Keith Hernandez’s top Mets moments, No. 6: The MVP candidate

World Series champion and beloved SNY analyst Keith Hernandez will have his No. 17 retired by the Mets on July 9, becoming just the fourth player, plus managers Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges, in the history of the franchise to be bestowed that honor. This is the fifth of a 10-part daily countdown of Hernandez’s greatest moments and accomplishments following his 1983 arrival in Flushing. 

No. 6: The MVP candidate 

Keith Hernandez’s change of heart and decision to re-sign with the Mets in the offseason following his trade to the perennial last-place club in 1983 paid immediate dividends individually and collectively the following year. 

Hernandez, the co-MVP in the National League in 1979 with the Cardinals, finished as the runner-up to Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg for the award in his first full season with the Mets, leading a young team featuring back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to a 90-72 record in his first full year with the club in 1984. 

Keith Hernandez
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“Sandberg won it, but I have to believe I would have gotten it had we won the division,” Hernandez told The Post. “We went from 68 wins the year before to 90, and with all things considered, I believe that was my best year with the Mets.” 

Sandberg batted .314 with 19 homers, 84 RBIs and an OPS of .887 for the Cubs, who finished 96-65 to take the NL East by 6 ½ games over the upstart Mets. 

Hernandez had tied Pittsburgh slugger Willie Stargell for MVP honors in 1979, leading the league in hitting (.344), runs (116) and doubles (48) with a career-high 105 RBIs. They finished with the same amount of points in the balloting, even though Stargell — with 32 home runs and 82 RBIs for the eventual World Series champions — received 10 first-place votes, six more than Hernandez. Third-place finisher Dave Winfield of the Padres also received four first-place votes. 

The Mets’ 22-game improvement in ’84 under first-year manager Davey Johnson — with three rookie starting pitchers in Gooden, Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez — had a great deal to do with Hernandez’s presence and leadership. He batted .311 with a .409 on-base percentage, 15 homers and a team-best 94 RBIs, while winning his seventh of 11 consecutive Gold Glove awards at first base. 

Hernandez also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting with the Mets in 1985 (eighth) and 1986 (fourth), albeit behind teammates Gooden (fourth) and Gary Carter (sixth) in ’85 and behind Carter (third) during the team’s most recent World Series championship campaign.