Keith Hernandez Exclusive Interview: Idolizing Mickey Mantle, ’86 Mets, SNY, etc.

Rob Lep

Keith Hernandez is a five-time National League All-Star, the 1979 NL Most Valuable Player and a two-time World Series Champion with the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

Hernandez spent 17 seasons in Flushing after being traded to the Mets on June 15, 1983, for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.

Hernandez spoke to Sports illustrated exclusively while promoting the newly released paperback edition of his new book “I’m Keith Hernandez” earlier this year at Book Culture, a book store located in Long Island City, NY.

The name, of course, comes from his two-episode cameo appearance on the popular sitcom Seinfeld back in 1992, where he made this line famous.

He currently serves as a baseball analyst for the New York Mets television broadcasts on SportsNet New York (SNY) alongside his former teammate Ron Darling and play-by-play broadcaster Gary Cohen.

Growing up, Hernandez idolized New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. They had the same birthday, October 20th.

“I was always a Mickey Mantle fan,” Hernandez explained. “I was born on his birthday so when I was six or seven and got his first baseball card and looked on the back, I was sold on Mickey Mantle.”

Mantle’s stats are ridiculous. A 20-time All-Star, 7x World Series champion, and 3x AL MVP. Mantle is regarded as one of the greatest switch hitters of all time. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

Hernandez’s book really focuses on his journey to becoming the Keith Hernandez we all know today. The star athlete, his outgoing personality and sense of humor and extremely successful broadcaster that fans love in his post-baseball career.

“It wasn’t just a yellow brick road. It was a lot of adversity I had to fight through.”

He was drafted by the Cardinals in 1971 and spent time in the minors including with the Triple-A Tulsa Oilers in 1973 before making his MLB debut on August 30, 1974.

In 1975, they sent him back down to Triple-A Tulsa.

The book ends right after his MVP season in 1979. He hit 11 home runs, had 105 runs batted in and finished with a .344 batting average.

“To be lucky enough to fulfill a childhood dream to be a major league player, how good is that? I feel very fortunate," Hernandez said.

He was born in San Francisco and grew up in Pacifica and Millbrae, California. Hernandez lived with a father who was a former ballplayer himself.

His dad John suffered a career-ending injury after he was hit by a wild pitch, thus ending his baseball dream.

Hernandez’s father took that passion for baseball and frustration from the ending of his own playing career and put that into Keith and his brother Gary. Living “vicariously” through them. He started teaching them the fundamentals of the game when they were six years old and was very hard on him.

As he describes in the book, after his MVP season in 1979, Hernandez came home to see his family. Hernandez was greeted to quite a surprise. His dad set up the projector in the living room.

“This was when I knew you had something special,” Hernandez recalls his father saying. “I was 11 years old in a little league uniform…. 11 really? Ok (laughing). I was stunned.”

You can’t talk to Keith or any other member of the old school Mets without bringing up their iconic championship back in 1986, the last title won by the team.

They went 108-54, clinching the NL East division crown. After knocking out the Houston Astros in six games in the NLCS, the Mets sealed their second title in franchise history, coming back from down 3-2 to the Boston Red Sox and clinching the championship in front of their home fans.

“We fulfilled our dream … it takes 25 to win. Five coaches, one manager, GM and front office. Seven months counting spring training. Every team comes in with one goal. To be a world champion. Only one comes out to be that. I was very fortunate. A very, very gratifying team feeling.”

Hernandez has served as a baseball analyst at SNY since its launch in 2006.

The Emmy-Award winning Mets broadcast booth is known for having one of the top broadcast booths in all of baseball.

Hernandez in particular, has won three Emmy Awards for best "Sports Analyst" for his work on SNY in 2009, 2012, and 2015.

The popular sports media website Awful Announcing has ranked SNY’s broadcast team in their top four baseball broadcast booths the last five years in their annual rankings.

Hernandez has high praise for his colleague and broadcast partner, Cohen. Hernandez was inducted into the NYS Baseball Hall of Fame last year alongside Cohen at the induction ceremony in upstate New York last year.

“We have the best play-by-play guy in Gary Cohen. The play-by-play guy is the maestro, the orchestra leader," Hernandez said. Ronnie [Darling] and I are a member of the band. It’s up to Gary to bring us both in. We all get along. There’s no egos in the booth. Ronnie has the pitching angle and I have the hitting angle. Fans get a full measure of what’s happening in the game. I’m always flattered when people say they love our broadcasts.”

Comments (1)

I'm sure it's just a typo of sorts, but Keith did not spend "17 seasons in Flushing after being traded... June 15, 1983" Hernandez spent 17 seasons in Flushing after being traded to the Mets on June 15, 1983, for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.