Sag Harbor’s Keith Hernandez is a baseball legend. Honored as a five-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champion and Silver Slugger Award winner and 11-time Gold Glove Award winner, Hernandez mostly played first base for the New York Mets. Less baseball-minded people recognize Hernandez from when he played himself as Elaine Benes’s boyfriend in Seinfeld’s iconic two-episode storyline, “The Boyfriend,” which also featured “the spitting incident.”
But his new memoir, I’m Keith Hernandez, isn’t about any of that. Hernandez makes it clear from the beginning that his book won’t be just another baseball tell-all. He strives, in his well-written, conversational style, to make it more than that, to make it an insightful and compelling look into not only the world of baseball but also into his inner world. Baseball fans know that Hernandez always speaks his mind as a public figure, and his candor in his new book is intriguing and keeps readers who are not sports fans tuned in and committed to the journey Hernandez takes them on.
The memoir is divided into three major parts. The first is “Bricks and Mortar,” followed by “Get to Work” and then, “Consistency.” The first section is the most successful in fulfilling Hernandez’s goal of making his memoir stand apart from other books by baseball stars. This is where the reader really gets to see Hernandez before he became the legendary first baseman, and he’s not reluctant to share his struggles in making a name for himself as he comes up through the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Hernandez begins with his first spring training, reflecting on what it was like to leave behind the life he knew in Northern California to head to St. Petersburg, Florida. From the strict training schedule to trips to all-you-can-eat restaurants with the guys to less family-friendly content, Hernandez helps the reader understand how difficult it can be to achieve your dreams.
In between these excerpts, Hernandez provides flashbacks. These chapters are in italics to distinguish them, but the formatting choice can be distracting. This is a problem, as the meat of Hernandez’s story lies here—particularly when the excerpts involve his father, which they often do. This dynamic plays out through the book, and is key to understanding how Hernandez became the man he is and baseball player he was. Hernandez’s father is a complicated character. He pushes his son in ways that edge toward abuse, but he also makes it clear how much dedication and belief he has in his son from a very young age. Readers will be interested to see the differences between Hernandez and his brother, Gary, who also played baseball. Hernandez does well in the way he maps out these relationships in small sections, amid standard content you would expect in a baseball player’s memoir.
In addition to describing his experiences as a baseball player and his personal conflicts, Hernandez spends time discussing his current job as an analyst for New York Mets television broadcasts. He criticizes the current state of baseball, particularly the emphasis placed on the advanced technology involved in sabermetrics, one of the more popular trends in baseball and one that Hernandez is skeptical of. It’s refreshing to hear an outspoken and clearly passionate former star player opine about where he thinks baseball has taken a wrong turn. Hernandez could cause an apathetic baseball viewer to become fascinated by the complexities of the game.
If you are looking for tales of Hernandez’s days playing for the Mets, or a deeper look into his well-known cocaine usage, you won’t find it in this memoir. If you’re at all interested in baseball, or even if you’re just interested in the man himself—which you should be—I’m Keith Hernandez, full of insights and self-reflection, is a must-read.
I’m Keith Hernandez is available now at your local bookstore.