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Big League Stew

Broadcaster Keith Hernandez refers to broken bat as ‘dead soldier’ during New York Mets’ Memorial Day game

Big League Stew

The value and propriety of camouflage-themed uniforms worn across Major League Baseball remains a subject open for debate. But it's harder to disagree on this: That someone broadcasting a game probably should not refer to a broken bat the way Keith Hernandez of WPIX did Monday.

Hernandez lost himself mentally in describing the result of New York Mets slugger Daniel Murphy getting his bat sawed into pieces on a pitch by Phil Hughes of the Yankees in the first inning. As the country observed Memorial Day, Hernandez uttered this figure of speech:

"Well, folks. That is a dead soldier right there, folks, laying on that infield dirt."

The New York Times tried to get a comment from Hernandez.

Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment after the game, but a spokesman for SNY said: “We’ll address the matter with Keith. It was an honest mistake and a poor choice of words.”

Perhaps the poorest, given the context of the day's meaning.

For reasons that will forever remain murky, referring to a broken bat as "a dead soldier," used to be a "thing" in baseball jargon. Look at it this way: If the player with the brain is the commander, or the general, directing all of the action, the bat is the infantryman, the grunt, the vanguard. So that's the metaphor. Metaphors are great, or can be. War metaphors, all of them, need to be retired. This one especially.

Hawk Harrelson of White Sox broadcasting fame is known for his colorful phrases, and he used to say stuff like, "Another dead soldier," after a player would break his bat. Other announcers probably have, too. And it's possible that, in some dugouts, players still chatter like that. A dugout is one thing, but TV or radio is another. And Harrelson stopped using the phrase, by my memory, around the time of the first Iraq war in 1990. Looking back, it's kind of surprising that Harrelson — whose playing prime came during the Vietnam War — would use the phrase at all because of Vietnam, when Americans couldn't watch the news or read a newspaper without finding out about "another dead soldier" coming home to rest. Was it based in some kind of absurd gallows humor?

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"Insensitive" and "inappropriate," don't do Hernandez's offense justice. At least 6,700 U.S. servicemen and women have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan — which doesn't count all of the others who have died and have been wounded on all sides. Worse, since Monday also was Memorial Day, it's simply beyond comprehension that he would be so unaware of the world around him. The camo uniforms, the moments of silence, the veterans being greeted at parks all of the league, the "God Bless America" ad infinitum. Hernandez somehow ignored all of the signs.

Mets broadcasts are among the best, and though most of it is the doing of play by play guy Gary Cohen, the analysts — including Hernandez — do their bit. An apology from Hernandez is due this time, and one likely is coming. But the Mets might want to think about using Ron Darling exclusively next Memorial Day. Maybe that will help Keith with his memory.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post had Daniel Murphy of the Mets being played by David Murphy of the Rangers. The Stew regrets the D. Murphy confusion.]

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