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Is Keith Hernandez a Hall of Famer?

Dec 1, 2009, 5:01 PM EDT

Seems like everyone is writing Hall of Fame articles today. You’ll have that when the biggest news out there involves backup catchers.  Anyway, here’s MLB.com’s Marty Noble, first on his Hall of Fame criteria:

When putting check marks on the ballot, the rule–to me–is to be as
selective as Ted Williams with a 3-1 count. The term “borderline Hall
of Famer” ought to be regarded as an oxymoron. A step on the Hall of
Fame borderline is not akin to a bloop that raises chalk. If a player
falls on the line, he doesn’t get my vote.

Then, with that in mind, he goes on to advocate in favor of Keith Hernandez’s Hall of Fame case, using all kinds of arguments that borderline players always get. He was feared! No one wanted to face him with the game on the line!  He was jobbed out of an MVP award!  See how great he was in these [cherry picked] situations! It’s a stretch of an argument for a borderline candidate.

Hernandez was a nice player — for a long while he was the second best first basemen in baseball behind Eddie Murray — but the beginning and ending of his Hall of Fame argument really is his glove. Which was a fine, fine glove, but I’m not at all convinced that a glove-heavy (relatively) bat-light first baseman is a Hall of Famer. Especially when you measure it against his potential (how much of it was wasted due to cocaine?) and the fact that he ceased being a productive player when he was 34.

He’s in the Steve Garvey/Don Mattingly class in my mind. Close, but no cigar. 

  1. Matthew Pouliot - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:07 PM

    If he had a Tony Perez-like decline that included a string of largely mediocre seasons, his counting numbers likely would have gotten him in.
    He’s pretty borderline, but I’d still rather have him in than either Perez or Orlando Cepeda.

  2. YankeesfanLen - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    I guess the Seinfeld appearances count for nothing anymore?

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:24 PM

    I weighed those against the cocaine. It about evened out, which still left him as a great glove, light bat first baseman.

  4. Jberardi - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:28 PM

    If the best thing you can say about a first baseman is that he had a great glove, then no, that guy is not a HOFer.

  5. Dan - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:33 PM

    Keith Hernandez is my favorite player of all time, by far.
    He’s no HOFer.

  6. Matthew Pouliot - Dec 1, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    But he didn’t just have a great glove. He likely made more of a contribution defensively than any first baseman in the history of the game.
    And it’s not like he was Mark Grace offensively.
    Career OPS+
    Rod Carew – 131
    Dave Winfield – 130
    Eddie Murray – 129
    Carl Yastrzemski – 129
    Hernandez – 128
    Jim Rice – 128
    Sammy Sosa – 128
    George Sisler – 124
    Paul Molitor – 122
    Tony Perez – 122
    Mark Grace – 119
    Of course, the HOFers in that group did largely have considerably longer careers.

  7. John Pileggi - Dec 1, 2009 at 6:47 PM

    He was a magnificent ballplayer, and a tremendous leader. But, the Hall of Fame line for a first baseman is a pretty high one. Much as I like what he did, and how much he meant to both the Cardinals and Mets, he is borderline and that means “no”.

  8. J. McCann - Dec 1, 2009 at 7:14 PM

    Career was short, but he was a real good hitter too. Most of that OPS+ is his on-base, which is the more important half. Also, his runs scored totals were real good for the time, so he made use of those times on base.
    Anyway, I guess he should be in because after all …. He is Keith Hernandez.

  9. GimmeSomeSteel - Dec 1, 2009 at 9:15 PM

    If he hadn’t been a part of the ’86 Mets and spent a lot of years in NYC, he wouldn’t even be mentioned as a possibility. Good glove, great self-promotion, not nearly HOF quality numbers.

  10. Omega - Dec 1, 2009 at 9:16 PM

    How many other Hall of Famers have made out with Elaine Benes?
    Case closed, have him pose for his bust now…
    mostly kidding, he was a very damned good player, but a lot of very damned good players are still on the outside looking in.

  11. Alex Poterack - Dec 1, 2009 at 10:09 PM

    Y’know, my first impression when I saw this is that he was pretty borderline, and then I looked up his WAR numbers from Rally’s database, and saw that he’s actually got a better case than I thought. He’s at 61.0 WAR; for comparison, Ryne Sandberg, Yogi Berra, and Harmon Killebrew are basically the same at 61.8, 61.6, and 61.2, and Mike Piazza and Dave Winfield are actually *less* at 59.1 and 59.7. Go ahead and debate the merits of WAR, but it’s definitely food for thought. Hernandez doesn’t seem as valuable because his value was mostly tied up in his fielding and his on-base skills, and he played in a lower-scoring run environment, preventing him from reaching the more canonical counting numbers.

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  14. Ted Salcido - Feb 8, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    This was an interesting post, I think you’ve got a great outlook on issues!

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