1988 TOPPS KEITH HERNANDEZ
Earlier this week, I finally finished putting my Topps doubles and cards from other manufacturers of players who made the Hall of Fame into plastic sheets and binders. The final (current) tally is 134 players and managers and 1,516 cards. It’s a project that has been on the to-do list for years and it’s good to have finally crossed it off. Unfortunately, Keith Hernandez is not in the Hall and thus not in my binders.
Many of you will consider this blasphemy but as a player, Hernandez has a far superior Hall of Fame case than Gil Hodges. The question is if Hodges’ nine-year managerial career, one with a World Series title but a 321-444 record, makes up the difference in Hernandez’ edge as a player. Maybe it does. But if we’re going to credit Hodges for his time as a manager, shouldn’t we credit Hernandez’ time as a broadcaster?
It’s difficult enough to judge careers as players. It only gets worse when you venture into managerial and broadcast credentials. Please, I beg you, don’t bombard this with testimonials from players on the 1969 team singing Hodges’ praises. Trust me, I’ve heard or read them all before. I grew up watching all of those rain delay segments and I’ve watched and read a bunch on that season. It’s kind of important to a Mets fan, you know.
Besides, this is about Hernandez.
It’s fairly safe to say at this point in time that 60 fWAR gets you in the conversation for the Hall of Fame and 70 fWAR makes you a virtual lock. Hernandez finished his career with 59.4 fWAR, so it’s not a surprise that he hasn’t been elected yet. But how much should his 17 years and counting as a Met broadcaster factor into his HOF candidacy?
The Hall of Fame doesn’t officially recognize it at all, at least according to its website.
Hodges was not elected as a player by the BBWAA, which is considered the most prestigious way. Instead, he was chosen by an ERA Committee, with era being a period of time, not a pitcher’s ERA. Here’s how the Hall describes it:
“The Era Committees, formerly known as the Veterans Committee, consider retired Major League Baseball players no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), along with managers, umpires and executives, whose greatest contributions to the game were realized in one of four eras. Committees meet at the MLB Winter Meetings.”
Nowhere does it describe players who augmented their playing careers with a lengthy broadcast career. Maybe this is covered elsewhere but I didn’t see it. And it seems a shame.
Announcers and broadcasters have long held a special spot for fans. And there is a broadcasting wing in the Hall. There’s an argument to be made that with the advent of free agency and star players leaving teams in the middle of their careers at least as often as they do at the end, that broadcasters have a greater amount of importance for fans remaining loyal to teams than players. Hernandez himself played for three MLB teams in his 17-year career. He’s been a broadcaster for just the Mets in that same time period.
My opinion is that Hernandez used to be a big asset to the SNY broadcast team. Now, he seems like a drag, a member who has to be carried by Gary Cohen and Ron Darling, rather than one who pushes the telecast forward. Maybe it’s because color commentators have a limited shelf life. Tim McCarver was great when he was on Mets telecasts but he was virtually unlistenable at the end of his tenure as a national broadcaster.
Players lose their fastball so it shouldn’t be a surprise that broadcasters can suffer the same fate.
Regardless of my opinion on his current suitability for the booth, there are plenty of fans who are overjoyed that Hernandez recently signed a three-year deal to continue as a Mets broadcaster. And there will definitely be comfort on my end hearing his voice chime in when they wake him up in the middle of the game.
Anyway, it seems to me that we should take in the complete package of what a player does when it comes to his Hall of Fame credentials, both on and off the field. Hodges was a fine ballplayer, one who served his country – and potentially lost significant development time – in World War II. He was a driving force in leading the Mets to their first championship. All of that should be considered in his HOF case. As should his losing record as a manager and his role in driving Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis out of town.
Hernandez was one of the leaders on two World Series winners, for two different teams. He’s generally regarded as being the finest fielding first baseman of his generation, one who redefined the position. And he continues to give fans pleasure with his work as a broadcaster. All of that should be considered in his HOF case. As should his role in the cocaine trials covering the late 70s-early 80s, his rotten performance in Cleveland and his mostly banal contributions to today’s telecasts.
Questions of the Hall of Fame aside, I love this card of Hernandez showing him as a fielder. It’s just too bad there isn’t one of him shot from above, showing him five feet from the bunter and throwing to cut down the lead runner at third base. Not sure if that type of photo even exists. If so, perhaps one of the guys who re-make cards (like the late, great Warren Zvon) could make that happen.