Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall of Fame

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This is an admittedly random post at a random time, but I strongly believe Keith Hernandez belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I acknowledge that, offensively, Hernandez was merely awfully good. His lifetime average is .296, with 2,182 hits over 17 seasons. Those are Mark Grace and Hal McRae and Wally Joyner numbers—which gets you a lifetime of autograph requests, but not a ticket to Cooperstown.

What gets Hernandez in is defense. Not just good defense. Not just great defense. No, in Keith Hernandez (aka “Mex”) we’re talking about the best defensive first baseman to ever play the game. He won 11-straight Gold Gloves, and probably should have a couple of more. He could go left or right with equal aplomb; charge balls with remarkable grace; handle throws from the worst third basemen ever (See: Jefferies, Gregg). Having grown up in New York watching the ’80s Mets, I can’t recall Hernandez ever not scooping out a ball. He was, simply, remarkable. Unparalleled. Magical.

For some reason, that doesn’t matter with voters. Hernandez has never come close to being elected, primarily because the decision makers view first base as a spot where dunder-gloves like Jason Giambi and Carlos Delgado can hide. Hernandez, however, turned defensive first base into an art. He surely saved hundreds upon hundreds of runs throughout his career. I understand not letting in every really, really, really, really good fielder. But if you’re the best ever at your position—and, without question, Hernandez is the best-fielding first baseman ever—you’ve earned your spot.

To me, it’s a no-brainer.

33 thoughts on “Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall of Fame”

  1. If he got credit for being in one of the 3 best “Seinfeld” episodes ever, and giving us the always-applicable “I’m Keith Hernandez!” line, he’s be a first-ballot guy for sure.

  2. Speaking of Mark Grace & wild throws, if you’re putting Hernandez in for fielding Jeffries’ throws, I think the 90 mph throws Gracie pulled out of the dirt from Shawon Dunston make an even stronger argument.

    Of course he was never on Seinfeld…probably because he would have stolen the scenes.

  3. he could also use his left or right nostril with equal aplomb and was involved in one of the worst scandals in his era of baseball.

    so, no surprise he hasn’t been inducted.

  4. For someone who is so against Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, etc. for using performance-enhancing drugs, it’s a little surprising that you are pushing for Keith Hernandez for the HOF, considering he was in a pretty big coke scandal in the 1980s.

  5. I totally agree with you. I got hooked on baseball watching the 80s Mets and I miss the days of watching Hernandez at 1B. I’ve never seen anyone charge in on a bunt like he did – he put so much pressure on the hitter to get down a perfect bunt because he’d be right on top of them. He also finessed calls at first base because as soon as the ball hit his mitt, his foot would be off the bag and he’d be throwing the ball around the diamond.

    Watching the Mo Vaughn days and Carlos Delgado just will never match those days of Hernandez manning first base…

  6. I have been saying this for ages. I’d add that his leadership skills count for a lot as well.

    If nothing else, the Mets should retire his number.

  7. Is it possible to estimate just how many runs Hernandez saved above replacement? Let’s look at that, and then we can judge.

  8. Pearlman, you have got to be the biggest hypocrite I’ve ever read. Your quote on Barry Bonds:

    “If we reward and praise the cheaters in sports, what are we saying to the kids who follow the games? What are we saying about decency and integrity?”.

    Hernandez was a known cocaine user, but I suppose he gets your vote in the HOF because *his* performance enhancer could also be used to have fun at a nightclub. Please.

  9. Hernandez was a drug user, doesn’t that matter Jeff? By the way, as a parent and sports fan I’m more bothered by cocaine abuse than steroid use. Hernandez was a great defensive first baseman, but not a great offensive first baseman, not close, and as far as some of the HOFers he’s supposedly “better” than Bill James and others have pointed out ad nauseum that the way you show your guy deserves the Hall isn’t to find the worst guy you can in the Hall and say “my guy’s better.” Hernandez was never one of the top five players in the game at any time in his career…How do you say a guy who was never one of the five best in the game should be in the Hall? An his one co-MVP doesn’t mean he was one of the five best in the game that year.

