Last week, two National League infielders with below .300 lifetime batting averages were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Former Cincinnatti Reds shortstop Barry Larkin made it in his third year on the ballot, and former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, voted in by the Veteran’s Committee, was inducted a year after his death.
Keith Hernandez, a former Pacifica resident who went to Terra Nova High, like the above-mentioned inductees, had a career average below .300 (he was a .296 lifetime hitter during a 17-year career mostly with the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals) and is widely considered one of the best non-steroids era players not to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
The main knock against Hernandez is that he never hit more than 18 homers.
He is nevertheless widely considered baseball’s all-time best defensive first baseman, known for a combination of cat-like quickness, athleticism and aptitude that helped him take away countless hits and altered opposing teams’ strategies.
And although he had below average power for a corner infielder, he was nevertheless an offensive catalyst during his prime. He had a .384 career on-base percentage and an .821 career OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Hernandez was the No. 3 hitter in a 3-4-5 combination featuring Gary Carter (batting cleanup) and Darryl Strawberry (hitting fifth) in the mid 1980’s considered one of baseball’s most dangerous middle-of-the-order combinations of its time.
Hernandez, 58, who never got serious consideration during his eligibitlity period, garnering just 8 percent of baseball writers’ votes, has some vocal supporters in his corner.
Sports Illustrated senior editor Kostya Kennedy is among that group.
In a 2009 column in support of Hernandez’s eventual induction by the Veteran’s Committee, he ripped baseball writers, saying “it makes me wonder whether that other 92 percent of baseball writers actually watch the games or whether they simply put the daily box scores through the data mill.”
Noted journalist and author Jeff Pearlman blogged in 2009 that Hernandaz’s game-changing defense makes his candidacy a “no-brainer.”
“I understand not letting in every really, really, really, really good fielder,” Pearlman wrote. “But if you’re the best ever at your position, and without question, Hernandez is the best-fielding first baseman ever, you’ve earned your spot.”
Hernandez transferred from Terra Nova to Capuchino High after his freshman year and was drafted by the Cardinals out of College of San Mateo in 1971 (he went in the 42nd round as 783rd overall pick that year).
His post-baseball career includes work as an Emmy-award winning analyst for Mets broadcasts on local television stations in New York, and an acting stints on Seinfeld (he dated Elaine Bennis in a several episodes) and commercials.