Keith Hernandez Had Never Heard of ‘Seinfeld’ But Took 15 Grand to Guest Star on It Anyway
It’s not that New York Mets legend Keith Hernandez didn’t want to appear on Seinfeld when his agent called him with the offer to be Jerry’s new best pal. It’s that he’d never heard of the show. “For some reason, Jerry conceived this show where I was his favorite player,” Hernandez said this week on The Rick Eisen Show. “I didn't watch any primetime TV because we played night games. I didn't know the Seinfeld show.”
In Hernandez’s defense, he says, it was only the show’s second season so Seinfeld had not yet become SEINFELD. So really, only one question was germane: “How much are they going to pay me?” His agent laid out the deal: Fifteen grand and the show will fly you first class to Los Angeles for a week. OK, said Hernandez, now retired and acknowledging he had nothing else better to do. He’d do Seinfeld, especially since his agent assured him he’d probably have minimal lines. (And if Hernandez would have said no? Seinfeld and crew had Mets catcher Gary Carter as a back-up plan.)
But when Hernandez got his FedExed script the day before his flight, he learned that his part was pretty darn substantial, which was … a problem. “I’d never acted,” he confessed. “I didn't want it. I never took a class and it was nothing I aspired to be.” So Hernandez did what anybody would do in his shoes — he placed a phone call to four-time Oscar nominee Marsha Mason for some advice. For some reason, her acting tips centered on how to memorize lines — a valuable skill but not exactly the key to a great sitcom performance.
Hernandez got his lines down cold, but “I was petrified that whole week” for an episode that TV Guide ranked #4 on its 1997 list of the Greatest TV Episodes of All Time. Luckily, the Met didn’t need to resort to Method techniques to deliver the goods. “I was basically playing myself,” he said. Not basically, Keith. You were playing yourself. It’s right there in the punchline: “I’m Keith Hernandez.”
Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster, still stays in touch with Seinfeld. “We have him in the booth once a year,” he told Eisen. “We have him for like an inning and he’s terrific.”
Appearing on Seinfeld “certainly was one of the two greatest experiences of my life,” Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times. “Playing major league baseball for 17 years, playing in two World Series, that has to rank No. 1. But being on that sitcom has to rank No. 2.”
And back to Hernandez’s initial question: How much are they going to pay me? A lot more than $15,000, as it turns out. In 2015, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he continues to get checks every time the two-part episodes run in syndication. “So it gives me around $3,000 per year. I'll take it,” he reported. In true Seinfeld fashion, he says, the cash arrives “for doing nothing.”