I like Keith Hernandez, but as a TV commentator, he has weaknesses.Leaving aside the "what's that betty doing in the dugout" incident, Hernandez tends to dwell more than I'd like on the kind of analysis Bill James calls "Old Ballplayers Never Die" — the "in my day, we used to play offense and defense uphill, both ways, in the snow, and we fought off bad hops with a loose-leaf notebook" remarks bemoaning various changes in the game.
When he's in the booth with Gary and Ron, I don't notice it as much, or it reads as an almost Catskills-humorous contrast to the better researched, less self-serious comments of the other two — and compared with the customary idiocies of Michael Kay et al. in the Yankee booth, it's practically a cold drink — but an entire book's worth is too much, and as a result, Shea Good-Bye is a disappointment.Hernandez is smarter than most ex-players and has always chosen good co-writers, and in his defense (I guess), the portentous tone is not new; he strays into I, Pompous Veteran territory any number of times in If At First as well.
It's just not leavened here, and I might not really have noticed it if Hernandez and Matthew Silverman had provided more behind-the-scenes information or a more in-depth investigation of the 2008 season.The book bills itself right on the back cover as "a behind-the-scenes look at the Mets' final season at Shea," and as individual-team seasons go, that one provided no shortage of drama on and off the field, but Hernandez doesn't tell us anything we don't know about, say, what led to Randolph's ouster, or the decision to keep Ryan Church off the DL.Hernandez is typically unenlightening about the dust-up between himself and Jose Reyes, after an on-field Reyes mini-tantrum lit the fuse on a typical Hernandez rant about manners and class in baseball today:
I won't go into specifics of my conversation with Jose on the plane after the game.He was upset; I was not.He said his piece; I said my piece. … Based on the comments Jose gave to the media, he still seems to think that I criticized him about the error.If that is really what he thinks, he doesn't get it and he never will. (127)
Okay, except: no.Reyes made it quite clear at the time that he got upset about making an error, and felt that he had the right to do so because he takes the game seriously; he then got more upset because you aired him out on TV for setting a bad example for kids.I don't like Reyes, I think he's a high-strung brat, and I agree with Hernandez as far as the initial event, but Hernandez's take on it here is just as off-putting, from a different angle.If you criticize a player's play, well, that's baseball, as it were.That's your job, he has to roll with that kind of thing, et cetera.But if you criticize his personality, and he doesn't like that, it doesn't mean he didn't "get it."It doesn't mean you're wrong, either, factually or ethically.It just means he doesn't like it, and slanting the story so you come off all cool and collected in the face of Reyes's comparative immaturity — or at least that's the implication — doesn't really tell us anything except that even a broken shortstop is right twice a day.
Hernandez tells us what he thinks about various things instead of shedding any new light on them, and that isn't per se uninteresting, except that Hernandez frequently uses topics I wanted to hear more about as jumping-off points for stalking-horse subjects on which I usually disagree with him.Hernandez pet peeves include: pitch counts (he's against them, apparently because nobody bothered with them 25 years ago); "pencil pushers" in the front office (the old "if you didn't play yourself, you Can't Get It" chestnut, underscored with an actual reference to a computer's inability to measure a player's "heart" — uch); the new, smaller ballparks favor power in the lineup, which corrupts the grand old game as played by Wee Willie Keeler with lots of speed and defense blah the games go too long blah all those home runs are boring you kids get off my lawn; and the related contention that the American League "style of" baseball is inferior:
This Texas club reminds me of the American League teams from my generation.They hit with power but they have lousy defense and absolutely horrible pitching. (101)
The 2008 Brewers typify what Milwaukee teams have always been: an old-fashioned American League team with good hitting, team speed, and lots of power but too many guys who strikeout a lot and bad defense — and they don't run the bases very well either. (229-30)
Silverman might have reminded Hernandez that AL teams have a pretty big lead in interleague wins so far and that the AL tends to win the All-Star Game.Hernandez would only accept this as proof that the game is all fucked up, of course; I'm just saying, "different" isn't by definition "worse."Chicks dig the long ball, #17.Get with the now.
I wanted to like the book, I really did.I enjoyed learning that Hernandez takes an afternoon siesta each day, as I do.But between the numerous typos (it's "RickEy Henderson," for God's sake), the malapropisms (the expression is "titanic home run," not "titanium home run"), and the sniffy moralizing about modern "bandbox" stadiums and how the game was played "the right way" during Hernandez's career, I ended up hurrying through it to get it over with.Yes, the game looked different back then — fewer home runs, more complete games.The game also had big wads of chewing tobacco, Omar Moreno, and cocaine, and I don't judge Hernandez for his drug involvement, I really don't.His after-the-fact bathing of Whitey Herzog's ass in sloppy smooches after Herzog traded him to New York for a couple of nobodies specifically to rid himself of Hernandez's nose-candy issues does strike me as undignified, but I don't judge Hernandez for that, either.
But for a guy who had a widely-known problem with a stimulant to complain that the games take too long nowadays doesn't sit real well with me.A bigger bitch than I might wonder aloud whether Hernandez even remembers all the senior-circuit games of yore to which he unfavorably compares today's breed.I, however, will confine myself to remarking that the book, while not a bad overview of a frustrating Mets season, is not the "inside story" of anything except Hernandez's self-regard, which is a good deal larger than merited. Worthwhile skim for Mets fans; everyone else can skip it. I wish I had.
Tags: Bill James Bolivian marching powder books city living curmudgeoning Gary Cohen Jose Reyes Keith Hernandez Matthew Silverman Michael Kay Omar Moreno Rickey Henderson Ron Darling Ryan Church unearned self-importance Wee Willie Keeler Whitey Herzog Willie Randolph