Player Collection Spotlight – Keith Hernandez

The year was 1986. The Mets were on top of the baseball world and, perhaps more importantly, moving their spring training site to Port St. Lucie in short order. WWOR-TV out of Secaucus, NJ would broadcast what seemed like a zillion games over the next few years in that part of Florida. And baseball cards were collected by every kid in the neighborhood. Topps, Donruss, Fleer, packs, boxed sets, oversize cards, mini cards, stickers – someone had them.

How and why Keith Hernandez rather than Gooden or Strawberry or Carter or anyone else? Two reasons: Gooden and Strawberry were too expensive for a 10-year-old, and I kept pulling this Hernandez guy’s cards out of packs. I have a Gooden and a Strawberry player collection, but they are nowhere near as complete as the Hernandez collection. I have plenty of Carter, Orosco, Dykstra, Teufel, Mookie, Darling, Fernandez, McDowell, and everyone else from that Mets team as well as other Mets teams.

Unlike DJ, I lack … discipline, restraint, or whatever you want to call it (perhaps sanity) that allows him to limit himself to Topps cards of his players and team. I want to go on eBay, buy a lot of Jim Gantner cards, and send them to him (DJ, not Gantner) because I can’t imagine not having as many different Hernandez cards as possible. But then I also don’t want to upset his balance and turn him into … me. As a kid I would always try to swap for Hernandez cards with my friends. The first Hernandez rookie I ever owned came via a trade for a handful of football cards. Supposedly there was a Steve Largent rookie in there, but as I didn’t know who he was at the time it didn’t matter to me – I had the 1975 Topps Hernandez and three other guys. Also as a kid, I created my own alphabetical checklist of his cards, flipping through pages of a late 1980s Beckett Almanac scanning sets for his cards. At some point I tossed that out because I had created an electronic list, though I kind of wish I had kept the hand created list to see how close I had gotten to a complete checklist. I never got his autograph during spring training, though a friend of mine did give me an autographed 8×10.

If you want the stats, I have over 1,000 different listed items in Beckett’s database and many more that aren’t listed. The exact number could change by the time this post is public. For his pre-2004 cards I am only missing a handful that are listed in Beckett, some of which I don’t think actually exist. His number of cards exploded in 2004-2005 (he has over 600 cards from those two years alone due to parallels). Staying at home allowed me to scan the items I have, and the Beckett listed items all have front and back pictures (unless it’s a blank back team issue) if you scroll a little down this page to the links at the bottom. I have over 10,000 total Hernandez cards. How do I know? I always thought it would look cool to have the fronts of a single card displayed in all 18-pockets of two pages (back-to-front) in a binder. I have 689 of those pages, including 57 pages of his 1988 Topps card. You can get a sense of what that looks like below. Plus those thousand or so different cards. Plus about two binders of standard sized cards that don’t have 18 copies of a card yet. Plus oversized and mini cards. And extra game-used and autographed cards.

I didn’t do graded cards – until I got a really good deal on a lot. As one might imagine given my lack of restraint, I’ve pretty much climbed that mountain. I’ve grown less interested in the “master set” as listed by PSA because it now includes team picture cards from the 1970s. As someone once wrote here, you need to define a master set for yourself, even if it differs from the definition someone else uses.

While I don’t get too much into custom cards (unless it’s a Heavy J Studios rainbow dazzle purple refractor 1/1), I’m always looking for oddball items that I don’t have. Sometimes it’s an ad or a magazine with Hernandez on the cover or if he’s featured in an interview. Bobbleheads and figurines are also in there, as are drinking cups, posters, cello/rack packs with his cards on top – pretty much anything. I have about 100 ticket stubs from his MLB games, back when ticket stubs were actual stubs. Here’s a display with a variety of items:

Keith Hernandez shelf

With the increasing number of 1/1s and other low-numbered cards I’ve mellowed over the years and don’t worry too much about not getting every card. I’m usually a player in the market, though sometimes I marvel at how much they sell for. I admit that I get slightly annoyed when I make an offer on a card, have it turned down, and then a few days later see it sold for less than I offered. The economist in me doesn’t understand leaving $20 bills lying on the ground.

I don’t dabble much in game-used jerseys or other equipment because I’m not educated enough on those items to have confidence in my purchases. However, I have purchased a number of Topps Vault items. I think the most interesting piece I have is his original Topps contract, with his signature, his dad’s signature (the younger Hernandez was a minor at the time), and Sy Berger’s signature. And the Hernandez authored pop-up book First-Base Hero:

Keith Hernandez contract

It has been a fun endeavor for over 30+ years and somehow I’m always finding something I haven’t seen before (like a 3×5 miniature version of a poster that I just got in a lot last week). I have other player collections, and more different cards of other players (Ripken, Gwynn, and Piazza) but they all have vastly more cards than Hernandez. I have a higher percentage of cards for other players (like Jose Lind – a story for a different day), but Hernandez tends to be a balance of popular enough to be included in some new issues (I’m guessing that appearing on Seinfeld didn’t hurt his popularity – and yes, there is at least one bobblehead commemorating his Seinfeld appearance), but not so popular that he appears in a lot of new issues.

