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The Curse of Keith Hernandez (first brought to light by Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) was a superstition cited for why the St. Louis Cardinals were incapable of winning the World Series from 1983 to 2005.

Contents

Background

Until 2006, the last time that the Cardinals won the World Series was in 1982, when Keith Hernandez was their starting first baseman. Hernandez, who was the National League batting champion and co-MVP in 1979 (sharing the honors with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Willie Stargell), was traded to the New York Mets for Neil Allen (who, after three seasons with St. Louis and a 20–16 record, was sold to the Yankees) and Rick Ownbey on June 15, 1983. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog felt that Hernandez had become a cancer on his team and never regretted the trade.[1]

Shortly after arriving in New York, Hernandez set a major league record for game-winning runs batted in (24) in 1985. The following season, Hernandez helped guide the Mets to a World Championship against the Boston Red Sox.

The Cardinals appeared in the World Series three more times (1985, 1987 and 2004) before finally winning in 2006 against the Detroit Tigers.

Postseason misfortune

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1985 World Series

In 1985, the Cardinals lost their base-stealing catalyst, Vince Coleman, to a freak injury when he got his leg caught under the mechanized tarp at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis. As a result, he was unable to participate in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. In Game 6 of the Series, the Cardinals were holding a 1–0 led going into the bottom of the ninth, and needed just three more outs in order to win the World Championship. St. Louis closer Todd Worrell faced Royals leadoff man Jorge Orta. Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to Worrell covering first base. However, first-base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe, even though instant replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step. In the next at-bat, Clark misplayed an easy foul pop-up by batter Steve Balboni. Instead of popping out, Balboni singled on the next pitch, and Onix Concepcion came in to pinch-run. With runners on first and second, Jim Sundberg then bunted into a force play at third. Catcher Darrell Porter then allowed a passed ball, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Pinch-hitter Hal McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases, and then Dane Iorg knocked a bloop single to right that scored Concepcion and Sundberg, who avoided Porter's tag at the plate to score the winning run. In Game 7, the frustrated Cardinals (who had to cope with Don Denkinger now working at home plate) got blown out by the Royals 11-0.

1986 World Series

When Hernandez and his Mets participated in the Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox were on the verge of a World Series title in the 10th inning with two outs and nobody on. However, the Mets eventually rallied for a 6-5 victory, ending with Mookie Wilson's routine groundball eluding first baseman Bill Buckner. They later rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Red Sox 8-5 in Game 7. While being interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas following Game 7, Hernandez revealed that during Game 6, he had already retreated to the Mets' clubhouse to drink a beer (a Budweiser, which had been manufactured by long time Cardinals owner Gussie Busch and his family) when the improbable uprising occurred.

1987 World Series

The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1987, facing the Minnesota Twins. The Cardinals had to deal with the absence of an injured Jack Clark, who was their main source of power. They also had to cope with the fact that four out of the seven games were at Minnesota's loud and boisterous Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome which, naturally, gave the Twins a psychological advantage. Still, the Cardinals managed to win three in a row at home and came back to Minnesota with a 3 games to 2 series led. However, the Twins won Game 6 behind a grand slam by Kent Hrbek, who just happened to be a first baseman with the initials "K.H." The Cardinals ultimately lost Game 7. The 1987 Minnesota Twins' 85-77 regular season record was, up until 2006, the worst winning percentage for an eventual World Series victor since the introduction of the 162-game schedule. That record stood until 2006, when the St. Louis Cardinals broke the Keith Hernandez curse and won the World Series after winning just 83 games in the regular season.

1996 National League Championship Series

In 1996, the Cardinals blew a 3 games to 1 lead against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Game 7 involved the Cardinals getting destroyed by Atlanta, 15-0. 1996, by the way, was the beginning of Tony La Russa's tenure as manager of the Cardinals.

2002 National League Championship Series

In practically all of the Cardinals' subsequent postseason appearances, they lost a key player to injury (i.e. Mark McGwire, Mike Matheny, Scott Rolen, and Chris Carpenter). For instance, in 2002, the team lost Scott Rolen during a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks (who defeated the Cardinals in the Division Series the year before) in the division series before losing in the NLCS in five games to the wild-card San Francisco Giants. Keith Hernandez, incidentally, was born in San Francisco (although the Cardinals did beat the Giants in the 1987 NLCS in seven games).

2004 World Series

In 2004, the Cardinals lost the World Series in four games against the Boston Red Sox (who won their first World Championship since 1918). During the first two games of the World Series, the Cardinals walked 14 Red Sox batters and hit three others. Meanwhile, the Red Sox plated 17 base runners, while stranding 21 base runners. The closest the Cardinals ever came to possessing the lead in the Series was on two different occasions in Game 1. The Cardinals tied the game at 7 in the top of the 6th inning, but the Red Sox regained the lead with two runs in the bottom of the 7th. The Cardinals responded with two in the top of the 8th to tie the game at 9, but the Red Sox again replied with two in the bottom of the same inning. In Game 3, Cardinals threatened in the top of the 3rd inning, as starting pitcher Jeff Suppan beat out an infield single to third base and Edgar Rentería delivered a double to right-center field, putting Suppan on third. But Larry Walker grounded to first, and Suppan hesitated in his attempt to score. David Ortiz, making a rare appearance at first base (as there is no designated hitter in the National League), took the throw from second baseman Mark Bellhorn, retired Walker, and threw to third, where Bill Mueller tagged Suppan for a double play. What's significant about Jeff Suppan's base running blunder was that he wore number 37, the same number that Keith Hernandez wore during his time as a St. Louis Cardinal.

