Bob Klapish takes on the question with the aid of some Yankees:
Just who was the area’s best first baseman of the 1980s, Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly?
“Come on, you know I’m not going to touch that one,” Joe Torre said with a laugh. “I’ve always hated Keith because he took my job [with the Cardinals in 1975]. But there’s no way to choose between them.”
Jason Giambi picked Mattingly for sentimental reasons – “Donnie was my favorite player” – while Alex Rodriguez was on the verge of choosing Hernandez because, as a die-hard Met fan growing up, “I watched every single Met on WOR for four straight years. I saw so much more of Mex than I did Donnie.”
A-Rod didn’t officially choose Mattingly, however, because as he said with a rueful smile, “Yankee fans already hate me.”
But that’s not to say Mattingly was conceding to his Mets counterpart. Quite the contrary. Donnie Baseball said, “I could pick it with anyone.”
Yet, Mattingly had nothing but praise for Hernandez, standing by his assertion that if it would’ve meant becoming teammates with the Met first baseman, he would’ve vacated the position.
“I meant what I said, I would’ve moved to left for Keith,” Mattingly said Saturday. “I would’ve done it because we would’ve been a better team with the two of us on the same field. I wouldn’t have minded if he played first instead of me.”
As a Yankees fan who suffered when things were not going perfect in the Bronx during the mid-’80′s, while the Mets were winning a ring with Mex at first, I will share that I learned to hate Keith Hernandez. I was sick of hearing from, and about, him. And, while he was with the Mets, I rooted, hard, for him to do poorly.
Now, years later, to be candid, I will now confess, looking back at it all, Hernandez probably was the best fielding first baseman of all-time (or darn close to it) and he should be in the Hall of Fame (at Cooperstown).
As I wrote in my book, in terms of relative career offensive production, Don Mattingly was more like Rocky Colavito and Keith Hernandez was more like Enos Slaughter.
Slaughter is in the Hall. Factor in Hernandez’ brilliance with the glove, and he should be there too. Why Keith got dismissed by the voters so quickly, I have no clue? Perhaps it’s because Mex was done by the time he was just thirty-four? (Too many lounge visits catching up with him, maybe?)
Donnie was right – the Yankees would have been a better team with Mattingly in left, and Hernandez at first, than with Mattingly at first and guys like Gary Ward and Dan Pasqua in left.
In fact, add Hernandez to the Yankees in 1985 and maybe the Bronx Bombers win the pennant that year – and the Mets don’t win in 1986. How sweet would that have been (for Yankees fans)?