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17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards


17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

When the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey in June 1983, the course of the franchise was suddenly altered. General manager Frank Cashen had already begun stockpiling young players through the amateur draft but needed veteran leadership. Keith Hernandez provided.

This era in Mets history also coincided with what is referred to in the trading card hobby as the junk wax era.

In 1980, Topps lost a class action lawsuit brought against them due to their near 30-year monopoly as the only producer of baseball cards. The following year, products from Donruss and Fleer hit the market. In the late eighties as Keith Hernandez’ time in Queens was coming to an end, Score and Upper Deck were released, while Topps resurrected Bowman. In the Dave Jamieson book “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession,” the author described that the number of cards being printed every year were enough for every human on Earth to have of 400 different baseball cards every year.

Let’s hop in the Delorean, get the flux capacitor fluxing, and head back to a time when the trading card hobby was looked at as the working man’s Wall Street, otherwise known as the 1980’s.

1983 Topps Traded #43T

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

When Donruss and Fleer began releasing baseball cards in 1981, Topps created a new set to set itself apart from their new competitors: the Topps Traded set. This new set was a 132-card set that used the same design as their flagship release, but with brighter, sharper hues on the card back to set itself apart from the flagship set. The 132-card set contained cards of players that had changed teams prior to or during the season. This way, collectors were not forced to wait until the following year to pull a card of a recently acquired player in their new team’s uniform. This card of Keith Hernandez is a perfect example. This is Hernandez’ first card in a Mets uniform and he wasn’t alone. This set also includes the first Mets card of the newly named, and short-lived manager Frank Howard, as well as Danny Heep, Mike Torrez, and the returning legend Tom Seaver.

The Topps Traded set also created a massive conundrum in the hobby. As Mets fan may recall, in 1983 a young outfielder named Darryl Strawberry debuted for the Mets and went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year. Topps Traded also included the first card of rookies that had debuted during the season. Like with players that changed teams, collectors had been forced to wait until the following year to obtain the rookie cards of players like Strawberry, but not anymore.

The confusion created by adding cards like Strawberry’s was surrounding how to classify the card. A compromise was created and these cards were labeled as “extended rookie cards”, or XRC, and players with XRC’s in the “extended” set as Topps Traded was classified as, would also have their cards that were released the following year classified as rookie cards. The 1983 Topps Traded set includes XRC’s of both Darryl Strawberry and relief pitcher Doug Sisk.

1984 Donruss #238

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

After using nearly the same design for two consecutive years, Donruss changed it up by releasing a sharp design with thin white border, a stripe above the bottom with the player’s name and position along the bottom, and four wavy, yellow lines along the bottom of the players picture that included the player’s team name. The new design included a player picture that covered roughly 85% of the card.

The back of the Donruss cards always set them apart. The player’s full name was listed, along with their contract status and how they were acquired. The card also includes a career highlights section. On the back of this Keith Hernandez card, it says “Was the key figure in baseball’s most controversial trade last year…”.

Among the Mets cards included in the set are notable rookie cards of Darryl Strawberry and Ron Darling, as well as rookie cards of young players the Mets used to improve the team through trades, such Walt Terrell, who was traded to Detroit for Howard Johnson, and Mike Fitzgerald, who was included in the package sent to Montreal to acquire Gary Carter. You will also find the final Mets cards of Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman. Rusty Staub appears as the Mets entry in the famous Donruss subset, Diamond Kings.

The prized sets of 1984, however, were the extended sets, Topps Traded and the newly created Fleer Update. Both sets were loaded with XRC’s of players that debuted in 1984, included the crown jewel of both sets, Dwight Gooden.

1985 Fleer #85

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

1985 brought us what was probably Fleer’s best and sharpest design to date. All of the cards in the set had a gray border with a secondary border that was chosen from each team’s colors with the player’s name, position, and the team logo across the top of the secondary border with the player picture in the middle.

In Fleer sets of the eighties, cards were not randomly numbered like their competitors Topps and Donruss, but instead numbered in order by team and the teams were arranged in the order that they finished the previous season. Therefore, the first team numerically is the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, followed by the National League champion San Diego Padres, and so forth.

The Mets cards in the set are numbered 72 through 95. Although the team set is low on rookies with just 2, it includes the rookie card of Dwight Gooden, along with shortstop Rafael Santana. Also included are the first Mets cards of Sid Fernandez and Ray Knight, neither of which were included in the 1984 extended sets.

