Keith Hernandez on Mets jersey retirement, career, ’86 team

Before Mets legend, 1986 World Series champion and current SNY analyst Keith Hernandez gets his No. 17 jersey retired by the Mets on Saturday at Citi Field, the former first baseman takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What’s it like today being Keith Hernandez?

A: Nothing really different. My life’s normal, like anybody else. I just have, I guess you would call, a high-profile job. I’m recognizable here at Citi Field.

Q: You’re recognizable everywhere.

A: Well, that is kind of faded a little bit, but in the baseball world I’m definitely recognizable. But I think my life’s fairly normal. I feel pretty blessed that I’m still doing what I’m doing.

Q: There was a time in your life I was reading when you really didn’t like yourself. Have you ever liked yourself more than you right now?

A: I can’t say I didn’t like myself. I didn’t like what I was becoming, and that’s a very personal, private matter. All in all though, I think I’m basically a good person. I can tend to kind of beat myself up a little bit, pretty much my entire life, and even when I played.

Q: Why do you think that was?

A: I don’t know. Some people are more positive. Some people just react differently. I was always someone I think that was a motivator for me. Never being satisfied.

Q: What would you say you’re most proud of about the way you played the game?

A: I think I’m most proud of what I accomplished with the Mets. When I was with the Cardinals, we’d all kind of come up together in the minor leagues and I was kind of one of the younger guys. And there was the aging Bob Gibsons and the Lou Brocks, they were kind of moving out, but they were still there. But when I came here, it was a young team, and all of a sudden it was a role reversal.

Q: That’s why you were named Captain to bring the younger guys under your wing. But on the field, the way you played the game, what are you most proud of?

A: My intensity, what I brought. … I came and played every day, I never got hurt for the first 13 years of my career. You could always count on me. I prided myself on playing 150-plus games a year, and I was able to do that the first 13 years. I just think coming out here and setting the example as older players did for me when I was young. And I was just surrounded by youth, and I knew they were watching me. The lessons that I learned when I was in my early 20s they were gonna come out and translate into [what] I can do here.

Keith Hernandez playing the field for the Mets.

Q: What made you so clutch?

A: I think you just gotta want to be in that situation. You want to hit with men on base. It was drilled in my brother and I by my father, he would throw BP, the last 10 swings were always bottom of the ninth, you’re losing by a run, bases loaded, two outs, and he would throw harder. And we’d get 10 swings, and the last swing … it would always have to end with a line drive. So if the 10th swing you flew out, we wouldn’t end that last 10 swings unless we hit a bullet, base hit.

Q: What’s the most gratifying thing you have received from a former teammate?

A: I think Darryl’s [Strawberry] been effusive with his praise, how I helped him. The greatest compliment I had was the New York Ballet troupe was run by an elderly guy, he was in I’d say his mid-60s, very elegantly dressed. And I was at a cocktail party in Lincoln Center, and I was playing … offseason. … He said, “You play first base like a ballet dancer.” That was the greatest compliment I’ve ever had.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any first baseman in MLB history, who would it be?

A: Oh, gosh … when I grew up, first base was a position where you put your aging veteran, your power hitter, they thought they could hide him there. I could never understand that because no one gets more action in a game than … well catchers and the pitcher are more involved … but out on the field, you can win or lose a game at first base.

Q: You can only pick one guy.

A: Gosh … I’d have to go with probably Wes Parker.

Q: If you could face one pitcher in MLB history?

A: [Sandy] Koufax. … ’Cause he was such a great pitcher. There’s a whole bunch more. … Lefty Grove, I’d love to face him, another great left-hander.

Q: You don’t mind facing left-handers?

A: I always hit lefties good. Whitey Ford, I’d love to face Whitey. … You want to face … Warren Spahn, there’s so many, guys that I grew up, that are great pitchers.

Q: The other Mets who have had their jerseys retired: What made Tom Seaver so great?

A: He was the linchpin of that ’69 team, that first one, they were the laughable Mets. When Gil [Hodges] came in and took over, they turned it around pretty much in two years, and Tom was the greatest pitcher. I remember a game, Tom was with Cincinnati after the trade, he was ahead 3-2 and I had three really good at-bats off him. And he was throwing so hard, and I came back in the dugout after the third at bat. And I sat down next to Lou and I just said, “Damn, he’s throwing hard!” Lou said — this is like probably 1979, ’78 — and Lou said under his breath, “You should have seen him in ’69.” (laugh).

