I was born five and a half years after Keith Hernandez’s tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals came to an end. I was far too young to have watched Keith Hernandez finishing out his career with the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians. All I have is the historical record of who Keith Hernandez was.
His numbers in St. Louis suggest greatness: Every player ahead of Hernandez on the franchise’s all-time Wins Above Replacement leaderboard is either already a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame or an active player (Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright) who will rightfully sail into the Hall when eligible. I can see that he had high peaks—he was the National League co-MVP in 1979, and while one could make a case for Dave Winfield or Mike Schmidt for that award, the case for actual co-MVP Willie Stargell (the 9th best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates alone that season) is borderline impossible to rationalize. Hernandez had statistical accomplishments—he was twice an All-Star and won five Gold Gloves—but he also had the allure of clutch: he had the most consequential play in the 1982 World Series with his game-tying sixth-inning single, and for good measure, he scored an insurance run in the eighth.
Keith Hernandez is not a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. As of Friday, two fellow 1980s Cardinals, Tom Herr and John Tudor, are. Herr and Tudor combined for one All-Star Game appearance with the Cardinals. In Hernandez’s median full season in St. Louis, he was worth 4.1 FanGraphs WAR. Herr and Tudor eclipsed this median total one time each.
It was inevitable that both Herr and Tudor, who were fine players but to some extent one-year wonders, would crack the increasingly bloated Cardinals Hall of Fame at some point, but it seems like a design error that they made it before Keith Hernandez, who probably deserved to make it last year over Scott Rolen (though, on statistical merit and weighing peak vs. longevity, the case for Rolen isn’t impossible to make).
It certainly helps Herr and Tudor that they had their career apexes in 1985, which for the Cardinals Hall of Fame is essentially a free ride to immortality. Arguably the four least statistically deserving current members of the Hall hit their peak in 1985—Herr and Tudor plus Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, while their teammate Ozzie Smith has an unimpeachable case. This is the most popular team in modern franchise history, with the possible exception of 2004 (which produced a strangely quick Hall of Fame enshrinee of its own in Jason Isringhausen), so it makes sense that a fan vote would have such a favorable bias towards it. A fun thing for fans to enjoy is the entire point of the Cardinals Hall of Fame, so asking who cares is a fair counter-complaint. But unlike Cooperstown, the Cardinals Hall of Fame has a finite number of players—the National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees who were grandfathered into it plus three total players, two selected by fan vote and one older player suggested by a “Red Ribbon Committee”, per year. An argument against a mediocre player’s inclusion is by itself silly, as it does no harm, but it can exclude a superior player, such as Hernandez, from immortality.
I never have and probably never will understand why the 1985 Cardinals are so much more cherished than the 1982 team that won a World Series, but I also don’t want to tell anyone what moments they should view fondly. But enshrining Tom Herr when the likes of the entirely ignored candidacies of George Hendrick, Ken Oberkfell, or Lonnie Smith are of similar credibility is frankly confusing to a neutral observer. John Tudor, the 38th most valuable pitcher in franchise history, making it while #6 and #7 (Max Lanier and Larry Jackson) remain absent, relatively big modern names like Matt Morris and Steve Carlton rank in the teens, and you’d be laughed out of the building for suggesting the higher ranked Bob Tewksbury or Jose DeLeon make it, turns what could be a collection of the team’s greatest players into a scattershot collection of Remembering Some Guys.
Congratulations to Tom Herr and John Tudor (and Bill White, with whom I have zero argument making it in), two seemingly decent guys that I’m sure are thrilled by this news. But you can’t make me care about any of this, and you can’t make the legions of generations without direct personal affection for these guys to care.