrible,” the northern California native told The Post earlier this week. “New York also in the ’70s and the early ’80s was going bankrupt. The city was a mess and not safe, so just to see the turnaround we had with the fans, when we started filling up Shea [Stadium] just about every night, in every aspect it was a gift from the gods for me.
“And it certainly turned out to be life-changing.”
The 11-time Gold Glove winner warmed to the idea of staying by the end of that first season in Flushing, signing a five-year contract worth $8.4 million on his way to becoming one of the centerpieces of a championship turnaround by 1986.
General manager Frank Cashen and Hernandez’s father, John (a minor league first baseman in the 1940s), convinced him that the Mets’ future was bright. The 1983 NL Rookie of the Year, Darryl Strawberry, already was on hand and prized youngsters Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Lenny Dykstra and others were on the way in the farm system.
Hernandez often has cited former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog wanting him out of St. Louis. Herzog, however, said in SNY’s “He’s Keith Hernandez” documentary that Cardinals ownership was behind the deal that Mets teammate Mookie Wilson called “the most important trade” in franchise history.
“He figured out later about the talent they had coming, but the fact of the matter is this franchise was in the darkness when Keith arrived,” Hernandez’s SNY partner, Gary Cohen, told The Post. “I equate his arrival with Seaver’s arrival in 1967. The franchise knew nothing but losing, and by the same token, this franchise before Keith got here for a half-decade knew nothing but losing.
“His presence and his pedigree and his ring and his leadership and his glove and his clutch hitting changed all of that almost immediately. Would there have been a championship without Keith? I don’t think that’s a certainty at all. Having Keith here changed the entire narrative about this franchise.”