Q: What do you remember about the day he was traded?

A: I don’t remember much. [1977] was when he was traded, I know that was a big controversy going on, a lot of outside influences there. And Tom, I remember him watching the news being so emotional. It was a surprise, but I didn’t really pay it much mind, but it was shocking, he was a fixture here.

Q: Mike Piazza’s 9/11 home run, what do you recall about that?

A: That was just … I mean, it’s just like: There is a God. The city needed it so badly. And that’s what Mike did so well. Mike was another great clutch hitter, and I covered him. But the one thing, he was one of the players that he drove in the runs late and close. … He did it with home runs. He hit a lot of home runs late, that’s not an easy thing to do. … But that particular home run … it was stunning. It just was like everybody embraced each other.

Keith Hernandez

Q: Do you remember watching Jerry Koosman?

A: Of course, I faced him.

Q: What was that like?

A: Not fun. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Q: But you hit lefties well, you said?

A: He was nasty. He had a big curveball, hard sinker. When he won his 20th game in September against us, I think it was ’76, and I was having a good second half, I was really starting to come around as a major leaguer, and he was throwing a shutout and he was winning 3-0, I believe, and I hit a home run off of him to break up his shutout. And he won 3-1, but I know he wanted that shutout. And I remember running around the bases, I’m 22 years old, I’m going, “I hit a home run off Jerry Koosman, and he’s throwing a shutout.” So I couldn’t wait to get home to the hotel — before the cell phones, we called it Black Cord Fever — I got on the phone, I called my brother and my father right away: “I just hit a home run off Jerry Koosman!”

Q: Which of the current Mets could have played on your ’86 team?

A: [Francisco] Lindor would have started on our team … Come on, where are you gonna put Pete [Alonso]?

Q: How about first base?

A: Well, maybe if we have a DH we could DH him (laugh).

Q: Anybody else?

A: [Starling] Marte would be in there. I don’t want to put anybody else down. I would say those three for sure.

Q: What about a healthy Jacob deGrom?

A: Oh, absolutely … [Max] Scherzer. They’re the premier pitchers of their generation.

Q: What do you think of Edwin Diaz closing?

A: I’ll take him. In a heartbeat.

Q: Alonso looks like one day he could be a Captain here.

A: Don’t rush it. Let him become more of a veteran, more of a presence. This is only what, his third year, is that what it is, third or fourth year? A little more time, a little more time. But yes, definitely, he has that potential.

Q: Aside from Rusty Staub taking you under his wing when you got here, how did you adapt so easily to New York City?

A: I remember I rented at the Dag Hammarskjold building. Rusty told me you gotta stay on the East Side ’cause you don’t want to go crosstown through traffic for a night game in Manhattan, and just rent the first year. So I rented at Dag Hammarskjold on 47th and Second. I gotta say it was probably made the transition easier. He took me to restaurants … Ed Lynch was staying in town then, and he was single. Ron Darling and Danny Heep, we were the only ones staying in the city. … I wasn’t alone in the city. It could be a lonely place. It can be tough. But I think because of Rusty I adapted. It took me around three weeks, around two homestands, I guess. … Then I realized, “Boy, this town’s kind of nice.”

Q: The ’86 Mets versus the ’98 Yankees: Who wins?

A: Oh, short series you can never … They were a great team, we were a great team. That’s a good idea, maybe on my Strat-O-Matic I’ll play ’em in Strat-O-Matic a seven[-game] series and sees how it comes out.

Q: You’re really dodging the question.

A: I played the ’86 Mets and the ’69 Mets in Strat-O-Matic. … Three times. … They beat us all three times.

Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter

Q: Well then I would think the ’98 Yankees would be able to beat you also.

A: Well, we’ll see. We’ll never know!

Q: What do you think the chances are of a Subway Series?

A: Well, it’s a long season and you don’t know about injuries and the Yankees are just playing phenomenal. [Aaron] Judge is having a terrific year — MVP year.

Q: So it’s a good chance, you think?

