Saturday, February 04, 2006

Lion in Winter

The dinner at a Yonkers Italian restaurant had been hastily put together one fall evening in 1996. Some sort of card show for the 86 Mets was being put on and the dinner was part of the deal for the John Hancocks.

I found myself at a table having dinner with Mookie Wilson, Ed Hearn and Doug Sisk. Keith Hernandez came over to the table to say hello.

After he left Sisk said, "Best player I'd ever played with."

Hearn replied, "for me it was George Brett."

Quickly, Sisk emphasized, "I said the BEST player."

Somehow the conversation went elsewhere quickly, but Sisk's keen observation stayed with me. Sisk, who had also played with Cal Ripken, found Hernandez to be best at the game of any previous teammate. This is a strikingly rare, yet telling assessment of a man who could almost appear mystic in his relationship with the game.

His awareness of surroundings were astonishingly particular. He once told me at the batting cage during BP in Montreal that he found the color of the indoor stadium to convey an odd yellow hue. Sensitive to color he noted this on thrown balls to him in the infield.

He once snuffed out a squeeze play from the Cubs just by watching manager Jimmy Frye in the dugout. The Cubs knew afterwards that he had beaten them at their own game, too.

Hidden from view in the tunnel in Philadelphia he managed along with Davey Johnson and noted Davey putting on the hit and run with Ray Knight at the plate. "Sweet, Davey, sweet", he marveled. Johnson's back had been to Hernandez who even knew Davey's signs for his coaches on the bases. Few players go to this extreme to be aware of things.

A player survey was done once by the Sporting News in 1985, and along with Tony Gwynn, Hernandez was recognized as the most feared hitter in the National League with the game on the line. Perhaps if the Mets instead of the Cardinals had prevailed in 1985, Hernandez would have been league MVP and been the nudge that moved him to Hall of Fame status. Or maybe if he hadn't missed significant time in the later 80's for hamstring tears. Sisk might agree that Keith Hernandez is one of the BEST players not to be in the Hall of Fame.

Often reserved and aloof, I expected Hernandez to leave the game altogether after he retired. Maybe that acting career would work out. But perhaps he missed the rush of being in the game he grew to become so good at. And being able to watch and be with the game within the game satisfies the thirst.

It may yet be that the big stage that Hernandez will find himself on with NY Sports Net this summer will again distinguish him as one of the best at his craft.

I, for one, can't wait.


At 12:50 PM, Blogger Mets Guy in Michigan said...

What a great blog! I'm hooked. I hope to read many more of your stories!



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