In what looks to be a dreamy landscape, Enzo Hernandez doesn’t appear to be too happy. That’s understandable since ’73 was the year the Padres, looking to boost what had been pitiable offense at the shortstop position, tried to give the gig to someone else, namely Derrell Thomas or Rich Morales. But Derrell was more of a second baseman and Rich didn’t provide too much offense of his own and so by the next year Enzo would be back in the hole, taking his chances. He was also seen as a better all-around defender than either guy and was generally acknowledged to be a defensive whiz, and one of his highlights for ’73 was his error-less run of 42 straight games. A quick check of his stats at shortstop, though, reveals pretty pedestrian numbers. But reputations die hard and if Enzo was going to suffer from his bad offensive one, it was only fair he got some mojo back with his defensive one.
Enzo Hernandez was playing ball in his home country of Venezuela for a state team when he was spotted by the Astros and signed in early ’67. Though he hit only .187 in A ball that summer, he did some good defensive work and showed enough hustle to keep everyone interested. In ’68 he upped his average and fielding percentage a bit at the same level before getting a couple games of action in Triple A. He was then part of the trade that sent Mike Cuellar to Baltimore and in ’69 again occupied mostly the A level during the season after a couple games in Double A. Again he perked up his offense, remained steady on D, and stole 26 bases in 30 attempts. Then in ’70 he amped his offense up to impressive levels at both Double A (.282) and Triple A (.266) levels while scoring a combined 88 runs. Not too bad for a Seventies shortstop but back then Mark Belanger was still relatively young. So when another big deal came up Enzo was on the move again, this time with Tom Phoebus, Fred Beene, and Al Severinsen to San Diego for Pat Dobson and Tom Dukes. He was the only non-pitcher of the deal.
Prior to the ’71 season the Padres had never really had a regular shortstop and in ’70 four guys filled the position. After a pretty good camp Hernandez was given the job and provided some stability, if not excellent defense, leading the NL in errors. But the real knock on him was his offense and he got a degree of infamy by coming in last in the league in the three Triple Crown categories. To be fair, though, he walked nearly twice as much as he struck out, he stole 21 bases, and he laid down a mean bunt. In ’72 he put in the most time at shortstop but the Padres also gave some time to rookie Derrell Thomas and recent acquisition Fred Stanley. Enzo’s average went south but his power improved a bit and he upped his stolen base total to 24 and got caught only three times. In ’74 Thomas spent his extra time trying to mend things at third base and Enzo got his most starts, upped his at bats to over 500, recorded personal highs in doubles (19), RBI’s (34), and stolen bases (37), while hitting .232. ’75 and ’76 then resembled ’72 since the Padres picked up Hector Torres to share time at short. They were both big upticks offensively, though: In ’75 Enzo hit .218 while stealing 20 bases and leading MLB with 24 sacrifice hits (in only 344 at bats); and in ’76 he skied his average at .256 and his OBA at .319 while knocking in 24 and putting up 16 sac bunts in just 340 at bats. But in ’77 the Padres went high profile with an all-rookie keystone combo of Mike Champion at second and Dartmouth graduate Billy Almon at shortstop and their constancy in the line-up as well as a herniated back disc limited Enzo’s season to only four at bats. He was released in spring training of ’78, picked up by LA, and after spending nearly the whole season in Triple A - .264 with a .364 OBA – he was released in late August, ending his stateside career. He hit .224 up top with 129 stolen bases (vs. 33 times being caught) and only 151 K’s in his over 2,300 at bats and hit .240 in the minors with 63 stolen bases.
Hernandez had also played winter ball in Venezuela during a career roughly commensurate with his one in the States, hitting .247 with 55 stolen bases from ’67 to ’79. At some point the major stadium in his hometown was named after him. Like most Latin players, his post-baseball activity has been hard to track, at least until earlier this year. This past January, apparently reeling from a continued struggle with depression, he committed suicide in his home. He was 63.
Enzo actually gets an offensive prop in his star bullets for some work in his initial season. I don’t think he ever needed that garb in winter ball down there. He seems to have favored living places with awfully long names.
Let’s use a pitcher who was a one-time golden boy:
1. Hernandez and Alan Foster ’75 to ’76 Padres;
2. Foster and Rich Hand ’71 Indians.