Keith Hernandez batted .294 over his 18-year Major League Baseball career. He shared the National League MVP Award in 1979, starred on two World Series champions, played in five All-Star games, won a batting title, 11 Gold Glove Awards in 11 consecutive seasons, holds the record for game-winning RBI, was named to the New York Mets all-time greatest team and is considered the best-fielding first baseman ever.
Wow! What an amazing career. Hernandez will be in Houston this weekend for Tristar Sports’ 34th annual Sports Memorabilia and Autograph Show at NRG Arena. Other sports heroes appearing for autograph sessions are Joe Montana, Lance McCullers, Randy Johnson, Ryne Sandberg, Yuli Gurriel, Brooks Robinson, and dozens more. Visit the official site for celebrities, tickets, and times.
I’d love to talk baseball with you, Keith Hernandez but I’ve got my priorities straight: Tell me about the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer and Newman accused you of spitting on them after a Mets game and you got to kiss Elaine! TV Guide ranked Seinfeld the “Greatest Show in Television History” and the two-part episode with Hernandez, titled “The Boyfriend,” the greatest episode of the greatest show. Even bigger wow!
CultureMap: What’s tougher, facing a Nolan Ryan fastball or not laughing doing a scene with George Costanza on Seinfeld?
Keith Hernandez: For me, the Seinfeld episode. But the funniest guy was Newman. It was hardest to keep a straight face when Newman and Kramer walked into Jerry’s apartment and saw that I was there. They brought up the game against Philadelphia where I made an error and cost the Mets the game and ruined their day and accused me of spitting on them.
CM: How did you get the role on Seinfeld? Did you call them or did they call you?
KH: It was 1991, the year after I retired from baseball. Ironically, they went through my last baseball agent, who wasn’t under my employ anymore. It was Scott Boras. They called him in Los Angeles and he called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this sitcom called Seinfeld?’
I was a baseball player and we play mostly night games, so I never watched prime time television. I still don’t. (Hernandez is a broadcaster for the Mets.) I didn’t know what the Seinfeld show was. Scott Boras said they just wanted me for a guest shot. And that’s how the ball got rolling. (The story goes, if Hernandez had said no, Seinfeld producers were going to ask Mets catcher Gary Carter.)
CM: Like most Seinfeld fans, I’ve seen every episode, oh, about 20 times and can practically recite the scripts by heart. Seinfeld seems to air on every station around the clock now. How many times have you seen your episode?
KH: I do not watch it. I’ve seen it twice, once when it first aired in 1992 and one other time. I just get embarrassed. I think I did OK, but it’s embarrassing to watch yourself. I had a ton of lines and I did memorize them and I didn’t screw up.” (Hernandez still receives $3,000 in royalties each year for his Seinfeld appearance.)
CM: What were you doing the year after you retired from baseball?
KH: I was doing nothing. I had back surgery and I was recovering from that. That’s why I retired at 37. It took me a year to recover. I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I was working my way back physically from a serious operation.
CM: When you were a kid, did you ever imagine that people would stand in line for your autograph or take a photo with you?
KH: Absolutely not. I grew up in California in the era of the San Francisco Giants and Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal. If they had sold baseball jerseys in my day like they do today, I would have had a Mickey Mantle jersey, number 7, on my back. Mickey Mantle was my idol. I happen to share a birthday with him. I certainly would have badgered my dad to take me to an autograph show like this weekend in Houston.
CM: When they sent you the script for the Seinfeld episode, could you envision how funny the show would be, or was it just words on a page?
KH: Just a lot of words and pages. I saw how many lines I had and immediately went into panic mode. During my playing days in New York, I had become friends with the actress Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl). I told her that I was petrified, that I was getting in over my head.
This was my first acting experience. She told me how to memorize lines. I read that script over and over until I was well versed with my lines. I was glad I did. I spent the whole week in Los Angeles doing the show. People only see the final product, but it starts Monday morning with a 7 o’clock call. All the principles and writers were there, and we went over the script, everybody contributing to make it better. I was just listening. On Wednesday they took away our scripts and we had to do a rehearsal. We did the final shoot on Saturday. I just thought that I better not screw up. It was a wonderful experience, but it was really, really stressful.
CM: When you were done shooting, did you have any idea that the episode would be a TV classic?
KH: I knew it was a very clever show, so well written. It was soon after the Kevin Costner film about the assassination of President Kennedy, and Seinfeld did a perfect parody of that. Larry David told me that Seinfeld didn’t really take off its first year, and they were going to run my episode during sweeps week in February of 1992.
He thought the show was a winner and wanted to make a splash with my episode. They wrote extra scenes to make it a two-part episode. Larry said the episode depended on me, and that I did fine. I’m not saying the show took off because of me, though. It took off because of the brilliance of the script. I feel like I barely passed the grade, I was just acceptable enough.
CM: Can you believe that you did that Seinfeld episode almost 30 years ago?
KH: Well, I’m looking at a Cardinals 1982 championship book and that’s almost 40 years ago. Time flies.
CM: When people meet you, is it a Seinfeld or baseball moment for them?
KH: Seinfeld. Baseball reaches people who are sports-minded in our society. Seinfeld reaches the whole country. When people see me, they laugh and say things from the episode like ‘Hey, pretty boy,’ or ‘can I help you move?’ or ‘what was it like kissing Elaine?’ or ‘and you want to be my latex salesman?’ or ‘I’m Keith Hernandez’ I get that a lot.
Meet Keith Hernandez and other celebrities at the Tristar Sports’ 34th annual Sports Memorabilia and Autograph Show. Show runs through Sunday, February 9 at NRG Arena (1 NRG Pkwy).