[New York Magazine, 20 April 2009]
As told to Richard Morgan
New York was the last place I wanted to be, down there with Cleveland, Oakland, and Detroit. I was a guy from San Francisco, and I had already made something of myself, winning the World Series with the Cardinals, so it’s not like I was some kid getting off at the bus station in midtown all full of wonder. And nobody wants to be traded mid-season.
But I joined the Mets in June 1983. At first I was put up in a hotel at La Guardia, which was a terrible existence. I eventually moved to Greenwich until I got divorced. Then Rusty Staub, a New York fixture, told me, “Look, man, if you’re going to be single, don’t live in Connecticut. It’s all in the city.”
So I rented a place for a year until Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner who was also a real-estate guy, offered to sell me a condo at 49th and Second. It had been decorated by some interior decorator in Chicago, and they put all my clothes and luggage in a pile ten feet high—no lie—in the middle of the living room. Ed Lynch, a starting pitcher, was crashing with me while his condo was being finished. I went out one day, and when I came back he had unpacked all my stuff. I got his dinners for a month after that.
We’d go downtown. Soho was this pocket of the city where you could just get out of a cab, wander around, and have a great night no matter what. And I really got into the restaurants. You know, you could do a ball game and then still have dinner after. At eleven! That doesn’t happen in the Midwest. Fanelli’s, Palladium, Chin Chin, Smith & Wollensky, Lutèce … And you’d be a fool to live here and not take advantage of the cultural stuff. So I would go to Broadway plays and even some operas. I met Plácido Domingo backstage once. The guy is a huge baseball fan, and he said “Sorry, I have a cold, I sang like a .230 hitter. Next time, I promise I’ll be a .300 singer for you.”
Back then, of course, the Mets were terrible, so I would be incognito. As we got better, I would go out and it would be all or nothing. Nobody would recognize me or they all would. And, man, for about six weeks after we won the ’86 World Series, I couldn’t pay for dinner anywhere in the city. People would, I kid you not, send over bottles and bottles of free Cristal. Ridiculous. It’s one thing to become a New Yorker; it’s so much weirder to become a New Yorker that all the other New Yorkers know.
–Keith Hernandez, Former Mets first baseman, arrived 1983
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