The Ultimate Recovery: Keith Hernandez Battled Adversity To Become Star

Michael GanciCorrespondent IApril 17, 2009

SAN DIEGO - 1986:  First baseman Keith Hernandez #17 of the New York Mets fields a grounder during a 1986 game against the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

When people think of Keith Hernandez, they think of one of the great Mets of all time. He was a guy who provided a stable bit from the left side of the plate and unbelievable defense at first base. He is also known for his humor while being an analyst for SNY. He frequently makes jokes and interacts with fans by throwing blow pops or doing whatever keeps him busy for the allotted time. But, it was not always a smooth ride for the man who the 'stache was named after.

Hernandez used to have behavioral problems when he was in high school. In fact, in his senior year, an argument with the coach led to Hernandez sitting out the entire season.

Can you imagine that?

These character issues scared Major League teams, which is why he was available in the 42nd round of the 1971 draft. He was selected with the 776th overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals. While it took Hernandez a while to get to the big leagues, he was greeted with his first burst of success in 1979, when he led the league with a .344 batting average, 48 doubles, and 116 runs scored, going on to share the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award with Willie Stargell.

In 1982, Hernandez played a pivotal role on the World Series-winning Cardinals club. In the seven-game series against the Brewers, Hernandez knocked in eight runs. You’d think that Hernandez was going to be a Cardinal for life, but that’s when the rifts with management began.

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In 1983, continuous arguments between Hernandez and then-Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog led to Hernadez's dismissal. Hernandez was dealt to a terrible Mets team in exchange for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Herzog always maintained that trading Hernandez was the right move. Hernandez should have thanked Herzog, because the new Mets first baseman was on a mission to prove him wrong.

In 1985, Hernandez’s cocaine use, which had been the subject of persistent rumors and the chief source of friction between Hernandez and Herzog, became a matter of public record. Hernandez was in trouble, but thankfully he was able to make a successful recovery. Also, the problems didn’t hinder his baseball abilities one bit.

In 1984, which was Hernandez's first full season with the Mets, the Mets' win total rose by 22 games, and they finished in second place to the rival Cubs. In 1985, it was the Cardinals that held off the Mets, but 1986 was their year, and Hernandez led the way for a team that won 108 games.

Do you think he should be a Hall of Famer? Let’s look at the accolades:

*Won 11 consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1978-1988) at first base (the largest total by any first baseman)
*Won the 1979 National League MVP along with Willie Stargell
*Holds the career record for game-winning RBI (129), a statistic that was only official from 1980-1988
*Also holds the single-season mark for game-winning RBI, 24, set in 1985
*Batted over .300 seven times in his career
*Was a member of two World Series championship teams (1982 Cardinals, 1986 Mets)
*Was selected to the All-Star Game five times (1979, 1980, 1984, 1986 as a starter, and 1987)
*Was the National League Silver Slugger at first base in 1980 and 1984
*Led the National League in runs scored (1979 and 1980), doubles (1979), on-base percentage (1980), and walks (1986)

The proof is staring you right in the face. Keith Hernandez not only was a great player, but he faced adversity while being one, and in the end, he was a champion who will be remembered by Mets fans forever.

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