When you mention the all time greats in Mets history who comes rushing to your fertile mind first? Mike Piazza ? Tom Seaver ? Rusty Staub ? Vince Coleman ( kidding, kidding) ? Well coming in at number six on this countdown of the top 50 Mets of all time is possibly the most important Met of the past 30 years. Yes folks it is time to give the ‘stache – Keith Hernandez his due !!
KeithBarlow Hernandez was born in San Francisco, California on October 20, 1953. As a child, Keithgrew up in both Pacifica and Millbrae, California. While attending CapuchinoHigh School, Keith was considered a all star athlete. Keith had mentioned many times how his father, John ( a former minor league baseball player) used to work both him and his brother hard , drilling the fundamentals of baseball into them. Keith graduated high school in 1971, and went on to briefly attend the College of San Mateo.. Keith was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 Major League Baseball Draft.
For the first two seasons of Keith’s minor league career, Keith would struggle. He had batteda combined .250during that time. In 1973 Keith was promoted to the Cardinals Triple A affiliate, the Tulsa Oilers andhe immediately foundhimself as a batter. He batted .333 that season withfive home runs. In 1974, Keithwould dominate Triple A. he batted .351 with the Oilers andwas promoted to the Cardinals that August. Keith made his major league debut on August 30th against his hometown San Francisco Giants , and went 1-2.
After the ’74 season ended, the Cards traded their everyday first baseman, Joe Torre tot he Metsso that Keithcould have the starting job at first base. Keith’s first year with the Cards was a mixed bag. He split his time between the majors and their miinor league affiliate in Tulsa because even though he was a strong defensive player ( he had a .996 fielding percentage that season), Keithwas puzzled by major league pitching. He finished the season batting .250 with three home runs and twenty RBIs.
In 1978, Keithwould win his first of eleven Gold Glove awards, narrowly beating out Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman, Steve Garvey. 1979 would mark the turning point in Keith;s career. He finished the season with a league leading batting averageof .344 , with48 doubles, as well as 116 runs scored. Keith along with Pittsburgh Pirate great, Willie Stargell as the Co MVP’S of the National League.
After the 1979 season , Keith was considered one of the premier hitters in all of baseball. He was a perennial .300 hitter and was worshiped by kids everywhere. In 1982, Keith would win his first World Series ring, when the Cardinals outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers in a hard fought seven game series. Keith had eight RBI’s in the series.
During the ’83 season, Keith and manager, Whitey Herzog had a falling out over what Herzoghad deemed ” Keith’s lack of passion for the game”. On June 15, 1983 , the Cardinals foolishly traded Keith to the New York Mets relief pitcher, Neil Allen as well as minor league pitching prospect, Rick Ownbey. Allen was a decent closer during his tenure with the Cards, but Ownbypitched briefly with St Louis, but never could stick in the majors.
When Keith came to the Mets he had to change his number from 37 to 17, because the number 37 was already retired in honor of Metsmanager , Casey Stengel. Keith wore 37 to honor his favorite player, Mickey Mantle and accepted the number 17 because at leastit had the number 7 in it. Keithwas miserable in his first season with the Mets – a franchise that had not had a winning record in seven years. Fellow Mets player, Rusty Staubbefriended Keith, andshowed him all there was to do in New York – including the vibrant night life . Keithalso kept in contact withhis father who followed the minor leagues with a passion andtold Keith that the Metssystem was fertile with talent.
Keithwould re-sign with the Mets that off season, anda new Manager by the name of Davey Johnson along with some fresh faced talent such as Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and Hubie Brooks would emerge from the minors. Under the new manager, andwiththe leadership of Keith, the Metsfinished 1984 season with a record of 90-72 – their best season since 1976 !
In 1985,Keithhad to pay the piper by testifying in a Pittsburgh court about his cocaine use during the trial of drug dealer Curtis Strong. Keith was mandated by the commissioners office afterwards to make anti drug ads or be suspended from the game.
In 1985 the Mets were in a heated battle for first place with the St Louis Cardinals, Keith’s old team. The Mets won a amazing 98 games that season,but they fell three games short of beating the Cards for the N.L East division title.
In 1986, everything came together for the Mets. They won a astonishing 108 games. The rest of the teams in the National League East never stood a chance, the closest team – The Philadelphia Phillies were a mere 21 anda half games behind. Keith finished the season with a batting average of .310 , 13 homers and 84 RBIs. The Mets beat the Houston Astrosin six games to win the NLCS. Keith batted just .231 during the ’86 World Series , but when he was on base it seemed like he was in the middle of every rally. The Mets ended up besting the Red Sox in Seven games that year.
