Boys tend to follow the same teams and athletes that their fathers followed. My father was a diehard boxing and New York Mets fan. I would inherit these passions of my father. Today, a month shy of my 50th birthday, boxing and the Mets continue to be my biggest passions in life. This is the 42nd year of my Met fandom. I will celebrate this fandom by doing a bio on the Mets all time team by position. I will start with the greatest first baseman in Mets history: Keith Hernandez.
On June 15, 1983, the New York Mets acquired Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals in what would amount to highway robbery. The Mets gave up their erratic closer Neil Allen and an unknown minor league prospect Rick Ownbey for a gold glove first baseman and former National League Most Valuable Player. When the trade occurred, my father surmised that something was up. There was no way in the world that the Mets could get a star of Hernandez’s magnitude without something fishy going on. My father was right, as two years later, it was revealed that Hernandez was not only having issues with Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, he was also dealing with an addiction to cocaine.
Hernandez overcame his cocaine addiction and became the leader of a Mets team that had been a terrible losing team for seven years. Beginning in 1984, the Mets would go on to seven consecutive seasons of playing winning baseball. In that period, twice they finished first in the National League East and second five times. In 1984, Hernandez batted .311 with 15 home runs and 94 RBI’s, resulting in Hernandez finishing second in the NL MVP voting. He also won the seventh of a still record eleven gold gloves for a first baseman.
Hernandez continued his great fielding and hitting in 1985. He batted .309 with 10 home runs and 91 RBI’s. He also was given additional help on offense with the acquisition of superstar catcher Gary Carter and the maturation of outfield slugger Darryl Strawberry. Mets pitching ace Doc Gooden had one of the most incredible years ever for a pitcher. All of this resulted in the Mets wining 98 games but falling short to the division winning Cardinals. Going into 1986, my father and I knew it would be the year of the Mets. It would be the greatest season in the history of our beloved franchise.
A great player is nothing but consistent. In 1986, Hernandez batted .310 with 13 home runs and 83 RBI’s while again playing stellar defense at first base. Hernandez was complemented offensively by great seasons from Carter and Strawberry. The Mets also had an incredible pitching staff with four pitchers winning 15 or more games. The Mets would go on to win 108 games and the National League East by an astronomical 21 1/2 games. The Mets would win an epic NLCS over the Houston Astros and a legendary World Series over the Boston Red Sox to win their second championship. My father and I thought this would be the beginning of a Mets dynasty. It’s still the last time the Mets won it all.
The Mets fell short the following season because of several injuries and the 60 day suspension Gooden received for cocaine use. Hernandez had another solid season, batting .290 with 18 home runs and 89 RBI’s. Despite Hernandez only playing in 95 games because of nagging injuries, the Mets, on the strength of their incredible pitching staff and a breakout year by Strawberry, won 100 games and the National League East. Unfortunately, the Mets would be defeated in seven games by the Los Angeles Dodgers. This series loss was even more painful as during the regular season, the Mets had beaten the Dodgers in 10 out of the 11 games they played him. Injuries forced Hernandez to miss even more games in 1989. He batted a paltry .233 and for the first time since 1977 did not win a gold glove. The Mets didn’t offer Hernandez a new contract as he was a free agent after the conclusion of the 1989 season. After another injury plague 1990 season with the Cleveland Indians, Hernandez announced his retirement.
Hernandez brought a professionalism and stardom that the Mets were in desperate need of during their dark days of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with Gary Carter, Hernandez led and mentored young Mets such as Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Lenny Dykstra and Howard Johnson during the greatest era in Mets history. Today, Hernandez is part of the best broadcasting team in sports today. Alongside Gary Cohen and former teammate Ron Darling, this trio gives you the most unbiased and informative analysis in baseball today. Just like he did in his days as captain of the Mets, Hernandez serves as a calm voice of reason in the broadcast booth. A leader both on and off the field.