Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rudy Hernández The First Dominican Pitcher in MLB

I was always under the impression that the first Domican pitcher in the majors was the legendary Dominican Dandy, Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. That impression was wrong. In reading Beisbol Dominicano: Origines, Evoluciones y Heroes Edicion 2006 by Hector J. Cruz, I found out that there was a Dominican pitcher who made his debut 16 days before Marichal did for the San Francisco Giants on July 19, 1960. On July 3, 1960 Rudy Hernández made his debut in relief during the first game of a doubleheader for the Washington Senators against the Cleveland Indians.

Hernández was born on December 10, 1931 in the city of Santiago de Los Caballeros to a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother. According to Cruz, the family would emigrate to New York City during the 1940's where Hernández would grow to the height of 6' 3" garnering the attention of many baseball teams including the hometown New York Giants. Hernández would sign a contract with the New York Giants before the beginning of the 1950 season. According to Malcolm Allen in his article on Rudy Hernández which was published in La Prensa del Beisbol Latino (a quarterly newsletter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)), Hernández was signed as an outfielder with some power but could never get any higher than Class A ball. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I tried to contact the author of the referenced article to find out exactly when it was published in La Prensa del Beisbol newsletter. Up to today's date he has yet to contact me. So I am going to use his article as a reference in a second hand nature from this post: RUDY HERNANDEZ of the Washington Senators – First Major League Baseball Pitcher Born in the Dominican Republic. If and when I do hear back from Mr. Allen, I'll rewrite the post).

After a suggestion (due to his powerful arm) by Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Steve Ridzik during the Puerto Rican Winter Ball season (possibly while both played together with los Cangrejeros de Santurce), Hernández would change positions and try his hand at pitching. According to Allen, Hernandez went 15-4 for the Class C Muskogee Giants in his first season as a pitcher but his career was derailed by a two year stint in the U.S. Military. He would return to the Giants minor leagues in 1956 and would stay there through the 1958 season. He would be either traded or sold to the Washington Senators of the American League (I'm unsure which type of transaction) before the start of the 1959 season.

Hernández would spend almost a year and a half in the Senators' minor league system before finally getting his big break at the age of 28 on July 3, 1960. In his first appearance in relief, Hernandez would face eleven batters over three innings pitched allowing one hit, one walk while striking out two batters. On July 9, 1960 against the Baltimore Orioles, Hernández became the first Dominican pitcher to record a win by hurling three shoutout innings in relief allowing one hit and one walk with three strikeouts. Over the course of the 1960 season, Hernández would make 21 appearances for the Senators (all in relief) and he would compile a 4-1 record with a 4.41 ERA in 34.1 innings pitched. He gave up 34 hits, 24 runs (17 earned) with 21 walks and 22 strikeouts for a WHIP of 1.587.

The next season marked the movement of the Washington Senators to Minneapolis becoming the Minnesota Twins. As a condition of allowing the Senators to leave Washington for Minnesota, a new team also called the Senators would replace the old Senators in the nation's capital. On December 14, 1960, Hernández would be put up in the 1961 expansion draft by the Twins and would be drafted by the new Washington Senators with the 56th pick. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: The second Washington Senators would play in Washington D.C. from 1961-1971 when the team was moved to Arlington, Texas becoming the Texas Rangers.)

In his last season in the majors, Hernández went 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 7 relief appearances. He had 9.0 innings pitched, gave up 8 hits, 5 runs (3 earned) with 3 walks and 4 strikeouts for a WHIP of 1.222. According to Cruz, Hernández would play for Las Aguilas Cibaeñas and Los Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League. He would later move to Puerto Rico and worked within the Department of Sports of the Puerto Rican government.

Though his time in the majors was brief and pales in comparison to Marichal's Hall of Fame career, we should never forget who was the first Dominican pitcher in the majors though to many he is just a footnote in Latino Baseball history.

On a side note, Hernández was the owner of a bar on the corner of San Jorge and Loiza streets in San Juan, Puerto Rico by the name of Rudy’s 10th Inning Lounge. In 1971, the officers of Temple Beth Shalom decided to purchase a permanent home for the congregation. One location shown by the real estate agents was the building where Hernández's bar was located. After two years of legal proceedings, the eviction of Hernandez was complete and the temple was built. For more informations, click on the following links: TBS'S (Temple Beth Shalom) Building Beginnings and Temple Beth Shalom origins.

Sisco Kid

For Further Reading
- Click here to access Rudy Hernández's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com