This time in late January tends to create a cavalcade of excitement for those in the baseball community. Specifically for, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Alan Trammell, and Jack Morris. This group of baseball greats will be entering Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame later this summer.
However, widespread debates arise this time of year as to who is not being inducted into Cooperstown. My argument is for a player who is no longer on the ballot. A player who made a defensive difference at a position that’s defense is often overlooked and undervalued.
Keith Hernandez spent his 17-year career at first base for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, and Cleveland Indians. Hernandez was the 1979 National League Co-MVP (Shared with Willie Stargell), five-time NL All-Star, and most remarkably, an 11-time Gold Glover.
The 11 Gold Gloves that Hernandez received are the most ever won by a first baseman. Don Mattingly is just behind Hernandez with nine Gold Gloves. Hernandez is the only player to lead his position in Gold Gloves and not be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Hernandez was a gap-to-gap hitter and hit .300 or better on seven occasions. He finished with a .296 career batting average. His career WAR is 60.0 which is 20th among first basemen. Thirteen Hall of Famers are in front of Hernandez on the career first basemen WAR list and two players (Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera) will eventually arrive in Cooperstown.
Hernandez was a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. His baseball prowess often made the difference in big games. He won two World Series Championships with the Cardinals in 1982 and the Mets in 1986.
So why is Hernandez being omitted? First base is traditionally a position where power hitters reside. This notion has often been the main reason to Hernandez’s absence from Cooperstown. Hernandez finished his career with only 162 home runs, and only drove in more than 100 RBI’s once in 17 seasons.
Ozzie Smith, a teammate of Hernandez was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his unmatched abilities as a defensive player. Smith won 13 Gold Gloves (Most by a shortstop) throughout his career. However, Smith was less than a productive offensive player. The Wizard of Oz finished his career with a .262 lifetime average and 28 career home runs in 19 seasons.
Brooks Robinson is another elite defender in the Hall of Fame. Robinson, like Hernandez leads his position (third base) in Gold Gloves. The parallel between Hernandez and Robinson is that they both played traditional power hitting positions, and neither put up big home run totals. Robinson finished his career 268 home runs and a .267 batting average in 23 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles
I absolutely believe that Smith and Robinson belong in the Hall of Famer. However, they are both examples of the primitive thinking when it comes to Hall of Fame stereotyping by position. Defense just means more on the left side of the infield in the eyes of the voters. The offensive output just falls by the wayside.
The consensus for Hernandez is that since he did not put up gaudy offensive numbers at first base, he is not a Hall of Famer. Hernandez is being portrayed more so as a luxury than as a necessity. His defensive skills, leadership qualities, and ability as a line driver hitter warrant the Veterans Committee giving him a second look down the road. Keith Hernandez’s legacy deserves something other than being dumped by Elaine Benes and frank commentary on SNY.