In a recent piece at (TYU fave) Mark Feinsand’s Blogging the Bombers, Anthony McCarron penned a guest post with an update on an old friend for Yankee fans, #26 Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez. He writes:
Talking about the passing of time made me think of a conversation I had recently with an agent who said, “Did you know that El Duque was pitching in winter ball in Venezuela?”
“Huh?” I said.
“Yeah,” the agent said, “for Bravos de Margarita.”
Orlando Hernandez has not pitched in the majors since 2007 when he was 9-5 for the Mets. I asked a baseball executive if he had heard that Duque was pitching in Venezuela and he said, “I doubt that’s him.”
But I went to MLB.com’s winter leagues pages and there he was. I thought it might be another Orlando Hernandez, perhaps. After all, if you go to the indispensable baseball-reference.com, a minor-league outfielder with the same name played from 1998-2001 is an option when you type in “Orlando Hernandez.” So is a third Orlando Hernandez, who apparently played three games in 1954 for the Class D Decatur Commodores of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League. That guy had nine at-bats, but there were no other stats listed, not even whether he was right-handed or lefty.
But on MLB.com, I checked the bio under that name for the Bravos and under Awards/Honors, it says, “1999 ALCS MVP,” which El Duque certainly was.
In seven games (six starts) in Venezuela, Duque was 1-2 with a 3.27 ERA. He allowed 29 hits and 13 runs (12 earned) in 33 innings while striking out 27 and walking 15. He gave up two homers. Last year, he was 2-0 in eight games for Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League. Don’t know if he wants to get back to the majors, but he sure does like pitching, eh?
The news that El Duque would still be pitching (and effectively) at the age of 45 comes as no surprise to me. He’s one of the greatest pitchers that Cuba has ever produced, if not the greatest. El Duque was the all-time Cuban leader in winning percentage at the time of his leaving that country. During his years in Cuba, he was 126-47 with a 3.05 ERA and 1,211 strikeouts in 1,514 1/3 IP. His .728 winning percentage was best all-time, 17 points ahead of #2 Norge Vera and 27 points over #3 Jose Contreras. Though he was older (34) and maybe a bit past his prime by the time he reached the US and the Yankees in 1998, he was never the type of pitcher that relied purely on stuff to get hitters out. At his best he was a combination of baseball savvy, fiery competitiveness and wicked deception with his incredibly high leg kick. His postseason heroics are the stuff of legend. Over the course of his 10 year MLB career, he amassed a 12-3 record and 2.55 ERA in 19 postseason appearances. His 1998 ALCS Game 4 with the Yanks down 2-1 facing the potent Cleveland Indians lineup will be remembered by Yankee fans forever. I’ll never forget the Houdini act he pulled in the 2005 World Series as member of the Chicago White Sox. In a tie game on the road, 9th inning, bases loaded with nobody out, he navigated the minefield and emerged unscathed. No one could ever question his appetite for pitching on the big stage. As much as any pitcher I’ve ever seen, he seemed to live for it.
On a personal note, I once bumped into El Duque at LaGuardia airport back in the early 2000′s. He had an unlit cigar in his mouth, a blonde under one arm that was a dead wringer for Shakira and a brunette on the other who could pass for Selma Hayek. If I wasn’t already a fan after watching him pitch for the Yanks, I was then. I’m not much of a jersey wearer. I only own 3 Yankee jerseys, one of which was given to me as a gift when I was a kid. The gift was a #9 Graig Nettles jersey, and the two others are #22 (for Jimmy Key) and #26 for El Duque. He’ll always be one of my all time faves, and I look forward to seeing him at Old Timers day one of these years. That is, if he ever retires.
Photo courtesy of SI.com
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