Jun 14, 2020

Remembering Mets History (1983) Looking Back At How The Mets Got Keith Hernandez

June 15th 1983: In the summer of 1983 the Mets made one of the best trades in team history. They acquired Keith Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals & almost instantly turned the organization around.

Quotes- Mets catcher John Stearns: "it's the biggest heist since the Thomas Crown Affair".

Hernandez was one of the games best players, defensively he had won five straight Gold Gloves at first base from 1978 to that point. He was  the 1979 NL co-MVP along with Willie Stargell. That year he won the batting title, led the NL in doubles & led the NL in runs scored for the first of two straight years. 

He & his St. Louis Cardinals team, were the reigning World Champions, having beaten the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series. 

In that Series, Hernandez had a huge Game #7 hit, where he tied the game with a two run single off Bob McClure. He  then scored the games go ahead run, when George Hendrick singled him in. Hernandez had a HR & four RBIs in the Cards Game #6 win, a 13-1 blow out. Overall he drove in eight runs in the World Series.

The facts were that Hernandez was due for free agency at the end of the year & the Cardinal front office didn't think they could afford to resign him. Another reason may have been that they needed pitching. Neil Allen was a fine young pitcher, but was having a bad year which made him more available. The Cards GM at the time was former Met GM Joe McDonald & he felt "good arms were hard to come by". The Cards also got right hander, Rick Ownbey.

But the biggest reason for the trade was their manager, Whitey Herzog who encouraged the deal. Now, Herzog had been the Mets Minor League Player of Development in the 60's, helping to mold many of the young Mets of the 1969 World Champions & the 1973 Pennant winning Mets. 

But when Mets manager Gild Hodges, died suddenly of heart attack, they chose Yogi Berra to manage over Herzog. Whitey was clearly the better candidate, but Berra was a New York favorite & the more popular choice. Herzog was furious, he left the Mets & he never forgave them.

After success with the Kansas City Royals (three straight AL West titles & two second place finishes in five years) he went to manage the St. Louis Cardinals & have a Hall of Fame career. 

He would win his only Championship in 1982, but take St. Louis to three World Series in six years from 1982-1987. His rivalry with the Mets in those years was legendary. His style of play was called "Whitey Ball", it relied on pitching, defense, speed & hustle.

Herzog felt that Keith Hernandez was not giving it 100%. In his book "The White Rat" he said Hernandez was loafing. "He loafed down the line on ground balls & wasn't aggressive on the bases."

Herzog said, he couldn't live with Hernandez attitude either. He said, as manager he had two basic rules; being on time & hustle. 

Hernandez was having trouble with both of them. Herzog claimed Hernandez would come out for batting practice, then go back to the club house to do crossword puzzles & smoke cigarettes.

It was also no secret, that Hernandez was partying at the time & had a cocaine habit. Herzog had no time for any of this, he didn't know for sure about his drug use but was suspicious of it. Hernandez claims he was turned on the cocaine by team mate Bernie Carbo in 1980. 

In a federal court testimony in the famous "baseball drug trials" of the 1980's, Hernandez claimed he did massive amounts of cocaine & had a desire for more.

Hernandez said he felt that a trade was coming, because he was not in good graces with Whitey. An hour before the 1983 trade deadline, he was called into Herzog's office & informed of his trade. At the announcement was put on the Busch Stadium score board, the fans booed. It is still considered one of the worst trades in Cardinal history.

At the time, Hernandez was shocked & disappointed it was with the Mets. The Mets were a last place team & it looked like they were going no where. But as Hernandez became familiar with his new team, he saw a lot of young talent in the organization. 

The next year the Mets became contenders, having their first winning season in seven years. 

By 1986 the Mets were World Champions & Hernandez one of the teams best players. 

He said he dropped his drug habit just before coming to New York, after seeing Lonnie Smith have a bad experience after a game. He turned his career around & became one of the games most intense players.

Hernandez is one of the Mets best players in team history, a member of their team Hall of Fame, a popular personality & long time outspoken broadcaster, with a wry sense of humor. He is loved by Mets fans. 

Quotes- Whitey Herzog: "People always say it's the worst deal I've ever made, but I don't believe that. Getting rid of Hernandez was an addition by subtraction. I really feel that if we had kept him, his attitude & his bull would have ruined our club. I know he never would have been as good for us as he has been for the Mets."

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