A: There’s a chance. Absolutely.

Q: DeGrom facing Judge, Scherzer facing Judge … how much are you looking forward to those matchups if we get an October or November Subway Series?

A: What do you think? It’s be great. … I would watch very closely how they attack Judge. I think I know how they would.

Q: How would they?

A: I’m not gonna reveal.

Q: How about Gerrit Cole facing Pete Alonso?

A: That’d be a tough one, too. The teams that get there — I remember my first manager, [the Cardinals’] Red Schoendienst, when we got into the [1982] World Series, he was Whitey’s [Herzog] bench coach. He said, “You know, in the end, it’s the two best teams in baseball. The other team’s good, too. They didn’t get there by a fluke.” … The Red Sox in ’86, that was a very talented team, they had a great lineup, that was no easy mark.

Q: How would you describe the on-field mentality of those ’86 Mets?

A: Everybody came and played hard. I think the fans loved us, we won, it was the most winning decade in Met history, But we all got dirty. … Lenny [Dykstra] was always sliding headfirst, Wally [Backman] was a scrappy player. … I think it appealed to the grittiness of New York, the metropolitan area, the surrounding area.

Q: Did you enjoy being a villain on the road?

A: I always loved playing on the road.

Q: But that Mets team was despised?

A: Only in St. Louis was it really, ’cause that was the competition. But that’s all great. It’s like when they boo the best player. They boo the All-Star, the visiting teams, because he’s the best player. So really it’s a badge of honor. I always felt, I remember as a kid, Dad taking us to Candlestick Park, and he would buy box seats on the first base side, and would have us watch the first baseman — it was Bill White when I was a kid. I remember specifically, “Watch his footwork.” So I always felt on the road that there was a father or a mother out there with a daughter or a son, and saying, who was sitting down, and left-handed, “Watch that guy play first base. Watch him hit.” Which is what my father did. So I just always thrived on the road.

Q: How would Buck Showalter have handled your ‘86 Mets?

A: He would have been fine. He would have been just like Davey [Johnson]. … A manager has to know his players, and has to mingle with his players, but also command respect. I’ve observed Buck … you always see Buck in the past, this is the first time I’ve really got to know him. … He’s always got that scowl on his face, and I said he’s a sour guy. He is not. He is a character!

Q: How many games do you think a manager like Buck is worth?

A: He’s not gonna get outmanaged, that’s for sure. I can’t put a figure on it, but a bad manager will lose you more games than a good manager will win you games. Whitey Herzog told me that.

Q: What is unique about the SNY booth?

A: I think we got the best play-by-play guy in Gary [Cohen]. I think that he is like the maestro, and he brings us in, and I think the fact that we’ve got Ron [Darling] who knows pitching — I don’t know the details and the mechanics of pitching — and you got me. So you’ve got two guys that can bring every aspect of the game into the conversation.

Ron Darling, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez
Ron Darling, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez

Q: In ’86 you were on the cover of GQ, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: How come it’s been 36 years? Why has it taken so long to get back?

A: ’Cause I’m probably around 30 pounds heavier, that’s why (smile).

Q: And I think Ronnie was also that year?

A: I think he was.

Q: How come Gary Cohen has never been on a GQ cover?

A: That’s a good question. … They shoulda had him when he was at Columbia and he had the long hair … that’s gone (laugh).

Q: Have you ever been spotted at the same party with John Stossel?

A: No, but I was on an airplane with him. He was sitting one row on the opposite aisle. We look alike. … And we had a big laugh about it.

Q: When did you actually grow your first mustache?

A: I started trying to grow it when I was out of high school. In A-ball, it was chocolate milk, and I would just grow it and shave it, grow it and shave it, grow it and shave it, so it would come faster. Eventually it matured. But I’ve always had it, and I shaved it off maybe two or three times in my life. … [Luis] Guillorme, he shaved the beard, and he grew it right back.

Q: Wasn’t there a time you shaved it and said you’d never grow one back?

A: I’m not sure. … I don’t remember saying that.

Q: Along those same lines, does Keith Hernandez have more groupies now or when he played?

A: (Chuckle) I didn’t have groupies.

Q: What would you call them?

