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Trade to Mets nearly sent Hernandez into retirement

Distraught after being dealt to New York, first baseman seriously weighed options

NEW YORK -- We've known for nearly 31 years about the tearful episode in the showers in the visitors' clubhouse in Olympic Stadium in Montreal two days after the Cardinals had traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets. Hernandez wept openly that North of the Border evening in June 1983. He wanted no part of the Mets, a team of have-nots in his mind. That he would exercise his collectively bargained right to demand a trade following the season was a foregone conclusion. And the most likely scenario for the Mets was to be swindled in a trade they were forced to make.

Now we learn it was even more perilous than that for the team Hernandez would turn around in 1984. He seriously considered retirement in the days following the deal. He acknowledges as much in the foreword of an advance copy of a book co-authored by Mookie Wilson entitled Mookie: Life, Baseball and the '86 Mets. Not only did Hernandez weigh that possibility, he acted on it. He contacted his agent, Jack Childers, to determine whether he had enough money earned, saved and invested to quit the game, right then and there.

"You know me, crazy and impulsive Keith," Hernandez said Wednesday night. "But yeah, I thought about it. I didn't want to be here. I talked to my brother about it, and I called Jack. He said, 'Not a chance.' But really, I know what to do. I wound up calling George Hendrick. I respected him and what he had to say."

Hendrick was two-thirds through his 18-year career and playing for the Cardinals, his fourth team. He replaced Hernandez at first base in '83.

"George told me everyone went through that sort of thing," Hernandez said. "You get traded, you get down. But he said I'd come out of it."

Such an intense player, Hernandez wondered about motivation. He had won a batting title and shared, with Willie Stargell, a National League MVP Award in 1979. And the Cardinals had won the 1982 World Series.

"How much better could things get at that point? That's what I was asking myself," he said. "I knew I could play. But did I want to play in New York for a bad team?"

Rusty Staub persuaded Hernandez that playing -- and living -- in the big city could be a most positive experience. And general manager Frank Cashen convinced Hernandez that the Mets were on the verge of changing from being have-nots to have-lots. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were coming; Hernandez was staying.

He re-signed with the Mets, and in the subsequent five seasons, Hernandez played in more victories and gained more MVP support than any other player in the National League.

"Who knows?" Hernandez said. "If I'd made more money by the time I was traded, I might have quit."

A cap gapper

Persistent wind made for some difficulty at Citi Field on Wednesday night; gusts made for laughs. In the second inning, a gust took the cap from Cardinals starter Michael Wacha and carried it to second baseman Mark Ellis, who handled it cleanly. The 4-unassisted prompted thoughts of a similar wind-blown incident in 1987 in San Francisco. The Cubs were playing the Giants at infamously blustery Candlestick Park, the site of the All-Star Game in 1961 when Giants reliever Stu Miller quite literally was blown off the rubber.

Ed Lynch was the Cubs' pitcher than night in '87.

"I had to pitch from the stretch that night," Lynch said by telephone Wednesday night. "The wind was steady at 35 [mph], with gusts to 60. If I threw from a windup off one leg, I would have been blown over. ... All of a sudden a gust takes my cap. It was like it was on a string and someone just yanked it off my head.

"It's gone. I turn around and see [shortstop] Shawon Dunston. He dives for it, but it gets past him like a hot ground ball. I mean, within three seconds, my hat's pinned to the chain-link fence in left-center five feet off the ground. It was my first gapper."

Meet the misses

Even before the Mets were retired in the fourth inning Wednesday night, they had increased their already high average number of strikeouts per game. Their first nine outs against Wacha came via strikeouts, and their second out in the fourth, a called third strike with Jon Niese batting, increased their per-game average from 9.45 to 9.48. The latter figure increased to 9.67 by the end of their 3-2 victory and put the team average for this season more than a strikeout higher than last season.

Perspective: The 2013 Mets tied for the National League lead in strikeouts with 1,384 in 162 games.

At this point, the '14 Mets are on pace to establish a big league record for strikeouts at 1,567. The Astros struck out 1,535 times last year to set the record. The NL record, 1,529, belongs to the 2010 D-backs. Not so incidentally, the Astros of 2013 and D-backs of 2010 finished last in their respective divisions.

And speaking of strikeouts

The Mets oppose the Marlins, though not Jose Fernandez, this weekend. Just as well for the home team. The Marlins' phenom leads the NL in strikeouts -- 47 in 31 2/3 innings. Moreover, he's pitching quite effectively. He has a 3-1 record and a 1.99 ERA in five starts. His ERA is .04 higher than his target figure for the year, a number he made public in Spring Training. "I'm pretty sure I can do it," he said of a 1.95 ERA. And so far ...

And speaking of misses

Matt Holliday made a dazzling leap and catch at the left-field wall in the fifth inning Tuesday night to deny Chris Young a possible home run. With Holliday hardly known for his defensive prowess, his play was reminiscent of another in left made by a challenged defender in a game between the Cardinals and Mets.

David Arthur Kingman (as Bob Murphy identified the slugger during his two tours with the Mets) was the left fielder in an afternoon game at Shea Stadium in 1974. Mike Tyson, the Cardinals shortstop, not that Mike Tyson, hit a high fly ball that Kingman tracked to the wall and to the left of the visitors' bullpen.

Kingman had more than enough time to set himself, and he did. He timed his leap, jumped and extended his left arm well over the top of wall.

And Tyson's fly ball landed, untouched, at the base of the wall.

Days later, Kingman explained his misplay. With no attempt to deadpan it, he said, "I misjudged the ball."

Marty Noble is a columnist for
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