With more Gold Glove Awards than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands, Keith ranks high in the “Greatest Defensive First Basemen of All-Time” discussion. Keith won the Gold Glove for first basemen every year from 1978 to 1988 and in the new-fangled stat of “total zone runs,” Keith ranks at the top of the list among all-time first basemen. But the man could hit too: he won a batting title in 1979.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 draft, Keith makes for one of the greatest low round picks in the game’s history. The Redbirds called him up for a 14-game cup of coffee in 1974. In ’75, skipper Red Schoendienst let Keith share time at first base with Reggie Smith, Danny Cater and Ron Fairly. He saw regular action at the initial sack in 1976 but the position was all his by ’77. That year Keith led National League first basemen in walks drawn while finishing third in the league in doubles; a Keith specialty.
Although his batting average took a dive in ’78, his on-base percentage was still above average which enabled him to lead NL first basemen in runs scored–he was the only one to reach 90. At his best in 1979, Keith shared the MVP Award with barrel-chested Willie Stargell when he won the batting title and led the National League in runs and doubles. He won a Gold Glove by leading NL first basemen in assists and putouts but since the lesser Stargell led his team to a pennant, Keith had to share the MVP Award.
Almost as good in 1980, Keith led the National League in runs scored and on-base percentage while hitting .321 and making his second All-Star team. In the strike shortened ’81 season, Keith finished fourth in the league in doubles then led the Redbirds to a World Series berth in 1982. Keith, who was intentionally walked more than anyone in the senior circuit, led all participants with eight RBI in the Fall Classic as the Redbirds of Whitey Herzog won the championship.
Never much of a power threat, Keith was a doubles hitter, but when he was only able to swat three homeruns through 55 games for St. Louis in ’83, they traded him to the Mets for Napalm Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Although an MVP winner in St. Louis, Hernandez is best known for his days in the Big Apple. With the Mets the remainder of the ’83 season, Keith posted an amazing .424 on-base percentage. Named to the 1984 NL All-Star team, Keith led National League first basemen in doubles that season while flashing his usual great leather.
Keith was the only .300 hitting first baseman in the National League in 1985. The following year he’d make a return trip to the World Series. During the ’86 regular season, Keith led the NL in walks drawn which allowed him to post a terrific .432 on-base percentage (2nd in the NL). His Mets won a dramatic World Series against the Red Sox as he drove in four runs during the contest.
An All-Star for the final time in 1987, Keith led NL first basemen in hits that season while posting a career high 18 homeruns. Although he was limited to 95 games due to an injury in 1988, he nevertheless won his eleventh consecutive Gold Glove Award. After another injury-plagued year in ’89, Keith was granted free agency and signed with the Indians. His health didn’t get any better in Ohio and he was forced to retire after missing all of the 1991 season to injury.
G 2,088/R 1,124/H 2,182/2B 426/3B 60/HR 162/RBI 1,071/SB 98/BB 1,070/SO 1,012/BA .296/SA .436/OBP .384