St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather

printer version

Hybrid Hernandez hedging his bets in NLCS

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 2000

NEW YORK -- When Keith Hernandez was a young star with the Cardinals visiting New York on a road trip, he always took the team bus straight to Shea Stadium, hung in the claustrophobic hotel bar at night, and avoided the imagined perils of the big city.

"New York wasn't one of my favorite places. I never had a great time here," Hernandez was saying Monday. "Stupid me. How dumb was I?"

As it turned out, the former first baseman and Seinfeld guest wasn't dumb at all. Just a bit under-informed. The most famous hyphenated Cardinal-Met in history eventually came to love New York, now his permanent home, while learning the sort of diplomacy that has him hedging on his predictions for the upcoming series.

"The two best teams in the National League are playing," said Hernandez, who will soon get his real estate license to go along with the acting gigs. "I think the Cards are the best, but it's very, very tough to say. I'll just say it's going to seven games."

In this rivalry, Hernandez knows the geography (just west of the Mississippi vs. just west of the No. 7 tracks), the architecture (arch vs. unisphere), the baseball heartbeat of both places. He understands the more patient, forgiving St. Louis fans and the more demanding, suffocating New Yorkers.

His career path went in the right direction, from Midwest to Mid-Apple, or else Hernandez might not have endured close to 17 seasons, driving in 1,071 runs with a lifetime batting average of .296.

Shortly after he came up from the minors in St. Louis, the Cards traded away Joe Torre after the 1974 season to the Mets to make space at first for Hernandez. So there was a great deal of self-imposed pressure on him, and he did not immediately fare well.

Hernandez batted just .250 in 64 games in 1975 and didn't really break out into All-Star numbers until 1979, when he led the league with a .344 average.

"I came up highly touted, and struggled my rookie year," Hernandez said. "I might not have survived that in New York. The fans in St. Louis support their team, they stick by 'em longer. The New York fans demand results and are less inclined to hang in there early.

"On the other hand, I've been in St. Louis when we didn't draw flies."

By the time Hernandez was traded by Whitey Herzog to the Mets on June 15, 1983, for reliever Neil Allen and starter Rick Ownbey, he arrived without the worrisome preconceptions.

"The only fear I had was going to a last-place team," he said.

That changed soon enough, and Hernandez became a huge part of the championship season in 1986. The Venezuelan-born player, nicknamed "Mex" by map-challenged teammates, had the looks, the quotes and the charisma to captivate the city. He was full of himself, in a self-confident, New York kind of way.

In his Seinfeld cameo stint, Elaine dated Hernandez and wondered, "Who does he think he is?" while Hernandez was thinking, "I'm Keith Hernandez." In New York during the '80s, and then the early '90s, that was more than enough.

Asked now if he considers himself a Cardinal or Met, Hernandez takes a moment before responding.

"I have nothing but fond memories of both places," he said. "I have lots of friends in St. Louis. But I think I'm a Met. Yeah."

Hernandez rarely watches baseball closely anymore, he said. He will be watching this series. He thinks St. Louis is better and that, "you cannot underestimate the value of playing Game 1 and Game 7 at home." But he likes the pitching matchups for the Mets.

"I like Leiter and Hampton vs. their lefty hitters, and I like the lefties out of the Met bullpen," he said.

Back to Sports
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Contact the Times | Privacy Policy
Standard of Accuracy | Terms, Conditions & Copyright

From the Times sports desk


  • Erring it out
  • Game balls
  • Fire and ice
  • Heroically, WR Green bursts from shadows
  • Quick hits
  • Special teams bolstered
  • Defensive plan foiled by Moss
  • Photo gallery
  • Hubert Mizell

  • The offense gives hope
  • Baseball

  • Hybrid Hernandez hedging his bets in NLCS
  • Sasaki, Mariners a perfect fit
  • Neagle gets call for Yanks
  • McGwire sees DH duty in his future
  • Lightning

  • Eventually, Ludzik says no changes
  • College football

  • B-CC: Zero losses, not much more respect
  • A switch that's easy to defend
  • Bowden kicks around
  • Sports etc.

  • Columbus a pushover for Palffy-powered Kings
  • McLemore looks for better
  • Captain's Corner
  • Fair Play awards go to Mutiny
  • Two finish tied in Boston 10K
  • Around the NFC
  • Around the AFC
  • Youthful vet fuels fierce Miami D
  • Brother of Colts' James shot, critically injured
  • Miller's remarks don't go by the (Ouija) boards
  • 'Magical debris' irks Rudd
  • New athletic facility to be built at HCC
  • New coach has Yellow Jackets talking baseball
  • Diaz not just surviving, but making an impact
  • Foursome of young players keeping Canterbury on top

  • From the wire

    From the state sports wire
  • Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
  • FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
  • Brown anxious to face old team for first time
  • Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
  • Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
  • Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
  • No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
  • FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts