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All is forgiven: Cardinals fans vote Keith Hernandez into Hall of Fame

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman expresses his excitement for the big local news — Cardinals great Keith Hernandez is (finally) headed to the team’s Hall of Fame. Hochman shares some cool Keith stats and, as always, chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented Monday-Friday by The Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center.

Keith Hernandez, who was brought up to the big leagues by the Cardinals in 1974, ceased being a Cardinal on June 15, 1983 when, less than a year after he was on a World Series champion, he was traded to the lowly New York Mets.

Hernandez, a telecaster now with the Mets, told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday that the Cardinals’ organization didn’t figure to sign him to another long-term deal once his $3.8 million, five-year contract expired after 1984.

“I went to the Mets and they signed me to $9 million (for five years). That wasn’t going to happen in St. Louis,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez also agreed there was another reason why Whitey Herzog, the manager and, in effect, the general manager, moved him out.

“In my youthful foolishness (translated: cocaine use), I gave them the excuse to trade me,” he said. “From a PR standpoint, it was the biggest mistake of my life — one that I regret to this day that gave them what they needed, public relations-wise, even though they had to suffer for a bit.

“Everybody knows it. There’s no reason to talk about it. It’s something I’m ashamed of. Whenever I go to St. Louis, it’s in the back of my mind.

“People are always so nice to me in St. Louis and tell me how much they miss me. Whenever I go to St. Louis, I’m always kind of walking on eggs and wondering if somebody’s going to come up and call me a jerk or whatever. But it never, never happens.”

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As of Wednesday, it may never happen. Hernandez is a Cardinal again. The fans, both appreciative and forgiven, have voted the 1979 co-National League Most Valuable Player and 11-time Gold Glover at first base (five of those with the Cardinals) into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame. The club made the announcement just before the start of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

On Aug. 21, Hernandez will be honored along with 2020 honorees Tom Herr, John Tudor and Bill White (veterans’ side) in the Hall of Fame ceremony, details of which will be announced later. The 2020 ceremony was not held because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Also on this year’s fans’ online ballot were Steve Carlton, Lee Smith, Matt Morris and Edgar Renteria.

Hernandez is not here this week because of protocol. Broadcasters are not being permitted to travel yet but he said when he comes here, “People are genuinely happy to see me. They say, ‘We wish they hadn’t traded you.’ It’s unbelievable.”

There are many people who will not be at the ceremony that Hernandez, who also participated in a Zoom call Wednesday, said he wished could be there in August. His late parents. Lou Brock, his second father, as Hernandez put it. Bob Gibson, who like Brock, died last year. Red Schoendienst, Hernandez’s first big-league manager. Ken Boyer, Hernandez’s Class AAA manager who had a great impact on Hernandez’s career.

And one more — Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck, longtime voice of the Cardinals.

“Jack did so much to rehabilitate me with the St. Louis fans,” said Hernandez. “Well, I don’t know if rehabilitate is the right word ... but get me back in good graces.

“Jack and I got along great. We liked each other very much. I am forever indebted to Jack for what he did on the air.”

And today, Hernandez and Herzog get along, too.

“I feel that our relationship has healed,” said Hernandez. “Everything’s fine. It’s a lot of water under the bridge.”

Hernandez was a Cardinal fan growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. His father, John, and Stan Musial served in the Navy at Pearl Harbor in World War II and played on the Navy baseball team.

“Stan left us tickets when I was an 8- or 9-year-old and the Cardinals played at Candlestick Park when they’d come and play the Giants so I was sold on the Cardinals,” said Hernandez.

“I know the history of the Cardinals. Eleven world championships, second to the Yankees. They are the benchmark in the National League and to be a part of the Hall of Fame and all the great players — the tradition of the Cardinals — is just a tremendous honor.

“This is kind of like the cherry on top.”

Hernandez had been on the ballot for a few years before being selected. “There certainly was a point where maybe I thought it wasn’t going to happen,” said Hernandez, whose outstanding Mets teams in the mid-to-late 1980s were considered villainous, or “pond scum,” by many St. Louis fans. “But it has now. And I’m really thrilled about it. I’ve got to think ... there was no better and fierce a rivalry than the Mets and the Cardinals in 1985-86-87.”

Hernandez, 67, is a member of both clubs’ Halls of Fame and didn’t want to get into too many specifics but said, “I grew up a Cardinal fan and I always thought it was the best uniform in baseball. When you came up the chain, they taught you pride in the uniform and the organization and you knew the history. You were much aware of the tradition of the Cardinals.

“I enjoyed playing in both places. I’m not going to say where my loyalties lie. But when you’re traded, you’ve got to go play somewhere else. Life doesn’t stop. When I was traded, it was very difficult but it turned out all right for me.”

Hernandez hit .299 in 10 seasons for the Cardinals and .297 in seven seasons with the Mets. A little-known fact of his MVP year in 1979 was his triple-double, which would be rare today.

While winning the batting title at .344, Hernandez had a league-high 48 doubles, 11 homers and ... 11 triples.

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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