It was a day off for the Royals as they traveled home for a six-game homestand.
I’m going to try something new here: a brief introduction to some of the lesser-known members of the 1969 Royals. Many fans know about Lou Piniella, and probably Bob Oliver, Pat Kelly, Roger Nelson, and Dick Drago. But the team used 39 players that year, and many of them are footnotes in team history.
First up…shortstop Jackie Hernandez. At age 28 on Opening Day, the Cuban was not a young prospect, although he had only played in 176 major league games before coming to Kansas City. The Indians had signed him out of Cuba as a catcher in 1961, but converted him to shortstop in the minors. Cleveland released him in 1965, but the Angels signed him and he made his big league debut that year. He was traded to Minnesota in 1967 and played two years there. The Twins left him unprotected in the expansion draft and the Royals chose him with the 43rd pick.
The 1969 season was the first time (and only time) Hernandez would be the full-time shortstop. In 145 games, he hit .222/.278/.282. In that era, a team would live with that lack of offense from a shortstop if the defense was good. But Hernandez was also charged with 33 errors. Manager Joe Gordon, himself a former second baseman, had hoped he could mold Hernandez into a good defender, but it didn’t happen.
Hernandez led the Royals in games played at shortstop in 1970, but only played there in 77 games. After the season, he was part of a trade with Pittsburgh. The deal brought back a new shortstop: Freddie Patek. The move meant Kansas City was set at shortstop for basically the rest of the decade. Hernandez did help the Pirates win the 1971 World Series. He would play in Pittsburgh two more seasons, then played in Mexico and the Dominican Republic before retiring.
He was finally able to return to Cuba, albeit briefly, when his mother died in 1990. It had been nearly three decades since he had been in his native country. He got to stay for five days.
Back in the United States, Hernandez eventually made it back to baseball, working at a baseball academy and as a coach in several independent leagues. He would also help out at the Pirates’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Florida. At age 78, he’s still going strong.
Today’s birthdays: Bob Heise (1947), Travis Dawkins (1979)