For those who aren’t well-versed in the team’s history or don’t watch their games on SNY, ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the 1986 Mets, Once Upon A Time In Queens, re-introduced many to Keith Hernandez — the slick-fielding, clutch-hitting first baseman who captained the Mets to that infamous World Series title 35 years ago.
It’s been 31 years since the now-67-year-old last appeared in a Major League Baseball game, and ESPN’s look-back allowed sports fans to at least get a glimpse of just how good a player Hernandez was — because the game itself hasn’t necessarily done that job.
Hernandez’s name is usually toward the top of the list of many baseball fans’ lists of players who should at least get stronger consideration for enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite a 16-year career — nine-plus seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals before getting traded to the Mets in 1983, where he spent seven years — that featured a National League MVP Award, 11 Gold Gloves, a batting title, 2 World Series rings, five All-Star appearances, and two Silver Sluggers, Hernandez received little Hall-of-Fame consideration from the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The often-stingy gatekeepers of the Hall never gave Hernandez more than 10.8% of the vote over the nine years he was on the ballot from 1996-2004. He has yet to appear on the Modern Era ballot of the Veterans Committee, either, which chooses 10 players or contributors that played between 1970-1987.
Ask his former teammate and fellow 1986 Mets hero, Mookie Wilson, and it’s a travesty.
“No question [he should be in the Hall of Fame],” Wilson told amNewYork. “I think what we do with the Hall of Fame — and that’s what baseball has become, a numbers game — if the numbers don’t match up [you don’t get in]. Well, I think pretty much that they shot a hole in that because of some of the recent people they put in the Hall of Fame.”
He’s not wrong.
Looking at the previous four players elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee who played during the modern era, Hernandez’s numbers are up to par when looking at stats that help tell a better story of a player’s effectiveness.
That includes Wins Above Replacement (WAR) — which measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position — and OPS+, which takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks. It then adjusts so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.
In terms of defensive importance, Runs From Fielding measures how many runs better or worse than average a player was in terms of fielding balls in play, turning double plays, outfield arms, and catcher defense — the latter two obviously depending on the position one plays.
|Player||Position||WAR||OPS+||Runs From Fielding|
|Ron Santo||Third Base||70.5||125||20|
|Harold Baines||Right Fielder/DH||38.7||121||-12|
|Keith Hernandez||1st Base||60.3||128||117|
It’s not just inductees of the Veterans Committee that Hernandez’s numbers rival or even eclipse. In terms of an all-around game, Hernandez is one of the finest first basemen ever.
In Major League Baseball history, there have been only 65 players that played 75% of their games at first base and own a career WAR of 30 or higher. Of those 65, this is where Hernandez ranks in those previously-stated categories (*denotes a Hall of Famer):
|Stat||Hernandez’s #||Rank||Notables Ahead||Notables Behind|
|WAR||60.3||15th||Lou Gehrig*, Jimmie Foxx*, Cap Anson*||Hank Greenberg*, George Sisler*, Don Mattingly|
|OPS+||128||29th||Mark McGwire, Willie McCovey*, Jeff Bagwell*||Ted Kluszewski, Cecil Cooper, Gil Hodges|
|Runs From Fielding||117||1st||—||John Olerud, Roger Connor*, Eddie Murray*|
Between a 10-year peak from 1977-1986, only seven players had a better batting average than Hernandez’s .305 (five of them are in the Hall of Fame), while his on-base of .396 ranked only behind Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, and Rickey Henderson — all of whom are in Cooperstown.
On top of all that, Hernandez has the most Gold Gloves ever won by a first baseman at 11. That’s as many as Willie Mays won in center field. Only four position players — Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez, Ozzie Smith, Roberto Clemente — have won more Gold Glove Awards and they’re all in the Hall of Fame.
“I thought the Hall of Fame was about the people who had made outstanding contributions to the game,” Wilson said. “Keith is the first on my list of guys that should be in the Hall of Fame. How many Gold Gloves does this guy have? He has an MVP, a batting title. I mean, come on, what does he have to do?
“I don’t know what else. He was a leader, no ifs, and, or buts about that… He has my vote.”