'80s Flashback: When Keith Hernandez Used 'Massive Amounts of Cocaine'

Keith Hernandez on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1980 and as one of the "Stoned Sports Stars" in the April 1985 High Times.

You won't hear much talk about baseball's cocaine scandal of 1985 as Keith Hernandez's number 17 is being retired by the Mets on July 9.

Prior to his career with the Mets, whom he won the World Series with in 1986, Hernandez was an All-Star first baseman with the Cardinals. From 1979-1982, he snorted a lot of cocaine, Hernandez revealed in the 1985 trial set in Pittsburgh. The focus was a Pirates staffer who sold coke to Pirates and other players like Hernandez when they were in Pittsburgh.

On Sept. 6, 1985, Hernandez admitted using "massive amounts of cocaine" during the 1980 season. He even said he snorted before a game once. If anything, it helped Hernandez's performance. He led the National League in batting (.344) in 1979 and followed with an impressive .321 in 1980, the year in question.

"It was the love-affair years," Hernandez said about the widespread use of coke in baseball. "It was very prevalent." He estimated 40% of MLB players were sniffing the white powder. "It was like a demon in me."

"Even the Pirate Parrot, Kevin Koch, was implicated for buying cocaine and introducing players to a drug dealer."

Twenty-one players were named in the trial, including Dave Parker, Vida Blue, Gary Mathtews and future Hall of Famer Tim Raines. Hernandez, Parker and five others each received one-year suspensions that were commuted in exchange for 100 hours in community service and a 10% cut of their salaries earmarked for drug rehab groups.

Hernandez calls the entire episode "the biggest mistake of my life" in the documentary, He's Keith Hernandez.

In an article about the Pirates in the 1980s, the Post-Gazette wrote: "Drug dealers frequented the Pirates' clubhouse. John Milner bought two grams of cocaine for $200 in the bathroom stalls at Three Rivers Stadium during a Pirates-Houston Astros game in 1980. Even the Pirate Parrot, Kevin Koch, was implicated for buying cocaine and introducing players to a drug dealer."

Former Pirates President Carl Barger called it "a sad chapter for the game of baseball."

The coke scandal is reminiscent of the more recent steroid scandal that plagued baseball in the '90s and 2000s. Though he didn't say so, coke appeared to work for players like the "greenies" (amphetatmine tablets) that were popular in clubhouses from the '50s to the '90s. They gave players a lift, as coke does. 

Hernandez has been an annnouncer with the Mets TV crew on SNY since 1999. He's known for a wacky sense of humor, non sequiturs and a Baby Boomer sensibility. Though he may not be quite as sharp on the mic as he was on the field, Hernandez brings wit and good vibes to every broadcast.

As a Met fan, I respect Hernadez's accomplishments. Perhaps if more people remembered or kmew about the events of four decades ago that tarnished his career to some degree, maybe Hernandez would not be honored at Citi Field, where he never played. Sometimes it's better to have a short memory.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.