Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I have had the good fortune of knowing Jackie Hernandez since we were with the Triple-A Denver Bears in 1967 and 1968. I was a starry-eyed young PR hopeful just starting my baseball career and Jackie was a flashy 20-something shortstop in the Minnesota Twins organization who was destined for a major league career.

Then we were reunited in Kansas City with the expansion Royals the next two seasons. In fact, Jackie’s every day play at shortstop—he appeared in 145 of the 162 games—was a major reason the Royals were respectable in their inaugural season of 1969. A guy by the name of Lou Piniella played leftfield and was Rookie of the Year.

So you can see why I was surprised—and had to offer my two cents worth here—when I first learned that old friend Jackie is taking on his first managerial job at Charlotte County, FL in the new South Coast League.

Why Jackie, was my first thought? This has nothing to do with Hernandez’s ability. But he has a nice pension from his nine seasons as a major league shortstop (1965-73), is old enough (66) to collect social security and is leaving what I would think, all things considered, was a cushy job as a coach for George Tsamis with the American Association’s St. Paul (MN) Saints.

Now in his 47th season of professional baseball the thin man from Cuba, who started playing the game for pay as a 20-year-old catcher in the Midwest League in 1961, is finally taking over managerial duties.

“I had opportunities (to manage) before but it was never the right spot,” the Saints’ media release quoted Hernandez. “This job is the only one that would get me away from St. Paul.” He pointed to the fact Port Charlotte is only a couple of hours from his longtime home in Miami, and while he did not say it the fact the Southwestern Florida community will average more than a few degrees warmer than most of the American Association cities in May and June might have been appealing. No more long johns, which Jacinto was known to wear even on milder spring nights in the leagues where he helped Tsamis wreak havoc on the opposition.

They first joined up in Waterbury, CT when that team was in the Northeast League, moved on to the New Jersey Jackals at Little Falls for both Northeast and Northern League titles in 2001 and 2002, and to St. Paul the next season. When the Northern League title is added from 2004 and the finals berth in the American Association this season they have had seven playoff teams in eight seasons.

Hernandez will have a leg up in recruiting on his South Coast League rivals for all the years past when he has so diligently worked with prospect after prospect around Miami during the off season.

The league will love his warm nature, and his major league credentials, including the 1971 World Championship in Pittsburgh when he threw out the final Baltimore hitter, will help build credibility.

P.S. More on this year's managerial changes plus an outline of new opportunities for players are included in my subscriber-based Independent Baseball Insider column.

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