We all know Keith Hernandez as a great player. Most of us know him as part of, perhaps, the best booth in all of baseball broadcasting. We know he can be a bit cranky about young players and sabermetrics sometimes but he makes up for it with good insights and a lot of humor.
But we don’t know too much about him personally. Which makes this feature on him by Michael Powell of the New York Times so rewarding. After reading it, you feel like you sort of know the guy. What he does, how he lives and what kind of a person he is.
He’s not an enigma, of course. What you hear from him in the broadcast booth is clearly an extension of his personality. But this certainly helps contextualize the guy a bit and shows you that, whatever you think of him, he’s the genuine article. And he’s funny too:
Former President Richard Nixon once visited the Mets locker room. The photograph is on a bureau: the former president in a suit and tie and Keith naked from the waist up. They shared lunches. Nixon wanted to talk about the stars of the ’86 team — Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Dwight Gooden. One day Mr. Hernandez blurted out: “Mr. President, all we do is talk baseball. Could we talk politics?”
“He went on for 45 minutes about Russia and China.”
And he’s not 100% self-aware at times. In the article he’s criticizing young players and coaches for being too conformist and robotic in their approach, particularly with respect to taking walks and things. In response he says “I would have been labeled a bad seed, a malcontent.” Which makes one wonder how he thinks he got traded to the Mets in the first place, but that was a long time ago so I suppose we’ll let it slide.
Anyway, I love Hernandez as a broadcaster. The whole big personality New York thing he has about him is hard for meek little Midwesterners like me to get their head around sometimes, but like I said above: he is the genuine article, he seems totally honest about himself and comfortable in his own skin and those are the traits that make a person whole and human. And which make a good broadcaster, no matter how many of them insist on being diplomatic homers rather than actually saying what they feel.
After reading this story it’s hard not to admire the guy. And it’s hard to explain why more teams don’t hire broadcasters who have full lives and don’t give a hell about most other things, because that’s where the candor that makes Hernandez so good comes from.