6 Hits From Keith Hernandez at Drew
Former Mets star reflects on career, Seinfeld, broadcasting.
November 2017 – Former New York Mets star Keith Hernandez was relaxed, thoughtful and entertaining during his appearance at Drew University.
Hernandez, a guest of Drew Forum’s In the Game interview series, answered more than 20 questions from host Ira Berkow and a crowd of nearly 300 in The Concert Hall. Beforehand, he also met with Drew baseball players in Mead Hall. Still, at the end of his appearance, he was ready for more, saying, “I can do this all night. It has been fun. Let’s play two!”
The back-and-forth at The Concert Hall—which was sponsored by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation—covered everything from breaking into the big leagues at 20 and playing for two championship teams to starring on Seinfeld and becoming a broadcaster. Some highlights:
Before Seinfeld, he hadn’t acted.
So, when Hernandez received the script for “The Boyfriend,” the classic episode that he guest-starred in, he panicked, thinking, How am I going to remember all these lines? An actress-friend, Marsha Mason, coached him, however, and a script monitor guided him on set. Still, the experience was nerve-racking, particularly when the cast taped before a live audience. “And Jerry turned and goes, ‘What are you nervous about? You played in front of 55,000 people!’ I said, ‘Jerry, I didn’t have to do lines. I just had to hit a baseball.’”
His first trip to The Show was a bust.
At 12, Hernandez was the MVP of his Little League and at the highest level of the minor leagues, he led the league in hitting. But a year after the St. Louis Cardinals called him up—at the age of 20—he stumbled, earning a trip back to the minors. “It was kind of humiliating and I felt like I was a failure,” he said. Minor league manager Ken Boyer helped him recapture his swing, though, and when he returned to the bigs, he never looked back.
His dad taught him how to deal with pressure.
His dad threw batting practice to him when he was growing up and toward the end of each session, he’d set up a tense situation. “Always my last ten swings were, ‘Seventh game of the World Series, bases loaded two outs,” Hernandez recalled. “He’d throw harder and I’d have ten swings with pressure situations. So, I think that was drilled in me. And you have to want to be in those situations.”
Today’s emphasis on weight lifting, core building and low body fat is foolish.
Citing Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s last off-season, when he pumped iron and didn’t throw much, Hernandez said, “Stupid.” During the season, the bulked-up player tore a latissimus muscle while pitching and missed five months. In contrast, Hernandez played injury-free for his first 13 years in the pros, when he mostly ran and stretched.
There’s a big difference between playing and broadcasting.
Hernandez, who was known as a smart player, grew frustrated as a broadcaster when he saw players make mental mistakes on the field. The unbridled play of a young José Reyes in particular irked him. But in time, he realized that he couldn’t expect others to perform like him. Instead, he embraced different approaches and found joy in that too.
Sticking with a last-place team turned out to be wise.
In the middle of the 1983 season, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals traded Hernandez to the last-place Mets, who ended the year at 68-94. During the off-season, he considered asking General Manager Frank Cashen to trade him. But, based on the advice of his dad, who had seen up and coming rookies like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden play, Hernandez stayed put. Three years later, the team won 108 games and a world championship. “It turned out to be the best decision of my life,” Hernandez said.