The end of the curse

The Cardinals ended this curse in 2006. They defeated the Mets, the team to which Hernandez had been traded, in the NLCS. Jeff Suppan was named Most Valuable Player of the Series. They went on to defeat the Tigers in the World Series, four games to one.

References

  1. ^ Herzog, Whitey; Jonathan Pitts (1999). You're Missin' a Great Game. pp. 188–189.  

The Curse of Keith Hernandez (began 1982) is a phenomenon that has supposedly kept the St. Louis Cardinals from winning a World Series since 1982.

Background


Dan O'Neill, a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was the first person to publish a suggestion that there might be a Hernandez curse on the Cardinals.

Keith Hernandez played first base for the Cardinals, starting in 1974. In 1978, he began a string of 11 consecutive Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence at his position. In 1979, he won the National League batting title with a .344 average, and finished in a tie with Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL's Most Valuable Player award, the only tie vote in the history of either major league's MVP voting.

In 1982, the Cardinals won their first World Series since 1967, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games, including Game 6, in which a Hernandez home run led the team to a 13-1 victory at Busch Stadium. It was the Cardinals' ninth World Series, still the most of any National League team, and trailing only the New York Yankees (26) and the Oakland Athletics (who also won nine, but five of those came as the Philadelphia Athletics).

The Trade


Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog, however, thought Hernandez did not hustle enough on the field, and suspected that Hernandez was using illegal drugs, a charge that turned out to be true (cocaine). On June 15, 1983, the Cardinals traded Hernandez to the New York Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

Hernandez became the best first baseman in Met history, leading them to a 24-game improvement from 1983 to 1984, and a run from 1984 through 1990 of seven seasons in which they finished either first or second. Although the Cardinals beat the Mets out for the National League Eastern Division title in 1985 and again in 1987, the Mets won the World Series in 1986, something the Cardinals had already not done in four years -- and neither team has done since. Many baseball observers believe Hernandez is deserving of, although has not yet received, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Allen was an average relief pitcher for the Mets, and the Cardinals tried to make him a starter. At first, it seemed to work, as he had a 2-7 won-lost record and a 4.50 earned-run average as a Met reliever before the trade, and a 10-6 record and a 3.70 ERA as a Cardinal starter after it. He went 9-6 in 1984, making the trade seem less lopsided than suggested. But he pitched poorly in 1985, and was traded to the New York Yankees. He was traded after that season to the Chicago White Sox, then back to the Yankees, and finally to the Cleveland Indians, where he was released in 1989, his major-league career over at age 31. By a twist of fate, the Indians signed a now-injured Hernandez that off-season, but his career would end the next season. Allen would later become a major league pitching coach.

Ownbey struggled with the Mets in 1982 and 1983 before the trade, and the Cardinals immediately sent him to their top farm team, the Louisville Redbirds. He only appeared in 21 major league games after the trade, and was out of the majors at age 28.

Cardinals postseason struggles


In order for a sports team to be considered "cursed," it is not enough to say that they have not won a championship for a long time. Indeed, the 23-season drought of the Cardinals (through the 2005 season) is not an especially long one. For a "curse" to be taken seriously, there need to be close calls and strange occurrences. The Cardinals have faced both:
  • 1985 World Series: The Cardinals entered the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 leading 1-0 over their cross-State rivals, the Kansas City Royals, and needing three more outs to win the game and the Series. But first-base umpire Don Denkinger ruled Jorge Orta safe on a ground ball, when the instant replay clearly showed he was out. The next batter, Steve Balboni, hit a pop-up that catcher Darrell Porter and first baseman Jack Clark both could have caught, but Clark dropped it. The better-fielding Hernandez might have called for it first and caught it. Balboni got a hit, advancing Orta, and the Royals rallied to score two runs and win the game, 2-1. Furious over the blown call, the Cardinals lost their focus, their composure, and Game 7 by an embarrassing score of 11-0.

  • 1987 World Series: This was the first World Series in which the home team won every game. The Cardinals led the Minnesota Twins three games to two after taking three straight at Busch Stadium, but lost the last two games at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, 11-5 and 4-2.

  • 1996 National League Championship Series: The Cardinals led the Atlanta Braves three games to one, then lost the next three games by scores of 14-0, 3-1 and 15-0.

  • 2000 National League Championship Series: The Cardinals, champions of the NL Central Division, were upset by the NL's wild-card entry, the Mets, four games to one.

  • 2001 National League Division Series: The Cardinals lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, three games to two, losing both Game 1 and Game 5 by one run. The Diamondbacks were a franchise that had just finished its fourth season, defeating the Cardinals, who had just completed their 120th.

  • 2002 National League Championship Series: The Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants, a team which had won only two previous pennants in their previous 44 seasons in San Francisco.

  • 2004 World Series: The Carinals were swept in four straight games by the Boston Red Sox, who had not won the World Series in 86 years, including defeats by the Cardinals in 1946 and 1967. The Cardinals did not lead for a single inning in the Series. This completed the breaking of the Curse of the Bambino.

  • 2005 National League Championship Series: The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros, who had never won a pennant in their previous 43 seasons of play, and whom they had beaten in the previous year's NLCS. But the Astros went on to lose the World Series to the Chicago White Sox, both breaking the Curse of the Black Sox and extending the Curse of Judge Hofheinz.


  • Hernandez insists that, while he was unhappy to be traded away, he did not place any curse on the Cardinals.



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