2002-09-14 / Sports

Hernandez’s Dot Com

Flap Dashes CredibilityBaseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Hernandez's Dot Com
Flap Dashes Credibility
Baseball Columnist

You may not agree with Keith Hernandez's week-old assessment of the state of the Mets, in which he charged that the club had "no heart" and "quit a long time ago". But when the voice making those scathing and blunt statements doesn't particularly believe them either, what purpose do they serve?

Hernandez, a star with the Mets from 1983-1989 who now works as an analyst for the club's TV broadcasts, made his critical comments in a Sept. 3 column that was posted on the Madison Square Garden network web site. The words came as part of a 16-paragraph editorial penned following the Mets' 14th consecutive home loss on Sept. 1, which tied a National League record set in 1911.

The piece, Hernandez's second such work for the web site, sent ripples through the Mets clubhouse when a New York Post reporter brought them to light. Mike Piazza likened Hernandez to "a voice from the grave" and said that he should "call the FAN" with his thoughts, making back-page headlines in the next morning's papers.

And just like that, Hernandez flip-flopped his viewpoint. The man who was so adept at gracefully turning double plays across major league infields over a sixteen-year career was attempting to charge in and whip this issue away as though it were a slow-rolling ground ball.

"If it was something I said that I believed in, I would stand by it, and would go in the clubhouse and say that I stand by it," Hernandez said in a printed report. "But I was totally wrong to make that blanket accusation."

It's hard to concur with Hernandez's charge that an entire team of professional players had tanked their season without regret, despite the fact that they have played below expectations for the duration of the year. That aside, it's even more distressing to see Hernandez waffle on his signed assessment.

As a broadcaster, Hernandez has improved by leaps and bounds in his second season with the Mets, offering insightful and outspoken analysis that reminds of his predecessor, Tim McCarver. Largely unpopular with management due to his blunt commentary, McCarver - also a former player - was ousted from the broadcast booth after the 1998 season.

Perhaps wondering if he was sealing a similar fate for himself, Hernandez contacted MSG executives, who set up a rare opportunity for the former star to address the Mets in a closed-door ten-minute apology in the clubhouse. But it might have been Bobby Valentine's that most irked Hernandez, alleging that he was truly becoming "a full-fledged member of the media."

Oh, the horror of that. Former players treasure their connections to the stars of new, and hardly a week will go by that some person of years gone by won't stop by the ballpark to check in on the men who now don their uniforms. It's the same bond that draws graduated students back to their alma maters as alumni.

So it's easy to see why Hernandez was so irked when his words made waves with Valentine, Piazza and the rest of the Mets - his very image as a revered player was under attack. It was Valentine who personally invited the eleven-time Gold Glove winner to join the Mets in 2000 as a spring training tutor for free-agent signee Todd Zeile, who was attempting to make a transition from third base to first base.

Would such an olive branch be extended today? It's questionable. But the truth is that Hernandez was well on his way to becoming that maligned full-fledged member of the media, with his commentary drawing rave reviews from media critics and fans alike.

In retracting his statements and, furthermore, apologizing for them, Hernandez has damaged his credibility with both - perhaps irreparably.

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