In 1987, manager Davey Johnson officially made Keithalong with catcher, Gary Carter the co captains of the Mets. In ’87 and’88 Keithplayed well but it was obvious that his skills were starting to erode. In 1988, Keith won his eleventh andfinal Gold Glove.He went to his final post season with the Mets that season, but hey lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.
Keith would only play in 75 games for the Mets in 1989. He was bothered by numerous injuries and couldn’t recapturehis swing. He finished the season with a batting average of .233 ( the lowest in his Mets career) and the Mets declined to sign him after the season ended. Mets fans everywhere were upset that Keith wasn’t re-signed , but it was evident he was not the player he once was.
In 1990, Keith signed with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent. He played in only 45 games until being sidelined by a hamstring injury. He batted just .200 with one home run and eight RBIs in his tenure with the Tribe. Keith retired at the end of the season.
Since Keith’s retirement after the ’90 season, he has kept himself more than busy. He is a best selling author, having written three books (“If at First: A Season With the Mets” ,”Pure Baseball: Pitch by Pitch for the Advanced Fan” as well as “Shea Good-Bye: The Untold Inside Story of the Historic 2008 Season”. Keith has been a television pitch man along with New York Knick great, Walt ” Clyde” Fraizer endorsing” Just For Men ” hair products. Keith has been a important member of the Mets SNY and WPIX broadcast team for the last several seasons along with long time broadcaster Gary Cohen,as well as former teammate , Ron Darling and roving reporter, Kevin Burkhardt. In my opinion they are one of the best broadcasting teams in all of baseball, giving a somewhat unbiased calling of the game. One of the highpoint is what as fellow blogger ” Brooklyn Mets Fan” has termed Keith’s “mexisms” - which are usually funny comments our non-sequitursthat usually have very little do do withwhat is going on during the game action. Keith along with his fellow broadcaster, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling, have created atheCharity Gary, Keith & Ron: Pitch In For A Good Cause, which supports their pet charities. To donate, please go to www.pitchinforagoodcause.org where your donations as well as the net profits of the merchandise they sell go to the Cobble Hill Health Center ( Gary Cohen’s charity), Juvenile Diabetes Research Center ( Ron Darling’s charity), and The Danbury Women’s Center( Keith’s charity). Last season, Keith won two New York Emmys.
Keith has been on hand for many Mets celebrations, including his induction to the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1997 , The 25th anniversary of the ’86 Met and the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium.
If there was ever a person that should have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot I believe it should be Keith. I don’t know if it is because of his participation in the MLB drug hearings in the mid ’80′s or that there is just a New York bias, but I think that the numbers that he has put up through his entire career prove he is more than deserving. A nd many of the Mets faithful want to see his number retired on the left field wall, so players such as Jose Lima or Anderson Hernandez will never be seen wearing that number ever again !
On of the biggest misconceptions about Keith is that he is of Mexican decent. His father is actually Spanish and his mother is Scots-Irish.
In his 7 years with the Mets he had won seven gold gloves, . batting .297with 80 homers, 468 RBIs and a slugging % of .429. He was also the undeniable leader of those dominant teams of the mid to late ’80′s.
Tomorrow we will profile one of the most important pitchers in Mets history who has been voted number 5 on the list of the top 50 Mets of all time.
And with that said… HERE COMES THE INFAMY !!!!!
Mets alumni celebrating a birthday today includes :
Middle reliever from the ’06 team, Jorge Julio is 32 (1979) . Jorge was a big fireballer witha penchant for serving up game winning homers in his short 18 game career with the Mets . He kind of looked like Armando Benitez, but with even less will power for midnight snacks. The best thing that I can say about Jorge is that he was part of the deal that sent Kris Benson tot he Baltimore Orioles for him and at the time “throw in ” pitcher John Maine. Later that season Julio would net us Orlando Hernandez when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And while you stay awake at night hoping that the Mets offense wakes up by the start of the season, just remember that there are just 39 Dave Magadan days until the Mets open the 2011 season against the Florida Marlins in Miami, and just 36 moredays until the Mets 2011 home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Mo Vaughn has contacted a lawyer to sue the makers of the film “Precious” he claims that the movie was based on his life !!!