It's a crime that Keith Hernandez isn't in the Hall of Fame
Hernandez was lucky to get eight percent of the vote during his time on the ballot
With Hernandez's intelligent approach, he was as dynamic a player as I've seen
He'll get in someday through the Veteran's Committee
Go to the water cooler, any water cooler on any day, gurgle the words "baseball" and "Hall of Fame," and before long you'll have a fight on your hands. This year especially. I'm still hearing it:
Was single-skilled Jim Rice really worthy? Shouldn't curveballer Bert Blyleven have gotten in? Poor Gil Hodges! How could anyone leave Rickey Henderson off their ballot -- change the system!
Then came the added Cooperstown conundrum spawned by the news that slugging second baseman Jeff Kent will retire. If that cat ever got into the Hall of Fame, and Barry Bonds didn't, we would REALLY have a fight on our hands.
Which brings me to this. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: It's sheer idiocy that first baseman Keith Barlow Hernandez -- you may remember him as "Mex"; you may know him as the laconic analyst on Mets broadcasts; you may recall his dalliance with Elaine on Seinfeld; you may admire his plush moustache; you may not know the guy at all -- was not sent to Cooperstown long ago.
Isn't in? Heck, Hernandez was lucky to get eight percent of the vote during his nine years on the ballot. It makes me wonder whether that other 92 percent of baseball writers actually watch the games or whether they simply put the daily box scores through the data mill.
OK, here goes. The stats. I'll admit that by first baseman standards, Hernandez did not exactly crush the ball. He never hit more than 18 home runs in a season (wound up with just 162 in his career). He knocked in more than 100 runs just once, went over 90 just six times in all. A-Rod hits 18 homers a month. Ninety RBIs is like a half-season for Pujols.
But before we even get to how friggin' smart Hernandez was on the ballfield, look at this credible stuff: He finished in the top three in on-base percentage seven times in his career. He wound up getting on base 38.4 percent of the time in his career. That's about the same as first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn (38.8 percent) and Gwynn only hit 135 homers in his career, only went over 90 RBI twice. (The far more powerful Rice, by the by, got on base just 35.2 percent of the time.)
For all you OPS nudniks (and I mean that affectionately), Hernandez's was .820 for his career, considerably better than, say, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez's. Hernandez was a co-MVP as a Cardinal in 1979. He finished in the top four in the voting two other years. He twice led the National League in runs scored. He made five All-Star teams. He was the best player and clear leader on the 1986 World Series-winning Mets.
Hernandez was clutch. "Game-winning RBI" only lasted nine seasons as a stat (1980-88). That was long enough for Hernandez to rack up 129 of them, the most in baseball.
So there's all of that. And then there's this: 11 gold gloves, more than any first baseman in history. Kids, that doesn't even begin to tell you what Hernandez did on the field. Do you think a first baseman -- you know, the position that Jason Giambi "plays" -- can dominate a game defensively? Hernandez had 1,662 career assists, more than any National league first baseman ever. Only Eddie Murray, who played 400 more games at the position (and is a Hall of Famer) had more.
Keith Hernandez played first base more aggressively, intelligently, courageously and effectively than any first baseman of his time or since, or probably ever. Hernandez wouldn't just charge the plate in a bunting situation, he'd run at it full on. If the batter bunted and missed he could reach out and shake Hernandez's hand to congratulate him on the effort.
He threw runners out at second or third every game, it seemed, and he freaked hitters out. Guys would pop up a bunt or foul one off just because they had this crazy Mex character barreling at them. Some managers simply wouldn't bunt against Hernandez; he took the weapon away from them.
Hernandez transformed the Mets in the 1980s, and after that team broke up, four pitchers -- Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Roger McDowell and David Cone -- wore Hernandez's uniform number (17) to honor him. He was the savviest guy on the field every day, the guy you wanted calling pitches for you. "Throw a fastball here or I will kick your ass. Seriously." That was the kind of thing he'd stroll over to the mound to say. Read his book Pure Baseball. Really, read it.
Hernandez was as dynamic a player as I have ever seen. Not dynamic like Rickey or Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez. He was just deeply involved in every situation, on every pitch, altering the game somehow, subtly but decidedly. If you fancied yourself a student of the game, you went to the ballpark and watched what Hernandez did at bat, in the field, on the bases. It was amazing.
Keith Hernandez is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Ask the guys who played with him. He'll get in someday through the Veteran's Committee.Until then, take this to the water cooler. You can't lose.