Hernandez was indisputably the best-fielding first baseman of his time, winning eleven straight Gold Gloves and setting major league records for most seasons leading league first basemen in double plays (six) and lifetime assists by a first baseman. He revived Ferris Fain‘s practice of charging to the third base line on bunts and made the technique his own; trying for the force in such situations is usually a risky proposition, but Hernandez’s judgment was rarely wrong. His great range helped him lead NL first basemen in assists five times, putouts four times, and fielding average twice. Twice he tied for the lead in errors with 13; it is the lowest total ever to lead the NL, and he never made more errors than that in a season.
Hernandez led the NL in batting in 1979 with the Cardinals, winning the only shared MVP award in history that year (Willie Stargell was the other recipient) as well as TSN NL Player of the Year. He also had career highs with 48 doubles and 116 runs, both league-leading totals, and 105 RBI. His .344 BA, also a career-high, marked the first time he had hit .300 ; he went on to top .300 five other times. But while with the Cardinals, he had a reputation as a carefree, unintense player. Manager Whitey Herzog traded him to the last-place Mets for journeyman relief pitcher Neil Allen in mid-1983 after becoming convinced that Hernandez was using drugs. When Herzog defended the trade by hinting as much, Hernandez threatened a libel suit, but the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials revealed it was true.
With the Mets, it seemed that Hernandez was trying to live down his old reputation. From the first day, he was the team’s most intense player. Usually the Mets’ number-three hitter, he became a great clutch hitter who worked the count and fouled off pitches until he got the offering he wanted. In the short lifetime of the game-winning RBI as an official statistic, he set ML records for most in a season (24 in 1985) and most lifetime (129). Always selective, he led the NL with 94 walks in 1986. His on-base percentage was above .400 seven times during his career, and he led the league in 1979 and 1980. His clubhouse leadership was acknowledged in 1987, when he was named the team captain. It was his last good season. After missing much of 1988 (hamstring troubles) and 1989 (knee problems), he was released.