11 thoughts on “Player Collection Spotlight – Keith Hernandez”

  1. Nice writeup – Keith was a solid ball player. Two action items:
    1. will need to watch the Seinfeld episodes with Keith
    2. need to get a copy of First-Base Hero for my collection

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    1. A few of his autographed cards have notations, but those primarily reference his Gold Gloves or his co-MVP with Stargell. There is at least one, a 2017 Panini National Treasures Notable Nicknames, that references his Seinfeld episodes.

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  2. Terrific hitter, fantastic fielder, vital cog on multiple World Series teams, co-MVP in 1979, and probably an overlooked Hall of Famer. In short, a worthy candidate for your…obsession.

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    1. I’ve often wondered why he hasn’t received at least some consideration as a possible Veteran’s Committee (or Eras Committees) selection. I don’t think he has ever been on one of those ballots. I think it’s because he doesn’t fit the current mold for his position – first basemen are “supposed to” hit homers. Baseball-reference has him with similar overall value as Killebrew and Dick Allen (Fangraphs has Killebrew and Allen a little higher), though the source of the value is much different due to fielding (and those two were tremendous hitters; if Hernandez hit with power like them and fielded like himself he’d be more like Pujols and a clear first ballot HOFer).

      It looks less obsessive when placed within the context of the broader collection (which is its own larger issue). To be sure, it’s the focal point, but with the other player collections, Mets collection, and set collections it’s only a small portion of the overall collection. There are other players I try to pick up oddball items of but (1) either they don’t have very many or (2) they’re way more expensive than Hernandez.

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  3. Certainly his Hall of Fame consideration was damaged by the fact that he was not a power hitter at a power hitting position. I think that’s ludicrous, but that’s just me. Back in the day there was also a cocaine issue in St. Louis, but that seems to be water under the bridge,i.e., Tim Raines. If Ted Simmons and Harold Baines can get second looks, why not Keith?

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    1. Sometimes it’s buying a lot for a handful of cards, sometimes it’s pulling them from lots of Mets cards to fill holes in that collection, sometimes it’s taking a chance that there might be something interesting in the lot, and sometimes you just think “100 1982 K-Mart cards for $4” isn’t a bad deal (I can skip buying a Coke and some M&Ms that day). I also like to think I’m rescuing them from being stored away somewhere to be examined in the future by … top men. I’ve done that with other cards that I didn’t really have a need for but were sitting in a bin somewhere being constantly thumbed through without so much as a penny sleeve protecting the card. If you’ve seen Mallrats think Brodie Bruce and comic books without the proper backing. 1988 Topps commons – fine. But a Maddux insert numbered to 40 should at least have a penny sleeve on it. There’s only 40 of them.

      Having multiples has paid off at least once. While scanning the cards over the summer, I noticed something odd about a card. I had been looking for years for a 2009 Topps Update Ring of Honor Gold version numbered to 25. For some reason I always thought it was an autographed card, but it’s not – it’s just a straight, not very many frills gold foil parallel. I realized that about 2 years ago, and finding insert parallels like that in the wild a decade after a product is released is tough (it’s better if they’re autographed because people are more likely to list them). It turns out that somewhere along the way I had picked one up (likely in a lot) because the card I had scanned was numbered to 25 on the back. All I had to do to fill the newly created hole in the collection was pull a regular version out of the duplicate binder.

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  4. Holy moly! This is the reason that I limited my collections. However, I’m about to add Fleer and Donruss to my player collections (I’m not ready to add them to my Brewer collection yet). I am perfectly happy with my player collections coming in at under 100 each and for my total to be under 3000 for a while.

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    1. When you say 3000 cards you mean … you’ve only picked up 3,000 this month? Joking of course. At one point I realized that it would be cheaper for me to buy empty 5,000 count boxes in bulk rather than buying them one or two at a time. So I’ve done that (I think it was 25 boxes). Twice. That second bulk purchase hasn’t been completely used, but that’s likely just because we haven’t had card shows in a while. I don’t have a lot of other hobbies.

      Part of its not my fault – I bought two cards on eBay, and then when I get the cards there are a dozen 1986 Topps Traded cards and a dozen 2020 Topps Heritage cards as “filler.” So I need some place to file them away.

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