Thursday, April 8, 2010
#302) KEITH HERNANDEZ
The fortunes of a franchise changed on June 15, 1983. That is the day that the St. Louis Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. "Some of what we experienced in '69, I saw happening again after Keith joined us that year," the great Tom Seaver observed, "We began to take ourselves more seriously. It brought back feelings I had when we began to assert ourselves in 1969. We didn't win a lot, but there was a sense that we would, and there was a reward in winning that we hadn't really understood. I know Keith made a difference then." The man nicknamed "Mex" was not initially certain that he wanted to be a part of the Mets. "I had probably the worst attitude in my career playing out that '83 season." Keith remembers. He had actually asked his agent if there was enough in his deferred income to retire after the trade news. Instead Hernandez rededicated his efforts and finished the year with a .297 batting average.
He was a complicated man who took to New York City and it's varied offerings. Keith explained, "There's so much to fill your time—plays, parties, sporting events, great restaurants, museums. I love art." An interest that is rivaled by his longtime study of Civil War history. Hernandez has even spoken at West Point about that war. Still, his true comfort came with a familiar glove and bat. "Baseball totally consumes me when I get to the ballpark," Keith told Sports Illustrated magazine in 1986, "I've always been able to separate everything from baseball for three hours. Out in the field, no one can touch me. In a sense it's my sanctuary, a glass house sanctuary. They can look in and see, but they can't touch."
With the Mets he continued to yearly win Gold Glove Awards at first base (1983-1988), and swing a valuable bat. The unexpected addition was his transformation into the team's unquestionable field leader. Keith's mentor in St. Louis, Hall of Famer, Lou Brock described it as "being an agent of action." Hernandez had definitely became one. He was not only positioning the infielders, but chattering constantly at the pitchers. "He knew every hitter in the league," recalls Ed Lynch, "If Einstein starts talking about the speed of light you better listen to him."
The acquisition of Gary Carter took some of that burden off of Hernandez. As the young talent in the system came to the major league level the Mets were primed for a big run. In 1987, Keith was named the first team captain in franchise history. Hernandez then led the charge as the Mets won the World Series in seven games over the Boston Red Sox in 1986. Sports Illustrated aptly described him when they said, "He had become, to the Mets, simply the best and most valuable player in franchise history."
When asked his favorite memory at Shea Stadium he cited the 1986 World Championship moment. "Jessie (Orossco) striking out Barrett for the final out. The glove going up in the air, and the big pile up. That to me is my greatest moment at Shea."
Keith Hernandez was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1997.
He returned to the New York Mets after his playing days and became a much respected announcer for the SNY Network. He is involved through that association in charitable work for Pitch In For A Good Cause.
Keith Hernandez signed his card in the set from a private signing held by Show-Me-State Signatures in St. Louis on March 20, 2010.