The Field General – Keith Hernandez

During the mid 1980’s my niece and I went to Shea often during the summers – our schedules just worked out that way.  Sitting up in the third tier behind home plate, we had a great view of the whole field.  Hilary would take out her program and write the lineup in it so that she could keep score. She was in her early teens and our seat neighbors – usually guys – would look at her in awe, but she knew her baseball.

These were the Golden Years of the Mets and the place rocked.  Davey Johnson had a great line-up,and he knew it.  He also had a first baseman like no other I’d ever seen – Keith Hernandez – nicknamed the “Field General” who wasn’t always at first base, a guy who would sneak up towards home to catch the bunt, or he’d go over and counsel the pitcher  and he’d check the outfield to make sure the guys were in position.  He simply couldn’t stand still or keep quiet.

Nowadays, Keith shares the SNY broadcast booth with Gary Cohen and Ron Darling. It’s a top notch crew.  Still unafraid to call them as he sees them Keith  has been known to go down to the clubhouse or onto the field before a game to speak to an errant player.  I hope they pay attention because they are getting tips and suggestions from the best first baseman I ever saw.

His book about the 1985 season is called “If At First –  A Season with the Mets” was written with Mike Ryan and  has been in my bookcase since it was published.  It is the story of a year of baseball in Keith’s life and it will take you back to a life well lived  at first base in Shea Stadium and the other stadiums around the league. Keith is a surprisingly good author – and the format of the book – like a diary with every day of the season covered – gives you the real Keith – all the happenings of the day, good and bad, on and off the field.

Here’s an excerpt from the cover:

“According to the New York Times, Keith Hernandez is a “consummate pro with the intensity of an artist”.  In this rousing first-person account, the Gold Glove first baseman takes readers onto the field and into the clubhouse to capture all the drama and excitement of the New York Mets’ 1985 season.

For Hernandez – one of the most talented, thoughtful, and respected players in the game – it was a season of great anguish and great accomplishment.  In spite of a pending divorce trial, public testimony about cocaine use among ballplayers, a brief strike, and one of the worst batting slumps of his career, Hernandez managed to lead the Mets brilliantly in their stirring drive down the stretch.

This is the story of one ballplayer, one ball team, and one highly anticipated season – from the first pitch to the final out.  It is also the story of a way of life – As Keith Hernandez has lived it, as only he could tell it.”

The Mets have had some fine first basemen since ‘Mex’ retired – John Olerud, for instance and even this early, the young Ike Davis shows some promise. I’m sure many of his fans wished that Keith would return and manage, but he didn’t.  He took some time away from the game and then returned – to the broadcast booth.

I can still  see Keith being a hands on, top notch manager with all the skills he has, but he’s opted for sharing the booth with Ron and Gary.

That makes it an All Star Broadcast.