Speaking of extended sets, the 1985 Fleer Update set includes 5 Mets cards, all of which are the first appearance in a Mets card for each. It includes the recently acquired Gary Carter and Howard Johnson, an XRC of relief pitcher Roger McDowell, and future 1986 Red Sox pitchers Joe Sambito and Calvin Schiraldi.

1986 Topps #203 and 1986 Topps Mail-in All-Star Collector’s Edition Set

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

Topps’ flagship release was a bit of dud, despite having a clean and simple design. The Topps set was short on rookie cards and lacked the notable names of the previous few years. You can find rookie cards of Mets players such as Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra, and Roger McDowell in all of the 1986 releases, but the 1986 Donruss set includes the rookie card of one of the most well-known General Managers in baseball as a New York Met, Billy Beane.

This specific card of Keith Hernandez is one that I’ve always liked. The card is included in Topps’ ’85 Record Breakers subset for Hernandez breaking a single season statistical record that is no longer recorded. Collectors from the 1980’s surely remember the game-winning RBI stat that was found on cards from the 1986 release. In 1985, Hernandez recorded 24 game-winning RBI, which was classified as a run batted in that put your team ahead in or after the seventh inning. Hernandez was also included the All-Star subset as the National League first basemen. The back of his All-Star card listed the top ten players in 1985 in game-winning RBI. Included in the that top ten was his current teammate Gary Carter, future Mets Tom Herr and Juan Samuel, and two-time Met Hubie Brooks. The Topps set also features the final Mets card of Rusty Staub and Ron Gardenhire.

Collectors in the 1980’s may also remember that included with every pack, besides a piece of what we were told was chewing gum, was an advertising card that included players divided into groups of ten. For a small fee and some wrappers of Topps cards from that year, you could receive a card of all the players in any of the groups that were listed. These are the Mail-in All-Star Collector’s Edition set. Keith Hernandez was one of the many Mets players included in the set. The design was the same for these mail-in cards every year with Topps only changing the color of the secondary border. The card back contained no player stats or information.

1987 Fleer #629 Superstar Specials “Magic Mets”

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

The 1987 releases were all wonderful releases, due in part to the fact that the Mets team sets are all of the players from the 1986 World Champions. You can find rookie cards of Kevin Mitchell, Ed Hearn, Randy Myers, and Dave Magadan in every set, as well as Kevin Elster in the Donruss and Fleer sets. Topps Traded and Fleer Update both include the first Mets card of Kevin McReynolds and an XRC of John Mitchell, whereas Topps Traded includes the first Mets card of David Cone and an XRC of Barry Lyons.

The 1987 Topps set was one of the most controversial sets ever released for many reasons. The wood-grained design lives on today as a set that collectors either love or hate, with no in between. Personally, the 1987 Topps set is one of my personal favorites. Aside from featuring cards of the 1986 Mets, it is stacked with rookie cards of some of the top players from the era.

Although this specific card is not from that Topps set, it is among my favorites from 1987 as it features Gary Carter, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, and Darryl Strawberry. A power-packed card of members from the 1986 Mets, Gooden is the only player featured on the card that did not make the 1987 All-Star team.

1988 Donruss All-Stars #49 and 1988 Topps #610

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

These two cards are two of my favorite Keith Hernandez cards. The Donruss All-Stars set has 5 Mets cards, including Hernandez, that participated in in the 1987 All-Star Game. The design on the front of the is the same used from Donruss’ flagship release from 1988. The picture of Hernandez has always captured my attention as he is featured dropped down, his left knee just above the ground with the ball entering his glove as a foot is seen entering the picture at the bottom left of the card with the first base umpire directly behind Hernandez.

The 1988 Topps card of Hernandez is another favorite of mine, but not just because of the picture. A simple design, Topps followed up their 1987 woody design with another sharp product. Hernandez is featured on the card bent over, glove in the dirt appearing ready to field a ground ball with the “C” on the left shoulder highly visible. The 1988 Topps set was a bit boring as it only featured rookie cards of John Mitchell, Barry Lyons, and Keith Miller, as well as a Future Stars card of Kevin Elster. Donruss and Fleer, on the other hand, both included the rookie card of Mets prospect Gregg Jefferies. A new entry into the hobby, Score, also featured Gregg Jefferies in their inaugural set to go along with one of the ugliest baseball card designs in history (nothing is worse than 1991 Fleer, don’t @ me).

