Fan voting is open for the 2021 selections to the Cardinals Hall of Fame. I truly believe that all five candidates are worthy. Here they are, and I’ll list them alphabetically: starting pitcher Steve Carlton, first baseman Keith Hernandez, starting pitcher Matt Morris, shortstop Edgar Renteria, and closer Lee Smith.
There’s no wrong or right here, but I think it’s time for Keith Hernandez. If I had one pick, and one only, I’d vote for Hernandez.
Yes, I know that Hernandez was caught up in the cocaine-era partying in major league baseball, and that led to his trade to the NY Mets on June 15, 1983. Cocaine use was widespread at that time; not just in MLB but across America.
That doesn’t make it right, but the same drug link didn’t stop baseball writers from voting Tim Raines into the national Baseball Hall of Fame. And if Cardinals fans were willing to wave off Mark McGwire’s use of steroids to elect him to the Cardinals Hall of Fame, there is no reason to exclude Hernandez.
Many years have passed, and we’re a forgiving people. No player should be disqualified from receiving an honor because of youthful misconduct that occurred nearly 40 years ago. We’ve all made mistakes and behaved poorly. If anything Hernandez serves as an example of recovery and redemption.
And just because you hate the 1980s Mets, that’s no reason to hate Hernandez. He didn’t trade himself to the Mets. He didn’t bolt from St. Louis to sign with the Mets as a free agent. But that’s another obstacle for Hernandez; multiple generations of Cardinals fans know him as a Met. And they disliked him as a Met … as they should have when he played for New York.
But what about his career as a Cardinal? Playing for the Mets means that Hernandez is automatically erased from Cardinals history?
His nine-plus seasons in St. Louis did not exist?
Hernandez loved being a Cardinal. And as the years have rolled by, those STL days become more special to him. His friends tell me Hernandez gets very sentimental when the conversation turns to the Cardinals. He would treasure being in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
You don’t have to make Hernandez guilty about his unfortunate demise in St. Louis. Hernandez has beaten himself up more times than we’ll ever know.
“When I go to St. Louis, people are very, very nice to me,” Hernandez said last year. “But I still feel kind of ashamed of what I did. I feel uncomfortable going there. I’m there today and everybody is so nice as if nothing had ever happened. It just kind of makes me feel guilty about that. But you can’t wipe out the past. It is what it is.”
Hernandez is good friends with Whitey Herzog, who traded him to the Mets. It was awkward for a while, but Herzog and Hernandez are pals again.
“I think Keith Hernandez very much deserves to be in the Cardinals Hall of Fame,” Herzog told Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Hochman last June. Herzog calls Hernandez “the best defensive left-handed first baseman. He was outstanding defensively.”
Wearing a Mets uniform doesn’t alter an obvious conclusion: Hernandez is one of the greatest first basemen in Cardinals franchise history. And I’m talking about short-list greatness at the position.
- During the Modern Era (1900-present) Hernandez ranks third in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) among Cardinals first baseman behind Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize.
- Hernandez ranks fourth all-time among Cardinals first basemen in WAR Runs Batting, is second at the position in WAR Runs Fielding, and is third in War Runs Baserunning.
- Hernandez is tied with Bill White for the most Gold Glove awards (6) for a Cardinals’ first baseman. Hernandez is one of six Cardinals to win six or more Gold Gloves at any position.
- Offensively, here’s where Hernandez ranks among first basemen in franchise history: 2nd in walks, 3rd in runs, 3rd in doubles, 4th in triples, 5th in RBIs.
- Hernandez was the co-MVP in the National League in 1979, and should have won the award — easily — over Willie Stargell. The voters got it wrong, but Hernandez can rightfully claim ownership of the award and the prestige that comes with it.
- In that ‘79 campaign Hernandez won the NL batting title (.344), led the league in runs (116) and doubles (48). He had 210 hits, 11 triples, 11 homers and drove in 105 runs. His onbase percentage (.417) and slugging percentage (.513) were excellent. In park-adjusted OPS, Hernandez was 51 percent above the league average offensively that season and also won the Gold Glove at first base.
- In addition to the MVP and the batting title and the Gold Gloves, Hernandez was a two-time All-Star as a Cardinal and won a Silver Slugger as a Cardinal.
- Hernandez was an important performer for Herzog’s 1982 World Series champions, the first for the franchise since 1967. In 10 postseason games in ‘82, Hernandez batted .282 with a .378 onbase percentage, .410 slug, nine RBIs, and seven runs scored.
- During his eight peak seasons as a Cardinal (1975-82) led all NL first basemen in WAR and Gold Gloves and was third in RBI.
Overall during his time in St. Louis Hernandez batted .299 with an .833 OPS and was 30 percent above league average offensively in park-adjusted OPS. And he won a total of 11 major awards (six Gold Gloves, two All-Star games, a league MVP, a Silver Slugger, and a batting title.
And if you want to include the ‘82 World Series ring, we can make it 12 major awards for Keith Hernandez as Cardinal.
It’s time to make it 13 by voting Hernandez into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.