  10. some of your commenters have gotten me thinking… do they know the reason why steroids is and should be vilified in sports… as opposed to other drugs like heroin, cocaine, the purple haze? i hope these commenters realize that roids and (supposedly) hgh ENHANCE performance… if anything, narcotics and depressants INHIBIT coordination and on-the-fly thinking.

    People don’t have negative feelings towards Bonds, Clemens and all the other 900 baseball players that used at the time because they took drugs in general. It’s because they took drugs that helped them perform inhuman feats (feets?).

    I think there is a huge difference between roids and coke, etc. If one wants to indulge in drugs, fine by me. but if youre cheating the game and others out of money (tickets, contract incentives, endorsements) and jobs.

    bottom line is: mex was the man. i would say olerud comes close to the slickness of keith on d. but keith did it with a little more style and a soft wool hat.

  11. Let’s see if Omar Vizquel gets in. I’m too young to confirm your point about Keith’s defense but I’ll take your word for it. The average seems rather high for the time he played in. I remember most guys hitting something like .230-.250 so .298 seems good for that time. Based on his hitting in comparison to other players of his era, his leadership and his top notch defense I say he gets in.

  12. Cocaine isn’t a depressant. It’s a stimulant. Tim Raines used to do coke during games.

    Just because Hernandez did coke doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be in the HOF. He shouldn’t be in the HOF because he doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF.

    But Jeff is looking a little hypocritical here, especially after all the times he took Bonds and Clemens to task for taking illegal substances.

  13. Even alcohol can be considered a performance enhancer. I remember back in 1982 when Keith broke out of a slump and attributed it to his drinking a bottle of wine the night before.

    Pearlman likes to pick and choose his outrage over drug use. Bonds was unworthy to break Aaron’s record because of his drug use, but apparently Keith is HOF worthy even though he is guilty of the same crime.

  14. While I think Jeff’s allegiance to the Mets weighs heavily in this post, I don’t see how roids and blow are even remotely related.

    If you’re saying that users of either have low moral character, fine, but coke doesn’t make average players great. Ask some of the young washouts who tried to party with Mike Irvin in his heyday.

    That said, No to Keith.

  15. Totally agree with you. Hernandez was the best first-baseman in his era. His glove was sublime; he shared an MVP award, and he was the anchor of the ’86 Mets. Steve Garvey should be in, too. Too many ’70s and ’80s players are being overlooked — Dale Murphy, Willie McGee, Frank White, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris. So many great players from that era completely pushed aside.

  16. Of course steroids and cocaine are not related, but I wouldn’t underestimate cocaine’s capacity to act as an enhancer. If cocaine (a stimulant) can, like greenies, keep a ballplayer going through a long season, then it does help a player artificially achieve.

    I just get tired of players from this era getting taken to the woodshed from the likes of Pearlman while ignoring obvious ‘cheating’ that happened before.

  17. If Keith Hernandez gets in the Hall of Fame and Barry Bonds does not, I will give up on baseball — especially the Hall of Fame and the writers who cover the sport. These have become stupid, selective exercises in morality and mere popularity contests. Anybody who has followed the game knows who the greatest players were. It is plain to see that Barry Binds was one of the top 3 performers ever to play the game. Keith Hernandez? Very good player, very clutch, etc. but not even in the same league with the best of his era. You can pick and choose which illegal substances deserve your scorn. Me, I’ll go by what happened on the field.

  18. Some negatives for Mex:
    1. First base is the easiest position to play on the diamond, and is not remotely as important as 2B or SS defensively, so although KH was an outstanding 1st sacker, his defensive value was not in the same ballpark as Ozzie’s or Maz’s.
    2. Pearlman is the first person I’ve ever heard exclaim that Mex is the greatest fielder to ever play 1st base. In other words, there isn’t a consensus that he was THE defensive stud of all-time at the position (like, say, Ozzie and Maz and Brooks Robinson were at there positions). I’ve heard Vic Power’s name mentioned in this context, and Hal Chase and Wes Parker; perhaps KH is in that upper echelon of defensively great 1st basemen, but it’s not like he’s THE one.
    3. Are there stats to back up Pearlman’s claims? I mean, come on…he ADMITS that he grew up a Met’s fan, and watched KH in his prime, leading the New Yorkers to glory. I can’t think of a more biased observer.

