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Keith Hernandez stunned by New York Mets jersey retirement news

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While the magnitude of having his number being retired by the New York Mets is “sinking in,” Keith Hernandez can only wonder if the Hall of Fame could still be in his future after falling off the ballot in 2004 after nine years.

Hernandez, a captain and commentator beloved in Queens for nearly four decades, on Wednesday said he was caught “completely by surprise” by Mets owner Steve Cohen on Tuesday when he was informed that the franchise would be retiring his No. 17 on July 9.

“He dropped the bomb on me,” the 68-year-old Hernandez said of becoming just the fourth Mets player to have his number retired. “Caught me completely by surprise.”

“I had no idea. It’s just kind of soaking in and sinking in now, today, the import of this. It is really, to think of it, I’m so honored. This is the highest honor that an organization can give to a player.”

The five-time All-Star was on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot from 1996 to 2004, but he never got more than 10.8% of the vote, well short of the 75% threshold for enshrinement.

Baseball’s analytics wave, however, has shined a fresh light on his talents. In particular, his .386 on-base percentage went underappreciated during his career, but through a modern lens, he compares well to others in the Hall.

It’s possible Hernandez may find his way to Cooperstown yet via an era committee vote, and this recognition from the Mets could help.

“The number retiring is something that is enormously significant, and such an honor,” Hernandez said. “Whether it turns into me getting consideration for that down the road, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Hernandez’ No. 17 will stand alongside Tom Seaver’s 41, Mike Piazza’s 31 and Jerry Koosman’s 36 at Citi Field. Managers Gil Hodges (14) and Casey Stengel (37) have also had their numbers retired.

“You know, I grew up as a kid like everybody else, going to baseball games, and going to some of those parks with the names up on the wall,” Hernandez said. “This is unbelievable.

“I don’t think bewilderment is the right term, but I do feel like I’m lost in space that this happened to me, an honor like this. It’s something I never dreamed of. 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.”

Hernandez was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1997 and also joined the St. Louis Cardinals‘ Hall last year. He ranks second in Mets history with a .297 batting average, and he won a team-record six of his 11 Gold Gloves in New York.

A fan favorite who parlayed his success into appearances on “Seinfeld” and elsewhere, Hernandez joined the Mets broadcast booth in 1999 and has won three Emmys for Best Sports Analyst.

“He just brought a winning culture,” former teammate and current TV partner Ron Darling said. “In the way he moved, the way he acted and the way he played. The one thing I think Keith did for that entire ballclub, he was not a rah-rah guy, he was not a guy who said a lot in that clubhouse, but he brought it every night.”

Fourteen players have worn No. 17 since Hernandez left New York, but none since Fernando Tatis in 2010. Hernandez retired in 1990, and the next year, ace David Cone wore it to commemorate Hernandez’s career.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball

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NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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One fun fact you (probably) did not know for all 30 MLB teams

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From telling team numbers to surprising player stats, we find what you might have missed about your favorite squad.

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