Examining the Hall of Fame case for New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals legend Keith Hernandez

1989: Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets looks on during batting practice before a game in the 1989 season. ( Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
1989: Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets looks on during batting practice before a game in the 1989 season. ( Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Earlier this offseason, the New York Mets announced that they will be retiring former first baseman and current broadcaster Keith Hernandez’s no. 17 with a ceremony in July. The St. Louis Cardinals also inducted Hernandez into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. While those honors are certainly merited, it shouldn’t be the only honor that Hernandez should have given long ago as Keith Hernandez is one of the biggest snubs for the Baseball Hall of Fame in recent memory.

New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals legend Keith Hernandez deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Keith Hernandez played first base in the majors for parts of 17 seasons, including parts of 10 with the St. Louis Cardinals and parts of seven with the New York Mets. He was a phenomenal player and he was overlooked for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In his career, Hernandez was a five-time All-Star, a two-time World Series Champion (1982 and 1986), an 11-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time Silver Slugger winner, the 1979 NL batting champion, and the 1979 co-NL MVP. He also had four more seasons in which he finishes in the top 11 in NL MVP voting.

Hernandez was particularly a huge home run threat as he never had more than 18 homers, but he had seven seasons with 89 or more RBI. He was a career .296/.384/.436 hitter with an OPS+ of 128.

He was best known for his defense, as evidence shows with the 11 Gold Gloves but the metrics back it up. Hernandez played before the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) era so we have to look at its predecessor, Total Zone Runs (TZ or Rtot). It isn’t quite as accurate but it’s the best we have.

At first base, Hernandez had 120 TZ in his 17-year career. That is tied for 38th of all-time and it is the highest among any primary first baseman of all-time.

Hernandez also had a career rWAR of 60.3, which puts him in Hall of Fame territory. Hall of Fame first baseman Harmon Killebrew had a career rWAR of 60.4 and he played in five more seasons than Hernandez. He’s also above Hall of Fame first basemen Bill Terry, Hank Greenberg, David Ortiz, George Sisler, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, and others.

By JAWS (which is the average of WAR and WAR7, or a player’s WAR in their best seven seasons), Hernandez is also 20th all-time at 50.8. The two first basemen directly ahead of him (Greenberg and Sisler) and the two players directly behind him (Terry and Killebrew) are all Hall of Famers.

Hall of Famers Jake Beckley, David Ortiz, and Tony Perez are below Terry and Killebrew but still in the top 30.

The only reason why Hernandez isn’t in the Hall of Fame is that he didn’t hit for power but when you look at OPS+ (which looks at on-base percentage and slugging percentage), Hernandez is also within Hall of Fame range.

His OPS+ is 128 and there are many Hall of Fame first basemen close to him. Orlando Cepeda’s is 133, Eddie Murray’s is 129, George Sisler’s was at 125, Tony Perez’s was 122, and Gil Hodges’ was at 120.

But despite all of that, Hernandez fell off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot after his ninth ballot since he didn’t get 5 percent of the vote. The highest percentage of votes he ever received was on his third ballot in 1998, when he got 10.8 percent of the vote.

Other than the lack of power, the only thing that is holding Hernandez back from the Baseball Hall of Fame is his history with drugs. As part of the “Pittsburgh drug trials” in 1985, Hernandez’s use of cocaine was made public record. He admitted to using cocaine for three years and claimed that as many as 40 percent of MLB players were using it. However, he later backtracked that claim.

11 players were suspended for one full season, including Hernandez, but the suspensions were commuted as long as they donated 10 percent of their salary to drug abuse programs, did 100 hours of community service, and submitted to random drug tests.

But one of the players that was also part of the drug trials was Tim Raines. Raines was one of 10 players not suspended after the trials but were named as being part of it and all 10 players were subject to drug tests for the rest of their careers. Raines was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his 10th and final ballot as part of the Class of 2017.

Next. The HOF case for Hernandez's former manager Ken Boyer. dark

Meanwhile, Hernandez hasn’t even been able to get on an Era Committee ballot, let alone into the Hall. Keith Hernandez had a career that is worthy of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, it’s time that he gets the recognition that he should have more than 25 years ago.