First and foremost, Keith Hernandez did NOT hang himself. That was Aaron Hernandez. A Canadian newspaper mistakenly called Aaron “Keith” in a headline regarding the suicide of the Patriots player in jail.
In case you are getting your news from this blog, I wanted to make sure you were informed.
Now on to this card.
Keith Hernandez finished his career with the Cleveland Indians. It looks strange doesn’t it? Didn’t it seem like he was mainly a Met in his career? Actually he won a Co-MVP as a Cardinal and got his first World Series ring in St. Louis. Maybe he should have been a Cardinal for his whole career.
But if he did stay in St. Louis for his whole career, he would never have appeared on Seinfeld.
“Mex” was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Actually he was not of Mexican descent but actually Spanish on his dad’s side. But Mex is still a cool nickname. He played little league on the Peninsula where one of his teammates was Bob McClure. Those two would meet later in life.
While playing for the College of San Mateo, he was drafted in the 41st round of the 1971 draft. It was one of the great draft success stories ever. 783 players were picked ahead of an eventual league MVP.
Between Single A St. Petersburg and Double A Arkansas, Hernandez was OK but hardly a can’t miss star when he started his minor league career.
But in Triple A Tulsa, his batting average jumped up. He batted .333 in 1973 in his brief Tripla A stint. Then .351 for a full season in 1974 and .330 in half a season in 1975. The Cardinals dealt Joe Torre to the Mets to make room on the roster for Hernandez. By 1976, the 22 year old Hernandez was starting every day. His star was beginning to rise in 1977 when he hit .291 with 15 homers and 91 RBI.
In 1978 he won his first of 11 Gold Gloves at first. Then in 1979, he exploded. He got off to a sluggish start but then in May, batted .356 with an OPS of .970.
Then he got better. He hit .373 in June and his OPS jumped to .994. By comparison, his .333 July with a .908 OPS looked bad but don’t worry. His hit .384 with a .939 OPS in August. Then for good measure, hit .356 with an eye popping 1.009 OPS to finish the season in September.
He led the league in batting and doubles and runs scored and finished with a .930 OPS and 105 RBI and did so with only 11 homers.
Willie Stargell was the emotional leader of the eventual World Champion Pirates that year but he was forced to share his MVP with Hernandez, whose actual stats dwarfed the accomplishments of “Pops.”
Hernandez continued his great hitting, Gold Glove winning defense and league leading run production through the beginning of the 1980’s, where he was named to the All Star Game again.
In 1982, the Cardinals made the World Series and played a star studded if injured Milwaukee Brewers team. In the 7 game series, Hernandez drove in 8 runs. The last two tied Game 7 off of his old Little League teammate Bob McClure. The Cardinals would win the World Series and Hernandez would get his first ring.
But all was not well. Manager Whitey Herzog kind of hated his star first baseman. He felt there was a lack of hustle from him and oh yeah, Hernandez loved cocaine. Lots of people loved cocaine in the 1980’s, but Herzog thought it was a distraction.
As the Cardinals were defending their World Series title, Hernandez was dumped to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey in the middle of the 1983 season. Needless to say, the trade was a bad one. The bad blood between Herzog and Hernandez helped fuel the heated rivalry between St. Louis and the Mets in the mid 1980’s.
Hernandez flourished with the Mets on the field and at the plate and with the fans. He made the All Star team in 1984 and hit above .300 in his first 4 seasons with New York. And the perennial losers in Queens suddenly became contenders.
His name came up in the Pittsburgh Cocaine trials along with many other high profile baseball players.I will say, these cocaine issues seem quaint compared to BALCO.
In the 1986 post season, he hit a critical double that brought the Mets to within 1 run in the top of the 9th and came around to score the tying run in the epic 16 inning clinching marathon game 6 of the NLCS.
Later in the World Series, he got the game tying hit and drove in 3 runs in Game 7 of the World Series as the Mets won and forever cemented their place in the hearts of Met fans. Hernandez was beloved by the fans inspite of, or maybe because of, his party boy image and cockiness. He was beloved by his teammates as well as the fans.
After the World Series, hard partying Hernandez and squeaky clean Gary Carter were named Co Captains of the team, but his best days were behind him.
Knee issues, hamstring problems and the emergence of younger players like Dave Magadan cut down on his numbers. After 1989, he was not given a new contract.
As this card shows, he played his final season with a young Indians team, hoping his veteran leadership would be an inspiration. He was a non factor.
On May 1, 190, Hernandez had his final two hit game in a loss to Toronto. He went hitless on July 24, 1990, his final game.
His post playing career has seen him play off of his good looks and partying reputation and cocky personality as much as his baseball career. He remains a popular Mets broadcaster, does the Just for Men hair color commercials with another former New York party animal Walt Clyde Frazier and of course dated Elaine Benes.
He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after 9 votes, only twice breaking double digits from the votes. Hernandez remains one of the beloved figures in Mets history, a relic of a fast living era of New York in the 1980s, and to the jealousy of George Constanza, a Civil War buff.