Hernandez worthy of Cardinals Hall consideration
He was NL MVP Award winner in 1979 and helped Cards win '82 World Series
On baseball's biggest stage, one of the fondest moments of Keith Hernandez's career went mostly unseen.
His Cardinals were up, 5-0, on the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, and were poised to even the 1982 World Series at three games each. With rain starting to fall at Busch Stadium, Hernandez stepped into the box for what he remembers to be a 13- or 14-pitch at-bat against future Hall of Famer Don Sutton.
The mustachioed Cards first baseman smashed a two-run homer, except the viewers at home never saw it. The NBC telecast briefly cut away from the action to show the rain falling around the Gateway Arch in the distance before quickly cutting back just after contact, he said. To this day, Hernandez has yet to track down any footage of the full sequence.
Thankfully, the rest of his St. Louis accomplishments are well-documented. His 1979 National League Most Valuable Player Award plaque and his Silver Slugger Awards are proudly displayed in his home. And the two-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove Award winner will always have a place in Cardinals lore for his key role in the club's '82 World Series championship run.
And now, Hernandez, 60, is in the mix to add Cardinals Hall of Famer to his career accolades. The former first baseman is one of eight modern St. Louis legends who have an opportunity to be among the first enshrined in the new Cardinals Hall of Fame gallery located in the soon-to-be-opened Ballpark Village.
From now until April 22, fans can vote for up to two of the eight candidates -- Hernandez, Jim Edmonds, Bob Forsch, Willie McGee, Mark McGwire, Matt Morris, Ted Simmons and Joe Torre.
The top two vote-getters will be enshrined during an Aug. 16 ceremony at Ballpark Village, joining the 22 Cards who received automatic induction because they are either already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame or have had their number retired by the organization.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 First-Year Player Draft, Hernandez made his Major League debut in '74 at age 20. Known more for his defense early in his career, Hernandez's bat initially left something to be desired.
It wasn't until 1977 that Hernandez broke out as a hitter -- batting .291 with 15 home runs and 91 RBIs. He then struggled through another down year, hitting just .255 in '78. When his slump spilled over into April 1979, a few words of encouragement from then-manager Ken Boyer were all Hernandez needed to put an end to his offensive woes.
"We were flying somewhere after I had an 0-for," Hernandez recalled. "And [Boyer] just sat down next to me and said, 'Keith, you're my first baseman. I will sink or swim with you at first base. You're in the lineup. You're my guy. You're my third hitter. I've seen you play; I know you've got it.' And that just took the weight of the world off my shoulders."
Hernandez's slow start -- he hit .232 in April -- was quickly forgotten, as he batted .362 from May through September, raising his season average to a league-best .344, with 105 runs, 11 homers and 48 doubles. The extraordinary turnaround earned him a share of the 1979 NL MVP Award with Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell.
"I was completely shocked," Hernandez said of the honor. "How many MVPs are there? And I'm one of them, and I'm in great company. I'm proud of that. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be a Most Valuable Player, let alone a batting champion."
Hernandez would bat .297 or higher in nine of his next 10 seasons with the Cardinals and Mets, and he won his first championship with St. Louis in 1982 on a team he calls the best group of players he ever played with.
"We all got along. There were no egos in that team, absolutely none," he said. "Everybody did their best and chipped in and knew their roles. No one was a headline hunter. It was really just 25 guys together; just a treat to play with those guys."
Hernandez was traded to the Mets in 1983. He went on to play seven seasons with New York and won another World Series title in '86. Hernandez closed out the final two years of his career with Cleveland, but he spent the entire 1991 season on the disabled list.
Hernandez, now in his ninth season as a game analyst for SportsNet New York's Mets telecasts, is currently very involved with his second franchise. However, the Cards and their fans will always maintain an important place in his life.
"[The fans] were great. I struggled mightily in my first three years in the big leagues, and those fans were fantastic," Hernandez said. "As a young 20-year-old, if I had been cutting my teeth in the big leagues with all the great expectations and then struggling for three years, I think it would have been far more difficult [outside of St. Louis]."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.