NEW YORK — Few baseball players have managed not only to maintain their popularity over the decades, but to grow it the way Keith Hernandez has. Multiple generations have come to adore Hernandez, from the Cardinals and Mets fans that watched him in his prime to the millions who knew him first as a broadcaster.
Over more than a half-century as a baseball man of multiple stripes, Hernandez has enjoyed his share of memorable moments and successes. Here are the Top 10:
1. World Series dramatics
By 1982, Hernandez was already an MVP and a well-established star in St. Louis, but he had never appeared in the postseason. That changed when the Cardinals swept the Braves in the National League Championship Series, setting up a World Series clash with the Brewers.
Over seven games, Hernandez drove home a Series-high eight runs, including some of the Fall Classic’s most significant on a two-run, game-tying single off Bob McClure in the sixth inning of Game 7. Moments after Hernandez’s hit, the Cardinals took the lead on a George Hendrick single, putting St. Louis’ star first baseman on the cusp of his first ring.
2. …and another October moment
Hernandez wasn’t immediately as impactful in his return to the World Series, batting .227 with one RBI over the first six games in 1986. He was 0-for-2 in Game 7 when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and changed that narrative, lacing a two-run single into left-center to provide the first runs off Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst. Much like in 1982, the next batter tied the game, putting Hernandez on track for his second championship in five years.
By any measure, the 1979 season was Hernandez’s finest at the plate. Following a few successful but less-than-transcendent campaigns as St. Louis’ first baseman, Hernandez broke out with a league-leading .344 average and a career-high 105 RBIs. He also led the NL with 48 doubles and 116 runs scored, while producing nine homers and a .930 OPS.
Although Hernandez clearly outproduced Pirates slugger Willie Stargell by most of today’s widely accepted metrics, including a bWAR total that more than tripled that of his rival, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awarded both men the same number of points in MVP voting. The result was the first and only tie in the award’s history, resulting in co-MVP honors for Hernandez and Stargell.
4. “I’m Keith Hernandez”
As he accumulated successes on the field, Hernandez became a celebrity off it — particularly upon moving to New York in a 1983 trade. Two years after his 1990 retirement from baseball, Hernandez played himself on a multi-episode “Seinfeld” feature titled “The Boyfriend.” In the show’s plot, Hernandez began dating Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), resulting in a famous scene in which he debated leaning in for a kiss.
“Who does this guy think he is?” Elaine thought out loud as Hernandez went through with the act.
“I’m Keith Hernandez,” came the unspoken reply — a famous line that later became the title of his autobiography.
5. Broadcaster extraordinaire
Hernandez’s post-retirement life entered a new arena in 1999, when he began serving as a guest analyst for Mets broadcasts. He soon became a regular on MSG and, when the Mets founded their own television network in 2006, Hernandez joined Gary Cohen and Ron Darling to form one of the most popular booths in baseball.
Known both for his sharp critiques as well as for his wandering thoughts — “Keith-isms,” as they came to be known — Hernandez rapidly grew as popular to younger fans as he was to a previous generation during his playing days. Catchphrases such as “good fundies” and “ribeye steaks” became the norm on SNY, where Hernandez won Emmys for his work in 2009, 2012 and 2015.
6. “They’ll remember this trade years from now”
If Hernandez is better-known these days as a Met than a Cardinal, that wasn’t always the case. The first baseman was admittedly upset when St. Louis sent him to New York in a 1983 trade; he had spent the first nine and a half years of his career in Missouri, establishing roots there while winning both an MVP and a World Series. The thought of leaving the reigning champions for a team that hadn’t produced a winning record since 1976 was initially unappealing.
But pitcher Neil Allen, who uttered the above quotation upon joining Rick Ownbey in the return package for the Cardinals, proved clairvoyant. The trade wound up being a coup for the Mets, as Hernandez helped gel a core that came to include Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter and others. The Mets quickly established themselves as contenders and, less than a year after the trade, Hernandez signed a five-year, $8.4 million contract — considered quite rich at the time — to remain in New York long-term.
On July 22, 1986, in a wild game against the Reds, Hernandez completed an ultra-rare 3-5-4 double play, pouncing on a Carl Willis bunt and firing to third base to begin the twin killing. That sort of thing seemed routine for Hernandez, who retired with 11 Gold Gloves — the most by a first baseman in MLB history.
Often, Hernandez’s mere presence at first base discouraged teams from bunting, given both his quickness and strong throwing arm. He retired with a .994 career fielding percentage, while advanced metrics that can be applied retroactively, such as defensive WAR, also thought highly of him.
Shortly after Hernandez led the Mets to a title in 1986, general manager Frank Cashen named him the first captain in franchise history. Credited with much of the culture transformation that the Mets underwent throughout the 1980s, Hernandez served alone in the role for one season before Gary Carter became his co-captain in 1988. The two then led together for two years before both left the organization.
Hernandez’s cycle — the fourth in Mets history — was almost an afterthought on a wild July 4, 1985, evening that saw the Mets and Braves endure a lengthy rain delay and play a 19-inning game that lasted until 3:55 a.m. For his personal contributions, Hernandez doubled in the first, tripled in the fourth, homered in the eighth and singled in the 12th. His other six (!) at-bats were fruitless as Hernandez finished 4-for-10 in a game the Mets won, 16-13.
Nearly as much as for his accomplishments on and off the field, Hernandez earned longstanding fame for his mustache. Wearing it proudly for the better part of four decades, he even became a longtime spokesman for the company Just For Men, showcasing his jet-black mustache alongside that of basketball legend Walt Frazier.
Hernandez’s ‘stache had gone white by 2012, when he shaved it to raise money for a Brooklyn health center named in honor of his mother, Jacquelyn, who died of Alzheimer’s in 1989. At the time, Hernandez had only shaved the mustache a handful of times over the course of his adult life, and not at all since 1988 — a span of nearly a quarter century. After a few clean-shaven years following the fundraiser, Hernandez eventually grew it back.