Shortly after the New Year, the newest Hall of Fame class will be announced. It will surely pass with its annual hoopla and gripes that surround the voting every season. There’s no good system for this voting and because of it, undeserving players get in and deserving players get left out.
There’s one player that I feel is deserving that is no longer on the ballot. That player has a past and current connection to the New York Mets. That player is Keith Hernandez.
The key to Hernandez’s candidacy is his defense, so let’s start there. Professional baseball has been played for almost 150 years. During that time, at least tens of thousands of players have appeared at first base. Of all of those players throughout baseball history, Hernandez is the best defensive player to ever play the position. The best. Some one who is the best at something as important as playing first base should be in the Hall of Fame.
Hernandez’s defensive prowess is why he earned 11 consecutive Gold Glove awards as a player — the most by any first baseman. He is the only position player to be the leader in his position in Gold Glove awards and to not be in the Hall of Fame. A deeper look also has Hernandez as the all-time leader in total zone runs for a first baseman. Again, Hernandez is the greatest defensive first baseman in baseball history.
But Hernandez isn’t just a defender. He’s no slouch on offense either. The five-time All-Star was of course the NL co-MVP in 1979. He also won two Silver Slugger awards, which doesn’t even include his MVP season. He finished top-4 in MVP three times. He finished his career at a mark of .296/.384/.436 with an OPS+ of 128 over 17 seasons.
If we compare those numbers to another “defense-first” player, Ozzie Smith, there is no comparison. Smith, who is in the Hall of Fame for his glove, finished his career at .262/.337/.328. One will surely make the argument that shortstop is a more important defensive position than first base, and there’s no counter argument here. However, as we change the way we value players, defense at every position is becoming a priority. Hernandez shouldn’t be penalized for the ways players were valued in the era he played in.
Overall, the real point here is that defense is overlooked by Hall of Fame voters. It’s a hugely important part of the game, but since it’s not as flashy as offense, it rarely does much for a Hall of Fame candidacy. Hernandez was a really good offensive player and the best defensive first baseman ever.
For nearly 150 years, there have only been nine positions you can play in baseball. Shouldn’t being the best ever to defend one of those nine be enough to get you to Cooperstown?