RUDY HERNANDEZ of the Washington Senators – First Major League Baseball Pitcher Born in the Dominican Republic
Though Juan Marichal is the name many people think of when considering the first pitcher from the Dominican Republic, little known Rudy Hernandez beat him to the big leagues by 16 days. This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of Hernandez’s -–and the D.R.’s—first appearance on a major league mound on July 3, 1960.
Hernandez was born in the Dominican city of Santiago in 1931 to a Puerto Rican mother and a father whose family had roots in Europe. His grandfather was a military official under Rafael Trujillo. Hernandez and his family moved to New York City before he was a teen, and he’d occasionally travel to visit a baseball-loving uncle that worked in Washington, DC as an attaché at the Dominican embassy. As a result, young Rudy Hernandez’s first trips to Griffith Stadium to see the Senators play came in a chauffeured limousine.
Basketball was his first love, however, and he had dozens of scholarship offers to sift through after an excellent high school career in which he lettered in three sports. The New York Giants were sufficiently impressed by the 18-year-old Hernandez at a tryout in Yankee Stadium though, and offered him enough money to lure him into professional baseball in 1950. He began his career as an outfielder with some pop in his bat, but advanced no higher than a few weeks in Class A ball in four seasons. Hernandez’s strong throwing arm regularly ranked him among the league leaders in outfield assists, however, and Phillies right-hander Steve Ridzik encouraged him to try pitching during winter ball in Puerto Rico.
Hernandez went 15-4 for the Class C Muskogee Giants in his first season on the mound in 1954, but his career stalled when he spent the next two years in the Army. He posted a 5.66 ERA in Class A ball in his first year back, and followed that up with a 0-9 composite record for three teams the following season. The Washington Senators acquired him for their Double-A club prior to 1959, and Hernandez’s big break came in his first taste of Triple-A ball the next year. With team brass on hand to observe top prospect Jim Kaat, Hernandez caught their attention with his effective low-ball pitching and earned himself a call up to the major leagues. The 28-year-old rookie hurled three scoreless innings in his big league debut against the Indians. “This is the first time I’ve been in Griffith Stadium since I was nine years old,” he told reporters. “And I get a kick coming back as a big league ballplayer.”
Hernandez also became the first Dominican to win a major league game six days later when, in his third appearance, he threw another three innings of shutout ball in Baltimore. Ten days after that, Juan Marichal debuted with a one-hitter against the Phillies, striking out 12. The history of Dominican pitchers in the majors had begun to unfold.
Hernandez finished 1960 with a 4-1 record and 4.41 ERA in 21 relief appearances before the Senators moved to Minnesota. The club didn’t protect him in the expansion draft, and he wound up back in Washington in 1961 with the brand new Senators. After just seven appearances though, his big league career was over and Hernandez bounced around to 10 minor league teams before retiring after 1964. He settled in Puerto Rico, where he scouted, helped young ballplayers and became a successful businessman.
(by Malcolm Allen)
This article was originally published in La Prensa del Beisbol Latino, a quarterly newsletter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)