(image culled from Rob Perri’s “I’m Keith Hernandez”)
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the trade that sent 1B Keith Hernandez — just 3 years removed from an NL MVP award — from St. Louis to Flushing, Newsday’s Steve Marcus reminds us the deal was made for anything but baseball reasons.
Hernandez, now a popular analyst for Mets games on SNY, said the Cardinals undoubtedly suspected his drug use before trading him to the Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. “They couldn’t have traded me if it got out,” Hernandez said recently as he reflected on the deal that brought him to the Mets on June 15, 1983
“It was a difficult time in my life. I was in and out of my first marriage,” Hernandez said. “I was fooling around with drugs, the coke, we all know that. I don’t want to say on a recreational basis — I hate that word. There were some nights when I was up all night. I didn’t sleep. It was very destructive. This is not a performance-enhancing drug; this is a performance-destructive drug. I just made up my mind I wanted to stop.”
It wasn’t easy, Hernandez said, adding, “It is that alluring.”
In June ’83, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog couched the trade of Hernandez as saying the Cardinals needed more pitching. At worst, Hernandez was pictured as having an attitude problem, which Hernandez agreed was part of the issue. But it went deeper than that.
Herzog never has publicly discussed his suspicions about Hernandez. “I can’t say I knew Keith had been doing drugs,” Herzog said in his 1988 book “White Rat, a Life in Baseball,” which was co-authored with St. Louis columnist Kevin Horrigan.
“What the hell,” Herzog was quoted in the book, “unless you spot a guy snorting coke or smoking marijuana, or unless some reliable witness comes to you or it blows up in the press, you never know for sure … There were things about him that made me suspicious, but I can live with suspicions. What I couldn’t live with was his attitude.”
Herzog went to Cardinals owner August Busch and, according to Herzog’s book, the beer baron told him to “trade the son of a bitch.” Busch died in 1989 at age 90. A spokesman for Anheuser-Busch refused to respond to what role Busch played in the Hernandez trade.
Speaking on the topic today, Herzog still avoids the drug issue. “Keith was a hell of a ballplayer,” he told Newsday. “I didn’t want to trade him, I was ordered to [presumably by Busch].”
Asked the reason, Herzog snapped: “I haven’t talked about it in 25 years, I’m sure as hell not going to talk about it now.”