The Case for Keith Hernandez

Keith Hernandez in civvies

Keith Hernandez in civvies

Glen sent me an email with a link to an article about the Hall of Fame. He asked what happened to Keith Hernandez and his chances for the Hall. Legit question. Here’s my take on Hernandez and the Hall.

First, Hernandez played from 1974 through 1990. He was with the Cardinals from ’74 through mid-1983. With them he won a World Series (1982), an MVP (1979–shared with Willie Stargell), won five Golden Gloves, a batting title, a doubles title, and led the National League in runs scored twice. In 1983 he was shipped to New York where he settled in at first for the Mets. He remained through 1989 helping the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986, a couple of playoffs which they lost to the Cards and Dodgers, led the NL in walks once, won another five Golden Gloves and finished as high as second in the MVP race. His last year was 1990 at Cleveland. In part-time duty he hit .200 and was through. Since then he’s done hair treatment commercials which probably shouldn’t be held against him in Hall of Fame voting (although as a pitchman he’s a great first baseman).

Hernandez’s final numbers look like this: a triple slash line of .296/.384/4.36/.821 with an OPS+ of 128. He has 162 home runs, 98 stolen bases, 426 doubles, 1124 runs scored, 1071 RBIs (and 1070 walks). His Baseball Reference.com version of WAR is 60.0. In postseason play he hit .265 with a couple of  homers. In fielding he has 11 Gold Gloves and was, by everyone’s estimation one heck of the defensive first baseman.

But he’s never gotten much of a Hall of Fame push. It’s a little hard to know why. He was generally well-liked, but he’s still never gotten much of a push for the Hall (the Hall of Miller and Eric guys have put him in, but not the guys in Cooperstown). I think a couple of things work against him. First, he is considered more a “fielder” than a “hitter” and as a character called “Baseballidiot” who shows up here occasionally once put it “It’s a hitter’s Hall.” Second, the Cardinals were in contention frequently, but only got to the World Series once when Hernandez was there. Some thought, and I remember hearing this from guys I know, that with a “heavier” hitting first baseman (think Mize or Pujols, to stay with the Cardinals) they might have gotten over the top more often. And it doesn’t help that when he leaves St. Louis the Cards go to the World Series in 1985 and 1987 (losing both) while Hernandez only goes to one with the Mets. Now it’s true the Mets won their Series (1986) but the team was seen as something of a disappointment. They were supposed to dominate the NL in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988 and managed to get to all of one World Series. In 1985 and 1987 they lost the NL East title to Hernandez’s old team the Cards (who seemed to be better without him) and in 1988 they finally broke through (as they’d done in 1986) only to lose to a Dodgers team they’d beaten 11 times in the regular season. And it didn’t help that he was seldom seen as the best player on his team (1979 being an obvious exception). With St. Louis the press went to Ozzie Smith and to some extent to Willie McGee. In New York there was Gary Carter, Daryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden who got more press. That surely had to hurt him.

So would I vote for him? They answer is a definitive “maybe” (can I cover my backside or what?). My problem is that I think he’s a heck of a  player but there are a number of players I’d rather see get in first. On my current hypothetical ballot for this year’s Hall, I had no problem voting for 10 and complained about leaving off four more (that’s without reference to the steroid guys). If Hernandez were on this year’s ballot, he’d join the “four more” that I left off.

 

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7 Responses to “The Case for Keith Hernandez”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    For myself…I’d pass. Hernandez was a fine player, a star but not an immortal. For me, he’s stuck in that Will Clark/John Olerud/Steve Garvey/Mark Grace/Donnie Baseball logjam, and in that queue he’s stuck behind Olerud and Clark, and maybe Mattingly.

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    And Andre Dawson was an “immortal”? I don’t think of these people as gods, just the best players. And I, and many others, feel that Hernandez belongs. Let’s face it. It’s all politics, anyway.

    A merry Christmas to everyone!

    Glen

    • steve Says:

      Glen, I wonder if HOF debate and discussion is more about fun than anything else. The thought of the HOF being a computer mind with very specific criteria deciding who gets in and who doesn’t…….ughhhhh! What would we do all winter? There would be no post about Keith Hernandez.

      A belated Happy chanooookah to you Glen and a merry christmas.

  3. steve Says:

    I wish my memory were better. This discussion happened a while back on Bill Miller’s blog. For a first baseman,162 home runs always seemed like way too few, but there was a convincing argument made about many of the earl first baseman enshrined not being home run hitters, but I can’t remember any of their names.

  4. Miller Says:

    Thanks so much for the shout-out, v. While I think you’ve identified all of the reasons Hernandez didn’t get the attention he deserved, one of the great things about Hernandez never got the attention that it deserved either. His defense. It’s not just great. It’s likely the greatest ever. That was enough, basically, to get Bill Mazeroski in. And Hernandez was a faaaar better hitter than Maz. Of course, since I don’t support Mazeroski’s candidacy, I should leave this argument alone. Let me just say that with Super Mex’s glove, he’s as good (better?) as Eddie Murray. That gets him in for me.

    Merry merry.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Although I agree with you on Hernandez’s defense, 1st base has, since the end of the Deadball Era, been seen as a hitter’s position and in the long line of Mize, McCovey, Foxx, Gehrig, and for that matter Hodges and Big Klu, Hernandez comes up looking way short. At 2nd you can get away with great defense and a weak bat and still make the Hall, but it’s much tougher at 1st.
      thanks for reading.
      v

  5. glenrussellslater Says:

    I was all for Maz getting in. I’m glad he did. Now we should have more non-hitting, great fielding infielders in there. If they can put guys who can’t field but can hit a ton in there, then why not the opposite? Let’s not forget—- there are teams— like the ’69 Mets—- who won it on pitching and defense (along with some opportune but by no means prodigious hitting).

    So I say let’s make way for one of my father’s favorites, Marty “Slats” Marion. Also, why the heck isn’t Dom DiMaggio in there. He was a good hitter as WELL as a great hitter. How about Jerry Grote, who Johnny Bench said would be catching and he would have been at the third baseman if they were on the same team. Grote is about the best defensive catcher I can think of.

    How about Graig Nettles at third base?

    I’m sure you all can think of many, many examples of this kind of thing.

    As for Hernandez, I’m sticking to my guns and hoping that he’ll be originally in the Hall.

    Glen

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