Hernandez’ 1988 Topps card is the oldest card of him that has the ability to bring memories flooding back to the forefront. The year this set was released, my parents signed me up for T-ball. One of the coaches lived on my street and I would always play wiffle ball in his backyard with his sons. The first time the coaches put us on the field, he put me at first base. He asked me about what a first basemen is supposed to do when the ball is hit and I quickly told him they run to the bag, put the non-glove side foot on the side of the base, and their glove up ready to receive the throw. My coach smiled at me and walked away.

A few minutes later, with a runner on base, he began staring at me and yelled over to me “Shaun, what are you doing?”

There wasn’t a thought in my mind that I was doing anything wrong and I couldn’t figure out why I was being singled out. I replied with steadfast confidence “I’m holding the baserunner on, Coach.”

“Why? This is T-ball, Shaun. The runner can’t take a lead or steal.”

I didn’t think twice about what the coach said and quickly replied “Because this is what Keith Hernandez does!”

1989 Donruss Grand Slammers #8 and Upper Deck #612

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

If there was a specific time during the junk wax era that you could point to as the beginning of the end, 1989 was that time with six different companies releasing cards that year. After nearly 40 years, Topps resurrected Bowman and made the cards larger than regular cards. Bowman offered a base set that included rookie cards of players that would become stars for the next decade, and in some cases, Hall of Famers. 1989 also brought the debut of Upper Deck. I included Keith Hernandez’ first Upper Deck card for that reason.

Upper Deck offered collectors a more high-end product that set collectors back an unfathomable amount at the time of $1.00 per pack. Compared to other sets released that year, Upper Deck is clearly better. A white border with a base line running along one side of the card and another picture on the back that took up nearly half of the card back. There definitely are things to like about Upper Deck in the early years. However, rumors of the company printing dozens of whole sheets of the infamous Ken Griffey Jr.rookie card and even more urban legends that they continued to print that card for another year have dogged industry since its debut.

The other card that caused quite a stir in the industry that year, was the Topps Future Star of Gregg Jefferies. The Mets to have a rookie card that year were Dave West, Wally Whitehurst, and Mark Carreon. The extended traded sets released by Fleer, Topps, and now Score included cards of Juan Samuel and Don Aase, however, Score was the only set to include the first Mets card of Frank Viola.

One card released that year that always intrigued, was Keith Hernandez’ Donruss Grand Slammers insert card. The card itself is nothing special. It has the same design as the Donruss base set with an added banner in the bottom corner with the words Grand Slammers. What always intrigued me about this card was what was written on the back. The card notes that on April 26, 1988 Keith Hernandez hit a two-run home run in the fifth, then broke the game open with a grand slam off of former Met Charlie Puleo during a seven-run eight inning. Hernandez had also driven in another run on a force out in the seventh.

1990 Donruss #388

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

1990 brought collectors a plethora of hideous card designs, as well as the final Mets card of not just Keith Hernandez, but also Gary Carter. Seeing the two of them in different uniforms in Bowman’s base set that year nearly brought a tear to my eye the first time I saw them.

At the same time, rookie cards of several Mets players that most fans have never heard of appeared in different sets released throughout the year. With the exception of future All-Star Todd Hundley, the only other notable Mets rookie card to appear was the Score Rookie Traded XRC of the future star first basemen for the Rock Church softball team in Virginia Beach’s Parks & Recreation Men’s Duffer League, D.J. Dozier.

And no, that’s not a joke. Dozier really played first base for a church team in a men’s beer league. He could still fly around the basepaths, too.

Despite all of this, 1990 was one of my favorite years collecting. My local card shop at the time, Pinch Hit Cards on Hackettstown, NJ was raffling off hand collated 1990 Topps sets leading up to the release of the cards. Somehow, I managed to win one. That summer, I was introduced to the dream of every Jersey kid: Seaside Heights. I was in awe of the boardwalk and the different booths and games, but after I won a wax box of 1990 Donruss, I was ready to leave. This card of Hernandez reminds me of that summer. The walk from the shore house to the boardwalk. The water park. The beach. And the red boarded Donruss set with one of Keith Hernandez’ last Mets cards.

Or so I thought…

2002 Topps Super Teams #133

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

This 2002 set released by Topps is a Mets fans’ dream. The set includes 30 cards of players from the 1969 and 1986 World Series teams, with each team’s starting lineup, starting pitchers, and the manager. Topps included cards from several other title winning teams, but there is just something about being able to pull a brand new baseball card of Keith Hernandez, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, or Cleon Jones from the same set that gets me.

It was also an interesting year for Mets cards. Across the three or four dozen different sets released, you can find cards of players from Jose Reyes to Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn to Jae Weong Seo, to rookie cards of Jason Bay, Ronald Acuna (the father), and David Wright.

