Keith Hernandez played his last big league baseball game the same year I was born. I’ve never even seen Seinfeld—not just the arc in which Hernandez dates Elaine, but any episode at all. And yet, in the year two thousand and eighteen, Keith Hernandez is one of the baseball figures I would be most likely to recognize if I saw him walking down the street. The iconic mustache helps, of course, but Hernandez has remained part of the cultural conversation around baseball in ways that few players of his era have, in large part due to his work as a color commentator for the (locally, at least) beloved Mets broadcast team.
Just recently, he started putting a face to those takes on Twitter, where his account proves that the most disarming quality for a famous person to have is (at least the appearance of) unselfconscious normalcy. Keith’s tweets, which read like texts from my grandmother if she periodically wrote run-on sentences about Mets’ starting rotation (and sometimes she does), earned a “genius” designation from The New York Times. That might be a bit much, but he does nimbly capitalize on the infallible combination of the social internet and cat videos. So, naturally, the first things we asked Hernandez about when he stopped by the office last week was his 15-year-old Bengal cat, Hadji.
Hernandez’s renewed interest in his long-dormant Twitter account (as well as the publicity tour that included a stop at Deadspin) are part of a promotional effort for his new memoir, I’m Keith Hernandez. The book covers only the early years of his career (gotta leave room for a sequel) and covers them, I would say, extensively. I have subjected myself to a lot of sports “auto”biographies as part of my job here and they are not usually quite so revelatory about the extracurriculars associated with being a pro athlete—which is entirely to Hernandez’s credit. He writes about the time his minor league squad hired a pair of prostitutes, the best weed he ever smoked, performance-enhancing amphetamine usage, and the venereal diseases he contracted during his uh playing career. Asked about the level of potentially damning details he included, Hernandez explained he only wrote about any incidents that had already been made public.
Incidentally, this includes a very public airing of his feelings about women in baseball. Although the chronological coverage of his playing years stops before he’s traded to the Mets, some contemporary chapters cover his broadcast career. In one of these, Hernandez addresses a 2006 incident in which the cameras caught a female member of the Padres’ training staff high-fiving a player and he remarked on the air that, “Women don’t belong in the dugout.” Back then, he apologized for the remark. When we discussed it, though, he quibbled over whether, as a massage therapist, the woman in question even counted as a trainer. And while baseball itself is changing, his opinions on what roles women should or even could have in the game seem about the same as they’ve always been.
Hernandez couches this stance as a generational issue, which may be a correct identification of how systematic sexism works, but is not quite the same thing as grappling with it. In doing this, he implicitly linked his resistance to it to his ongoing skepticism of the sabermetrics revolution. He’s an insightful and intelligent guy, and charming in his grouchy way, but Hernandez is proudly change-averse when it comes to the game he grew up in.
That said, he does have the right take on the designated hitter.