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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28:  Former major league baseball player Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets looks on before a game against the Washington Nationals on April 28, 2011 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.  The Nationals won 4-3.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Keith Hernandez; Behold a mustache in peril.

keith hernandez

Keith Hernandez’s Mustache May Not Be Long for This World

If you have watched television — particularly local sports programming — over the last decade or so, you have almost certainly laid eyes upon the omnipresent Just for Men commercial featuring Keith Hernandez and Walt Frazier, or perhaps the sequel that added Emmitt Smith to the mix. With rhyming jeers of "No play for Mr. Gray," and "Your beard is weird," the sporting gentlemen harass hoary singles while boasting their own bushy, jet-black lip fur. And, as Richard Sandomir of the Times reports (and has long reported), both Hernandez and Frazier owe their age-defying hues to frequent and contractually obligated dips into endless stockpiles of free Just for Men. From a piece in 2008:

Just for Men prefers that Hernandez’s mustache be of a continually dark hue; the company does not mind if he keeps his hair dark, too, but his deal is strictly facial. Two executives have the additional corporate assignment of contacting him when they spot his color fading and suggest that it is time for a touch-up.

TWO executives! While one sleeps, the other stares. And that's why Hernandez (and Frazier, though he's apparently never needed encouragement) has rarely worn even a touch of gray (though that could also be accommodated).

As Sandomir points out, though, Just for Men has finally put an end to that delightfully cheesy ad campaign, instead turning to some sort of hirsute baby as the lone spokesman. Without any incentive for upkeep, Hernandez has allowed the gray in his mustache to peek through and is — you might want to sit down for this — considering removing the legendary mouthbrow entirely:

He announced the possibility of shaving it last week on a Mets broadcast. But Hernandez, 58, said Monday that he might simply show up for the Mets’ final game of the season, on Oct. 3, with nothing but bare skin between his nose and upper lip.

“I don’t want to draw attention to it,” he said by telephone from his home in Jupiter, Fla. “I’ll do it, and whoever’s watching the game will see it.”

Yes, a mustache that starred in Seinfeld and was once voted the top sports mustache ever might be pronounced dead in as low-key a setting as an October Mets game. If anything, this is reason to keep watching the Mets.

Meanwhile, this Knicks fan is wondering if Frazier might also relax without any contractual stipulations in place. Clyde's beard — a bushy, rectangular frame for his national treasure of a mouth with a wide soul patch for extra support — has always been black as coal. What if he were to let it gray or, worse, go clean-shaven for the first time since the beginning of his playing career? What would we do with ourselves? And what if Knicks coach Mike Woodson has been borrowing free samples to maintain his eminently fuzzy and impossibly dark beard? What about all the old guys the Knicks just signed?

Too much is at stake. We need Keith and Clyde back in commercials, and we need them back on their mandatory gel-application schedules. These new ad campaigns with their stupid furry baby might just topple the entire New York sports scene as we know it.

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Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty