Former New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez had one of the most accomplished careers of the 1980s. Why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame?
From 1996-2004, the Hall of Fame ballot included Keith Hernandez. The former New York Mets star first baseman who also had his share of success with the St. Louis Cardinals checks off many of the boxes we usually think of when we consider players for Cooperstown.
Hernandez won an MVP, made multiple trips to the All-Star Game, and owns a pair of World Series rings—one with each of the teams he spent the majority of his career with. A lifetime batting average of .296 and a record 11 Gold Gloves as a first baseman should help his cause.
Unfortunately, Hernandez never got much love during his years on the ballot. The 10.8% he received in 1998 was the highest. That year, voters only selected Don Sutton. Several players on the 1998 ballot eventually got in, but many like Hernandez remain absent from Cooperstown. What gives?
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If I had to put a theory together, the timing is what hurt Hernandez most. He was on the ballot during the Steroid Era. With only 2,182 hits but over 1,000 career walks, I think many overlooked his .384 OBP and how much it attributed to his success. Turn 400 of those walks into hits and suddenly he’s closer to the 3,000 hit milestone.
It’s rare for a player to go into the Hall of Fame on defense alone. Hernandez’s all-time great defense should certainly warrant a look. Together with his stellar bat, he’s one of the great two-way players in baseball history.
On the field, his lack of home runs is what I believe hurts him most. With only 162 of them, he was a different kind of first baseman. Even so, he was a talented one who provided for his team in a different way.
Maybe most damning of all is the known drug use Hernandez engaged in. At times, the Hall of Fame voters cast their ballots from a high horse. Keeping Hernandez out because of this may have been agenda-driven at the time. Considering there aren’t any confessed steroid users in the Hall of Fame, it’s likely this wouldn’t help him much even in today’s world. Gambling and drugs are two things there’s little wiggle room on.
Hernandez is one of several ex-Mets who have a strong Hall of Fame case. There’s no major push to get him in there like there is for Gil Hodges. Hodges, who was one of baseball’s biggest stars in the 1950s as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is often credited by members of the 1969 Mets for their championship win. Those players loved the man whose playing career went overlooked by voters for a half-century.
Hernandez is unlikely to receive the same amount of love as Hodges. The Hall of Fame case for him will remain the same. Sadly, as a first baseman, the offensive expectations were a little different. Put him at any other position and the numbers stack up.
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Because he chose to hit rather than swing with his eyes closed, Hernandez and his Good Fundies will remain Mets Hall of Famers viewing the one in Cooperstown from the outside.