    Some positives for Mex:
    1. He’s a cool guy.
    2. He WAS the best player in the NL in 1979, and his MVP should not have been a “co-MVP.” I love Willie Stargell as much as the next guy, but his co-MVP in ’79 was a complete sham; he got huge bonus points for “clubhouse leadership,” and “intangibles.” So the guys who are saying that Mex was never one of the 5 best players in the game are wrong…at least in 1979, he was THE best.

  19. Well, he is one of 6 infielders with 10+ Gold Gloves (he has 11). The other retired players are Johnny Bench, Roberto Alomar, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith.

    It really depends on how you view 1st base. If he was a shortstop with 11 gold gloves, he would definitely be in the discussion regardless of offense. He would be on the quirkiest selections ever, but I don’t think I could vote for him. Great career, but not Hall of Fame.

  20. I’m sitting right next to Keith and he says, “Make it happen! Make it happen. Ask Obama…he’s all about change.”

    This is awesome!

  21. Mr Herb Smith

    Your fundamentally wrong about Hernandez’s defense at 1st. It is MORE than a consensus that #17 was the greatest 1st basemen in history, and that is really understating it. His defense was so different then anyone else ever to play the game, that he bent the importance of the position’s defensive contribution to wins. It might have been possible to remove the 2nd baseman altogether when he played. You couldn’t remove ss or 3rd because somebody had to catch all those throws.

  22. Keith belongs in the hall of fame. It is a crime that he is not. He played the game with style and class. Yes he was involved in a scandal, but that should not take away from what he did on the feild. Had he retired instead of playing 2 dismal years in Cleavland at the end of his carreer his batting average would have been over .300 lifetime.

  23. Believe it or not, Jeff Pearlman UNDERSTATES the case. Ask 100 NL players and pitchers from Hernandez’s time to name the last three people they want to see up at the plate trying to beat them in the ninth, and 90+ of those lists will contain Tony Gwynn and K. Hernandez. Great clutch player. He wasn’t just the best fielding 1st baseman of all time, he totally revolutionized the way the position was played with his super-aggressiveness: the 3-5-3s(!), the crazy and intimidating charges home on potential bunt plays, etc., besides the stunning glove work. He was a pitching coach on the field

  24. (Continued) every pitcher on his team counted on his trips to the mound in tough spots to get him through the inning -part psychologist, part advance scout. If you watched him play for any length of time, you know that his presence meant more to his team than almost any other player of his era. HOF voters shouldn’t just blindly vote based on avg, hr, rbi. That’s how an unclutch bum, DP machine, bad baserunning, bad fielding, home/road splits, overrated Jim Rice gets in, while a vastly better Hernandez is still waiting.

    road splits guy like Jim

  25. dont forget ovr 1000 walks, lifetome obp .384. also baseball prospectis and other stats sites give him amazing numbers on runs saved and WARP. The quintessential intangibles player. dont compare his numbers to the inflated steroids numbers. a real winning ballplayer, with huge hits to win games 6 & 7 for the Cards in 82, and also in game 7 for the Mets in 86. Better than 25 players in the Hall right now. Same goes for Tim Raines. Put them both in

  26. one of the most overlooked intangibles for induction into the HOF is leadership. mex had that in spades. i can’t even begin to count how many mets pitchers got out of jams by his trips to the mound. include his incredible defensive skills, clutch hitting, & mentoring the younger players, no doubt in my mind he should be in the hall of fame. yes, i’m a die hard mets fan, so you can call me biased, but no way do the mets win, much less get to the 86 world series without mex. and yes, there are a ton of other players that should also be in the HOF that aren’t, and keith hernandez is one of them.

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