It really is unfathomable how many different cards were released in 2002, but there is something for every generation of Mets fan.

2003 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic #51

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

By 2003, it had become a common practice for the to be entire sets released of retired players, so why shouldn’t Upper Deck be any different. The Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic is a 150-card offering that has something for every collector, although, I found it highly offensive that they decided to put not just David Cone, but also Lee Mazzilli in the set in a Yankees uniform. 37 games and he’s in a Yankees uniform?

Despite Upper Deck’s questionable uniform decisions for some players, the product is the usual high quality set. Along with Hernandez, you can find Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver, and Dave Kingman featured in the orange and blue.

Like in 2002, there were a few dozen sets released in 2003. While the most notable Mets rookie cards in 2003 were Jeff Duncan and Prentice Redman, and the first Mets cards of Tom Glavine and Cliff Floyd, Upper Deck did include David Cone in his return to a Mets uniform in two different sets, as well as the only Mets cards of Marco Scutaro, Rey Sanchez, and Jay Bell.

2005 Donruss Greats #48, Donruss Leather & Lumber Hitters Inc #HI-11 486 of 2000, and Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #99

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, Carlos Beltran, and Keith Hernandez all featured in Mets uniforms in the same set? Sign me up.

Donruss outdid itself with its Donruss Greats release. A simple black and gray border with black and white pictures, Donruss mixed current and retired players in this 150-card set. Donruss definitely made some missteps after a hiatus earlier in the decade, but this set was not one of them.

Speaking of Donruss’ missteps, their Hitters Inc. insert set that was included in their Leather & Lumber set was completely uneven. Along with Keith Hernandez, this insert set includes Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Ichiro, Lyle Overbay and Jack Wilson. Each card in this set is serial numbered up to 2000.

Despite the unevenness of the roster in the set, the set has an interesting design. The Mets name appears twice in the lower third of the card with a small picture of Hernandez following through on his swing with out of focus baseballs behind him.

When it comes to releasing sets of retired players, no one does it better than Topps. Their All-Time Fan Favorites set was a hit, especially in in 2005 with 21 Mets cards in the set that includes an impressive array of players from not just 1969 and 1986, but also 1973 and 1988. For good measure, Topps also included one of my all-time favorite Mets, the late Anthony Young.

The Topps All-Time Favorites set is strictly retired players from various eras with and each player appears on an old Topps design from the time that they played for the team whose uniform they are wearing. Ironically, the Hernandez card is on one of my favorite Topps designs, 1984. Topps eventually merged its All-Time Fan Favorites set with a resurrected Topps Archives set a few years later that combines retired and current players on the old Topps designs, with the All-Time Favorites cards randomly inserted in packs as certified autographed cards.

The sets released in 2005 had a wide mixture of Mets cards. From the first Mets card of Pedro Martinez to the last Mets card of Mike Piazza, to rookie cards of Dae-Sung Koo and Jim Burt, the son of the former New York Giants nose tackle of the same name, 2005 has a wide variety of Mets cards.

2001 Topps Archives #406

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

I have featured every Keith Hernandez card from oldest to newest. Until now.

The 2001 Topps Archives set was a set of reprints of old Topps cards and featured multiple Mets cards of players that suited up for the Metsies in the 1960’s and 1970’s and eventually finished their storied careers in Cooperstown

However, my favorite is the Keith Hernandez 1990 card. The design was still bad 11 years later in 2001 (and still is today), but there was something about the picture of Hernandez on this card that has made this my favorite Keith Hernandez card.

Down on one knee, holding his bat on his right hand, he has this look on his face. The picture on the card would have been taken in 1989, when he played in only 75 games, a year after appearing in 95 games. The 75 games the fewest amount of games played for Hernandez since 1975. Hernandez hit .233 with 4 home runs and 19 runs batted in. His body was failing him. His skills were eroding.

But that look in his eyes.

It was the look Mets fans saw every time he walked out of that dugout.

I really don’t remember what Keith Hernandez looked like on the field in his last two season as a Met. I don’t remember seeing him hit two home runs and drive in seven runs in a random April game against a terrible Braves team.

I do remember that look.

I’ll always remember this version of Keith Hernandez featured on this card. And it’s the Keith Hernandez I’ll be thinking off when his number is placed at the top of Citi Field in July.

17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards

The post 17 for 17: A Look Back at 17 Keith Hernandez Baseball Cards first appeared on Metsmerized Online.



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