Unlike his baseball career, Keith Hernandez’s broadcast path was more improbable.
During his days at The Baseball Network or working Mets tilts on the Madison Square Network, Hernandez was a reluctant participant. That’s being kind. He couldn’t even be classified as a reluctant warrior because he wasn’t committed to the gig. Hernandez, uncertain of what he wanted to do the rest of his life, would admit that his preparation was lacking. And that’s being kind.
After he worked an A’s-Yankees game on TBN, then New York Times sports media columnist Richard Sandomir described Hernandez’s performance thusly: “He was banal, obvious, condescending and lacking the basics of communication.” Tough stuff. Yet at the time, so darn true.
Somewhere between those sorry booth days for Hernandez, and his No. 17 being retired by the Mets Saturday, the light went on for him and he was “inspired” to put in the work necessary to succeed in the broadcast booth. Most importantly, that includes gladly revealing his personality to the masses tuning into Mets telecasts on SportsNet New York. The fans fell for this quirky, kvetch, who can — at the same time — be funny, self-deprecating and, yes, condescending.
The role Hernandez occupies fits famously with his boothmates Ron Darling, the no-babble artist who picks his spots choosing his words carefully, and Gary Cohen, the precise play-by-play voice known for his command of Mets history. The trio has been together for 17 seasons. During that time Hernandez (as the late Al McGuire would say) has “flown beyond the trees.”
Yet, as he reaches this point in his broadcasting career, now an officially anointed Mets icon, is Hernandez caught in a trap built by his own success? Is he more about his personal shtick than pure baseball content? Eyeballs are more apt to see an SNY.TV video clip on Twitter of Hernandez using the word “stroke” as a double entendre on the air rather than him breaking down a 3-6-3 double play. Or video of Hernandez charging his electric car by plugging it into the SNY production truck. Or Hernandez breaking a camera in the booth with his pen (It’s not coming out of my paycheck; you’ve got insurance on this thing.”)
There’s nothing wrong with Hernandez being personality driven. There have been many denizens of the broadcast booth known for their humor. Semi-pro comedians, like the late Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner and Phil (Scooter) Rizzuto who both enjoyed fruitful/long broadcast careers. Kiner became more well known for his malaprops. Yet when it got right down to the real nitty-gritty, Ralphie Boy’s analysis was unique; his opinions strong. The Scooter was a loveable pinstriped pom-pom waver known for his early escapes from the Ch. 11 booth, fear of lightning, birthday wishes and gifted cannoli’s.
The two of these guys were certified characters. The fact Hernandez fits the description is no small feat. Developing a widely identifiable persona during a baseball broadcast, for nearly two decades, cannot be contrived. It comes spontaneously. It takes some soul too. Now, for Hernandez, the trick is to lean into it — not always rely on it.
For there is a fine line between character and caricature.
ENOUGH WITH GALLO
Anyone else tired of Joey Gallo talk?
Gordon Damer (ESPN-98.7) brought sense to the Valley of the Stupid by pushing back on Gallo detractors Thursday. Damer, working afternoon drive with Dan Graca, explained to the brigade of whiners, that the Yankees were 59-23 and there’s plenty of time for GM Brian Cashman to deal with the situation. Damer reasoned Yankee fans were ripping the offensively challenged Gallo because they can’t handle prosperity and need something to complain about.
More importantly, by shutting down Gallo callers, Damer was endorsing listenable sports-talk radio. Call after call moaning about Gallo, and hosts happily indulging this swill, is nothing more than Shlock Radio.
Shortly after news broke Thursday that WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner pled guilty to drug charges in a Moscow area court, Tiki Barber tackled the news on the fly and all the issues surrounding it.
It was a fine moment for Barber, who was working solo on WFAN. He weighed the politics of the Griner situation and social issues involved. He discussed “prisoner” swap options too. Callers, obviously tired of FAN’s micro-coverage of the Yankees (including ripping Gallo) and the Mets, weighed in heavily on the issue. It was compelling stuff.
Most impressive was how Barber handled the callers, many who disagreed with his take on Griner’s predicament. Instead of dismissing them quickly, Barber engaged each one. This led to thought-provoking debate about a subject that has not been discussed in-depth on WFAN.
The Griner talk gave Barber the chance to spread his wings. He demonstrated, again, that he’s not just a sports guy.
ALL RISE! FOR CONTRACT TALKS
The more the Yankees AL East lead increases, the brighter the media spotlight on Aaron Judge’s contract situation gets.
As the halfway mark of the season approaches, Hal Steinbrenner decided to talk to boss scribes who were more interested in the Judge contract than any other stories involving the Bombers. If the Yankee lead increases it will be the only pinstriped issue worth discussing.
And any scintilla of news about Judge will be treated as major. Like when he sat out Thursday in Boston with calf soreness.
AROUND THE DIAL
When he’s in a pinch for something to talk about, count on Norman Julius Esiason to play the Mekhi Becton card. Esiason, Friday on FAN, listed all the “terrible” things that could happen to the Jets offensive lineman should he show up to training camp overweight. It appears NJE would not be disappointed if Becton came in heavy. It would give him something to talk about. … Wonder how many promotional interviews the once taciturn Derek Jeter will do in advance of the July 18 debut of his ESPN documentary series? Anyone connected with the project is portraying Jeets as suddenly talkative. … What is more important to the NBA media? Where is Kevin Durant traded to? Or who breaks the story of where he is traded to first? … Roger Goodell obviously is not sweating the Deshaun Watson case. At least not when he is kvelling to CNBC that Sunday Ticket will end up on a streaming service. Just another sign Goodell is only about the $$$$$ and believes the NFL and its fans are recession proof. … While Christopher (Mad Dog) Russo is busy with three gigs (SXM, High Heat, ESPN’s FirstTake) perhaps he can squeeze another one, at the Tennis Channel, in. Doggie went wall-to-wall Wimbledon last week.
* * *
DUDE OF THE WEEK: DICK VITALE
The veteran ESPN college hoops analyst has been through hell the past year getting past cancer. Yet he hasn’t lost a bit of his passion for the collegiate athletic arena. Dickie V blasted the cockeyed move of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten and called it for what it is, tweeting: ”EGO & most of all GREED take precedent.”
DWEEB OF THE WEEK: BAKER MAYFIELD HATERS
The QB led the Browns to their only postseason win of this century. In return, he got static. The abuse he has absorbed for taking a step back in his game is way out of line. Mayfield has barely dented the salary cap. He is not a bust. A fresh start in Carolina might just reignite his game.
What Hal Steinbrenner said: “There’s no doubt we’re hopeful that (along-term deal with Aaron Judge) is the case. But there’s a lot of discussion to be had and I’m always willing to talk.”
What Hal Steinbrenner meant to say: “Talk is cheap. It appears that I’m going to pay-up, big-time.”