Monday, July 1, 2013

#566 - Jackie Hernandez

In yet another final card, Jackie Hernandez shows us his “ready” stance at what may be Shea. Jackie is sporting the Clemente patch on his left arm and a smallish afro. He didn’t play too much in ’73, his final season in the majors. Shortstop was very transitional for Pittsburgh in ’73 as it was Gene Alley’s final season also, and help at the position had to come from Dal Maxvill, in a brief hiatus from Oakland, and Rennie Stennett, who slid over from second. Only Maxvill would assume that role in ’74 as Frank Taveras and Mario Mendoza took over the position in their rookie seasons while Jackie languished in the minors after being traded to the Phillies for recent subject Mike Ryan in January. In fact, by all rights, Jackie should be airbrushed as Topps had plenty of notice about the trade. But maybe it’s better to keep Jackie in the uniform in which he attained his highest profile. It sure would have been nice if he went out on a sunny day though.

Jacinto Hernandez was another Cuban ballplayer discovered while playing for one of the national teams, though he wasn’t signed until after the revolution, by the Indians in ’61 when Jackie was 20. A catcher down there, he continued in that role that summer in D ball, where he hit .274 with a little power. But Jackie was a pretty little guy and after leading his league in errors at catcher it was decided to morph him into a shortstop and the next few seasons he would put in time at both positions. He hit .221 in B ball in ’62 and then .235 with ten homers and 23 stolen bases in Double A in ’63 and upped his numbers to .260 with 27 steals at the same level in ’64. In ’65 he moved up to Triple A but shortly into the season was released by the Tribe and on the same day picked up by California. Jackie hit .229 combined and also moved exclusively to shortstop that season while recording 24 stolen bases. He made his debut for the Angels that September and remained on the roster as a little-used backup for ’66, playing more at third than at second or shortstop. After that season he was involved in a big deal trade that sent him and Dean Chance to Minnesota for Don Mincher, Pete Cimino, and Jimmie Hall.

With the Twins, Hernandez spent nearly all of ’67 at Triple A Denver where he hit .269 with 18 stolen bases in 427 at bats. While his average was steadily improving, he continued his habit of putting up an awful lot of strikeouts for a slap hitter, and not taking too many walks, leading to a pretty poor OBA. He also put up a few too many errors at shortstop. Still he did put in a little time backing up Zoilo Versalles in Minnesota. In ’68 Zoilo was sent to LA and Jackie was given the job to start the season. He started for a bit over a month but after not providing too much offense, gave way to Cesar Tovar as starter and became a late inning guy through about mid-July when he was sent back to Denver. There he was able to hit .287 with 13 steals in just 181 at bats before returning to the Twins in September with an average that continued to slip. That October he was taken by Kansas City in the expansion draft. For the Royals he again claimed the starting shortstop job in training camp and this time he was able to hold onto it. Jackie had by far his biggest and busiest season up top as he stole 17 bases but also struck out over 100 times. Defensively it went like that also as he finished second among AL shortstops in putouts but also led the league in errors. In ’70 he again began the season as the starter but though his hitting improved a bit, some erratic defense led to him soon splitting time at short with Rich Severson, Tommy Matchick, and Bobby Floyd. After the season he was involved in another big trade, going to Pittsburgh with rookie pitcher Bob Johnson for Bruce Dal Canton, Jerry May, and Freddie Patek, Jackie’s successor at shortstop.

While KC had been fishing around for an everyday shortstop its first couple seasons, the Pirates had one in Gene Alley, so Hernandez was acquired to be an infield back-up. But that first year of ’71 Alley was injured at two opportune times for Jackie: the beginning and the end of the season. So Jackie started the first eleven games of the season and became a fan favorite by hitting over .350 during that span. He then got some starts during the September stretch and then all of them during the post-season, winning a ring. It was his most productive season RBI-wise and he fielded the final out in the Series win. ’72 was a pretty big discount for Jackie, both offensively and post-season-wise, as he got no time in the NL playoffs. After his ’73 season he went to Philly before returning to Pittsburgh as a free agent and playing his final stateside season in Triple A, where he hit .199 in 331 at bats. The next two seasons he played ball in Mexico and was then done. He finished with the stats on the card back up top and hit .244 with over 125 stolen bases in the minors. In the post-season he hit .226 with a couple RBI’s in eleven games.

Hernandez, who’d played winter ball in Venezuela and Puerto Rico throughout his career, continued doing so through ’78. Earlier he’d settled in Miami and after baseball he drove trucks and cabs a bunch of years in the area. In the mid-Eighties he also began a baseball school in the area with Paul Casanova, the former catcher and fellow Cuban. In ’96 he returned to baseball professionally by coaching for various independent teams: Duluth-Superior (’96-’98); Waterbury (’99-2000); New Jersey Jackals (2001-’02); and the St. Paul Saints (‘03-’06).  He was then named manager of the Charlotte County Redfish, a new team in the new South Coast League. But after a 5-20 start to the season he was moved up to league management and replaced as manager by Cecil Fielder. But the league folded after a year and from what I can tell Jackie returned to Miami and his baseball school.

Jackie has a busy signature and gets some sort of generalized star bullets. I hope he didn’t bunt that way for real or he was going to get his fingers broken.

These guys get linked by a trading partner of Jackie’s:

1. Hernandez and Bob Johnson ’70 Royals;
2. Johnson and Milt Wilcox ’74 Indians.

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