A: One-night stands (laugh). Just kidding (laugh). I always had a girlfriend when I played, always. But on the road, you’re in three nights in a city. You’re gone. So sometimes you struck out, sometimes you didn’t.

Q: Yeah. You were always a clutch hitter, though.

A: Well, the show, that particular [“Seinfeld”] episode which I thought was very, very clever with the JFK kind of the theme there and all the various subplots … I don’t know, I just thought it was kind of a genius show — it’s called “The Boyfriend” —you know, Jerry’s a fan. A lot of people could relate to that ’cause they idolize players, whether they’re a male or a female or tennis or football or basketball or baseball. So I think it appealed to that. The writers were so good in that show.

Q: What was it like filming that Just For Men commercial with Clyde Frazier?

A: That was a lot of fun.

Q: You guys were two of the coolest guys in New York.

A: Walt, he was doing (chuckle) all the poetry, which he does on the air, he’s such a wonderful guy. “No play for Mr. Gray,” and who would have ever thought that that would become one of these lines that people would remember? We did that commercial for eight years.

Q: Getting back to the groupies for a second …

A: (Laugh)

Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld

Q: How does your beloved cat Hadji feel about your past?

A: Well, Hadji’s a male. … He kind of likes the idea that I, you know, I made him a star.

Q: He won’t be at the ceremony?

A: Nooo, I wish he could.

Q:. Who takes care of him?

A: I have a neighbor friend that watches after him.

Q: What will it be like for your brother watching the ceremony?

A: Gary, I think, is gonna get emotional. My choice, when I throw out the first pitch? He’s gonna be the catcher. I’m gonna throw to him.

Q: And what do you suspect your father would be thinking on a day like this?

A: Oh, my father and mother, they’d be in hog heaven. I really wish they could be here.

Q: Are you more like your mother or father?

A: I’m the brooder. I’m my father. Gary’s the exuberant, the gregarious one. He’s my mother.

Q: You’re not a brooder any more, I don’t think …

A: I can brood. I only show my bright side here.

Q: And where can I get a Keith Purrnandez T-shirt?

A: I kind of like that. That was a great idea. I don’t know where to get it. SNY?

Q: How emotional will the whole weekend be for you?

A: The weekend’s gonna be fun. We’re gonna start out with a big dinner with all my friends and family in the city. … When I go out on the field, it’s gonna be surreal. I’ve always been kind of a procrastinator, so I’m kind of blocking it off. I think when the moment comes and I’m there with my kids, and my grandkids and my brother, family members, and they pull the canvas off the number, it’s going to be … it’s hard for me to fathom. As I’ve said, you grow up as a kid, you want to be a major league player. You watch Willie Mays like I did, be an MVP. You want to be a batting champion. You want to be an All-Star. But you never dream of having your number retired. It’s really the ultimate honor that an organization can bestow on a player. And what makes it so much better is that I’ll be the sixth person, only the fourth player. I’ll be up there with, my goodness, Casey Stengel, Gil and then, of course, I’ll be the fourth player with Seaver, Koosman and Mike … in 60 years of baseball here with the Mets, It’s a select few.

Retired Mets Mookie Wilson, Keith Hernandez, Tim Teufel and John Franco take a photo during a pregame ceremony on Opening Day to unveil a statue of Mets pitcher Tom Seaver.
Corey Sipkin

Q: What do you hope Mets fans remember about Keith Hernandez the player? And, what do you hope Mets fans take from Keith Hernandez the broadcaster?

A: Those that saw me play, they always come up and are very complimentary. Those that didn’t see me play, they can only hear what their parents say or what they see on film. But I guess the fact that I came to the park every day and I gave it my best … to win. As a broadcaster? I’m not done broadcasting. So hopefully I’m gonna be here more than a few more years.

Q: When they’re watching you and Darling and Cohen, what do you hope that they say about you?

A: That I’m knowledgeable of the game and I’m a little goofy. … I’m a little off the wall, I’m up there. I can get a little goofy up there.

Q: You’ve always been goofy?

A: I have. It’s funny ’cause when I played, people thought I was so intense, and when I get in the booth, people come up to me and say they didn’t know that side of me, they thought I was an intense individual 24/7, and I really wasn’t in the clubhouse, I was like I am in the booth.

Q: Were you a good practical joker?

A: I was not a practical joker.

Q: What’s the best practical joke you ever saw played?

A: The clubhouse guy in Cincinnati when I was a rookie, all the rookies, he had a cage, with a little tail sticking out and they said it was like a woodchuck or something. And they get the rookie to go look, and then they had the trap door, and it would come up and hit him in the face. I’ve seen that like five times. … They tried to do it to me and I wouldn’t go near it. I knew something was up.

Q: One last thing about the ’86 Mets: Why did you only win one World Series championship?

A: Well, there’s a lot of reasons. The ’87 team, I felt we had injuries, but St. Louis had injuries that year, too. We left spring training, and we didn’t have Roger [McDowell] for a month because he had an emergency appendix operation, so we lost him. And Doc [Gooden] didn’t come out with us, missed the first month. And in the course of the season [Bobby] Ojeda only started in seven games that year, he had a bad knee. Sid [Fernandez] had a balky knee, and down the stretch run, Ronnie, that critical game we lost to the Cardinals in September here, went down to pick up a bunt, and tore his ligament in his thumb, he was our best pitcher down the stretch. I really felt that ’87 we were gonna repeat, at least go win our division over the Cardinals. And that’s the year that really bothers me. ’Cause in ’88 we come back and win the division — we win 100 games.

Q: The December 1986 Kevin McReynolds trade, did you think that disrupted chemistry a little bit?

A: No, I did not. I think the right decision was to let Ray [Knight] go. Ray was kind of the unsung hero, he was the veteran guy, a right-hand hitter that hit seventh in our lineup, and was a perfect seventh hitter, a veteran, had a good year, but he was older. You had Howard [Johnson] and Kevin Mitchell waiting in the wings. They made their choice on Howard, and traded Mitchell, which was a shock. At that point, Howard early in his career was not a very good right-hand hitter. And he learned to become a good right-hand hitter as he got older, but that ’87 year, and ’88, he was an easier out, so it made us more vulnerable against left-hand pitching, where we had Kevin and Ray, right-handed bats, if they threw a left-hander at us in ’86, we had a counter for it, and we lost that.

Q: Are there first basemen today who you enjoy watching play the position?

A: I like [Eric] Hosmer with San Diego. I like him a lot. He hasn’t won a Gold Glove, I think he’s the best fielder in the league.

Q: Does he remind you of you?

A: No, not really. He’s good and solid. He’s not as agile as I am — as I was, I’m certainly not agile anymore. But he’s really a good fielder, got good hands.

Q: What would you tell these current Mets about how New York City embraces its champions?

A: I think that they’re going to see it on July 9, how the city embraces, the fans embrace the winners, their players — they don’t forget. Any team, it’s their objective just to win. But to win here — it’s been what, like 36 years now — and I still get people that come up to me if I’m in Manhattan, cab driver or whatever, and they still remember ’86. So it’s time for another one.

Q: What is your fondest memory of the ticker tape parade?

A: That Bobby Ojeda and I almost didn’t make it. We were up all night then we fell asleep, when we woke up, we didn’t shower, and we took a cab downtown to Battery Park where it started. And then there was a sea of people, and we’re going, “Oh, my God, we’re not gonna be able to get through this.” So it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. They let us through. Then there was this wrought-iron fence, and was pointing up in the air, and the people lifted Bobby and I up and over the gate and on the other side they were there to grab us and put us down, we went right to our cars (laugh).

Keith Hernandez
Paul J. Bereswill

Q: What did you guys do that night?

A:. We were all over the place. … We had a couple of places that I’d frequent … remember Columbus on 69th and Columbus? That was the hot spot. … It wasn’t a disco. … My brother was with me. He regrets, he didn’t get out of bed.

Q: Where were you guys staying?

A: My apartment.

Q: And Ojeda was there, too?

A: I don’t know how he wound up with me that night (laugh).

Q: You could say that about a lot of different people over the course of your life.

A: (Laugh)

Q: You’re Keith Hernandez, and it’s my honor. Congratulations.

A: Thank you so much.

Q: Nobody deserves it more.

A: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Keith Hernandez on Mets jersey retirement, career, ’86 team Source link Keith Hernandez on Mets jersey retirement, career, ’86 team

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