How Keith Hernandez influenced young Mattingly

Marlins manager reflects on former crosstown rival ahead of Mets' jersey retirement ceremony

July 8th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Saturday afternoon will be a special day at Citi Field, as before the game against the Marlins, the Mets will retire Keith Hernandez’s No. 17.

Hernandez becomes the fourth player in franchise history to receive the honor, joining Tom Seaver (No. 41), Mike Piazza (No. 31) and Jerry Koosman (No. 36). Former managers Gil Hodges (No. 14) and Casey Stengel (No. 37) also had their number retired.

In the opinion of Marlins manager Don Mattingly, Hernandez’s honor is deserved, and Mattingly should know. During the 1980s, the two were crosstown rival first basemen in New York and it was tough to decide who was better. Both were excellent defensive first basemen. While Mattingly was winning awards like the American League MVP (1985) and batting title (1986), Hernandez was the backbone of a young Mets team that won a World Series title in ’86.

“Obviously, when you get to the big leagues, I wanted to be a good defensive player,” Mattingly said. “Keith was like the standard on how you play first. He was definitely a guy I paid attention to. I tried to see how he handled certain situations.”

Like the bunt play. Whenever an opposing team tried to bunt the ball, there was Hernandez fielding the ball near the third-base side of the pitcher’s mound and throwing out the runner at third.

“I don't know how he did it,” Mattingly said. “I think the National League helped. You knew who was going to bunt. He covered that whole side and he came across the mound and got guys at third all the time. Pretty amazing.”

Mattingly said that he was able to know Hernandez by attending several functions over the years. The one function that stood out was at a Baseball Writers’ Association of American Dinner in the 1980s. The two were sitting next to Joe DiMaggio, who was in the middle. DiMaggio was quiet and reserved until Hernandez talked to him about hitting.

“[DiMaggio] lit up and he said, ‘I would like to to get right on top of the plate and pull everything,’” Mattingly remembered. “That sparked him to get him talking about hitting a little bit. That’s what I remember the most.”