Thursday, October 4, 2012
Into the Sunset, Pt. 6: Keith Hernandez
To put it lightly, Keith Hernandez was a heck of a ballplayer.
The guy won 11 career Gold Gloves at first base. He was a five-time All-Star. He shared the NL MVP award with Willie Stargell in 1979.
That's all fine and good, but I typically associate the name "Keith Hernandez" in a slightly different context.
Like it or not, I can't help but think of Seinfeld every time I hear his name. It's been my favorite TV show for as long as I can remember, and Hernandez's two-part episode had to have been one of my first introductions to it.
Phrases like "He spit on us!" and "Nice game, pretty boy!" almost involuntarily pop into my head every time I browse through my cards of his.
It overshadows the fact that he's actually had some pretty nice cards over the years.
I don't have as many of his earlier issues as I'd like, but I find it hard to believe that any could top his '81 Topps card, a perfect specimen for a perennial Gold Glover.
Despite his success with the Cardinals, Hernandez is probably better known for his time with the Mets, which is where we'll start our countdown.
When I started this blog, I maintained that 1989 Bowman was the worst set ever produced.
However, after carefully examining things, I've decided that 1990 Donruss now earns the dubious honor of the single worst baseball card set. Ever.
"Ugly" isn't a strong enough word for this one. I could do a better cropping job than that.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Hernandez's '90 Donruss "sunset" issue brings up the rear.
Hernandez had always been in my mind as a possible future "sunset" subject.
However, I was missing a key piece of the puzzle. His 1990 Fleer issue.
After a while, I thought I'd just have to omit it from the countdown. For better or worse, early Fleer isn't exactly commonplace at flea markets or card shows.
That all changed when I decided to pull the trigger on one of those Target repack things a couple weeks ago.
Much to my surprise, the last piece to Keith Hernandez's "sunset" collection was in my hands.
Just another reason to love those repacks, I guess.
Still, this one takes fifth in the countdown.
It could've been a whole lot better without those big, intrusive white borders.
In my book, Score and Pinnacle share the honor of the most underrated card company in the hobby's history.
Score has always been one of those sets that simply lingers in the background without much recognition. If it does get mentioned, it's usually in passing, not often receiving a ton of praise.
However, it's always been a favorite of mine because of the large checklists and lack of posed shots, the latter of which was a rare sight in the overproduction era.
Even if the cropping on this card is a bit odd, Score still did a terrific job of sending Hernandez into the sunset.
Still, it only places fourth on this list.
That's because Donruss, Fleer, and Score all missed a key aspect of Hernandez's final year in the majors, as far as my collection goes.
(Editor's note: Apparently, Hernandez had cards in Fleer and Score's 1991 sets, although I'd never seen them until today. Looks like I have a couple cards to chase, and perhaps an "updated" version of this post in the future. Thanks for the info, Night Owl!)
Unbeknownst to many, he actually finished his career with the Indians.
It took me a while to find out about that. When I first traded for this card, I thought it was a different guy named Keith Hernandez.
Surely the Seinfeld Keith Hernandez didn't play on the Indians, did he? I had to look it up, just to make sure it was true.
Sure enough, Hernandez spent his final season in Cleveland, hitting .200 with one homer in 43 games for the Tribe in 1990.
I give Topps credit for "updating" the collector in their Traded issue that year.
However, there's not a lot to be excited about here aside from that. Shots of the back of a guy's jersey aren't usually favorites in my book.
Plus, Topps' 1990 design may well be my least favorite in their history.
Topps gets the "bronze medal" here.
In an unprecedented upset, Classic actually nudged out Topps for the second spot on this countdown.
The borders aren't exactly pleasing to the eye, but I like the fact that Classic cropped the picture so that it didn't get cut off, unlike the efforts of Donruss and Fleer.
This way, it looks a bit like Hernandez is actually popping out of the frame and into your own living room.
Aside from the fact that these last two have pictured him in an Indians jersey, there's not a whole lot to like about the send-offs that Topps and Classic gave Keith Hernandez.
Score and Fleer provided nice action shots, but did so while he was in a Mets uniform.
If only there were one that gave the collector the best of both worlds.
A great action shot and an Indians jersey.
Luckily, Upper Deck was there to make everything better.
For a few of my past "sunset" subjects, I had a fairly tough time deciding what would ultimately take the top spot in the countdown.
There was never much doubt about Keith Hernandez. This one is better than the previous five combined.
What's not to like about it?
Batting cage shots are and will always be awesome, especially when it comes to "sunset" cards. (I made that known pretty early in this theme.)
Heck, even the back of this one beats the efforts of the likes of Fleer and Topps.
Without UD on the scene, his sunset cards would've been a huge disappointment, a gap that Topps and Fleer wouldn't have filled.
Thanks, Upper Deck.