On a recent Saturday night at Citi Field, the Mets were getting killed. Down 5-0 in the top of the 9th inning, they had only one base hit, and were about to drop their third straight to the Yankees. In those three games, they had been outscored 29-1.
Late-night heroics didn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon, but the Mets broadcasting triumvirate of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling were on TV, and—as has often been this case during this disappointing season—were picking up the slack.
Gary: Bless you.
Keith: Did you hear that? I put on my cough button!
Gary: You were a little late.
Keith: I was tardy?
Ron: Were you tardy?
Gary: Your sneeze was in the catcher’s mitt.
Keith: It’s one of those sneezes that sneaks up on you!
A minute passed, and Mr. Cohen said, “Do you have something in your hand, Keith?”
The camera turned to the Mets broadcast booth above home plate. There was Mr. Hernandez, glasses pinched at his nose like a librarian, but still unmistakably the former star Mets first baseman from the 1980s—bushy mustache, a jock’s chest, dark hair, a head the size of a melon—holding a tiny silver box with a big red button in the middle.
The camera shot eventually turned back to the field. The announcers didn’t.
Keith: You know what happened to me once? I pressed the wrong button, and I thought I had the cough button on and I didn’t.
Ron: You pushed my button!
Gary: In other words, something went onto the air that wasn’t supposed to.
Keith: It wasn’t anything that got me into trouble.
Ron: On TV, Keith, you can say anything once.
Gary: Yeah, that’s true.
Keith: Are you sure?
Ron: Yeah, I’m sure!
Gary: You can say whatever you want right now! We just might not see you tomorrow.
The old adage for a good broadcast is that when things are going well, it’s like you’re having a conversation with the viewer at home.
Keith and Gary and Ron have done just that over the past four years, for 60 games a season, and about another 90 games using some combination of two of them. But the viewer they’re talking to is jaded, and cosmopolitan, and, not infrequently, a little bored with the Mets.
Keith and Gary and Ron don’t pull for their team. They remark, cruelly and accurately, on the Mets’ poor play. They voluntarily discuss the Mets’ horrific collapses of the last two Septembers. They digress.
This wouldn’t work in St. Louis, where approximately 100 percent of the supposed best fans in baseball wear red to the games, or on the North Side of Chicago, where there is a rich tradition of homerism in the booth. Nor would it work in the Bronx or in Boston, where the fans crave reinforcement of a smug certainty that their organization is different, and special, and superior.
What Keith and Gary and Ron do is something less obvious, and more difficult.
“They reflect the Mets fans’ mentality,” said Greg Prince, co-author of the excellent Mets fan blog Faith and Fear in Flushing. “Being a Mets fan is recognizing reality and accepting sometimes that things are too funny to be sad and sometimes too sad to be funny. It comes across in the three of them.”
Back in the booth, Mr. Cohen took a stab at returning to baseball.
“The Mets are trying to avoid being one-hit for the first time in nearly three years,” he said.
“We’re trying to avoid the highlight of this program being the audio-box display,” Mr. Darling responded.
For Eli's take on the SNY trio, click here.