John Hernandez: Minor League Star, Major League Dad.

Johnny Hernandez John Hernandez was the star lefthanded battting and throwing first baseman of the 1947 Texas League and Dixie Series Champion Houston Buffs. After an early acquisition from Oklahoma City in 1947, Hernandez did very well in Houston. His .301 batting average, 17 home runs, and 78 runs batted in were a big  part of the reason the Buffs enjoyed one of their finest seasons of all time that year, and that doesn’t even take into account his defensive contributions with the glove. The guy was a sweet fielding wizard at his position.

The future of John Hernandez had major league star written all over it by the end of the 1947 season, and his prospects soared in spite of the fact that he already had lost three seasons to military service in World War II (1943-45). Prior to the war, Californian Hernandez already had built a good start on his resume’. Breaking in with Class D Valdosta in 1941, John batted .290 with 2 HR and 25 RBI. He improved in 1942 with Class C Salt Lake City by hitting .312 with 2 homers and 72 RBI.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always move in straight lines. Something happened to the vision of John Hernandez after the 1947 season, however, that would effect his career and the road of his life forever. Hernandez went to see an optometrist in the 47-48 off-season, complaining of “blurry” vision. I don’t know if this doctor was here in Houston or in his home near San Francisco, but I rather think it was the latter. The doctor prescribed lenses that Hernandez claims were filled with prisms. When Hernandez got off to a bad start with the 1948 Buffs as a result of his vision impairment, he tried a number of things to restore his eyesight, including eye exercises, but nothing helped. His eyes had been permanently damaged. John kept playing, but Houston traded his contract back to Oklahoma City for the balance of 1948. On the year,  Hernandez’s production had dropped to a .228 BA with only 11 HR and 61 RBI.

Hernandez dropped down to Class A Wilks-Barre for a respectable .281 mark to start the season, but his power was gone. He garnered only 8 HR and 38 RBI. Dropping down to Class D San Angelo that same year, John batted only .241 with 3 long balls and 6 RBI before he got another call back to the AA Texas League with Oklahoma City. At Oklahoma City and Beaumont over the rest of 1949, John Hernandez drew the curtain on his own career by batting only .203 with 2 HR and 17 RBI.

John Hernandez was done as a ballplayer after 1949. He took a job as a fireman in San Francisco and decided to simply dedicate himself to being a good husband and future family man. When his two young sons, Gary and Keith, came along in the years that immediately followed their father’s baseball retirement, they were born into the life of a dad who was already  there for them on a daily basis, and  one who was ready to teach them all he had learned about baseball that they were willing to absorb.

keith-hernandez John Hernandez’s son Keith grew up to be one of the greatest defensive first baseman in major league history. Keith Hernandez’s 11 straight gold glove awards is a mjor league record. He also wan’t too shabby as a hitter either, leading the National League in hitting in 1979 with a .344 average at St. Louis. Keith Hernandez also was a leading force on two World Series ball clubs, the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1986 New York Mets. What a lot of people don’t know is that Keith Hernandez always used his dad as his anchor man coach for helping him straighten out anything that was getting in the way of his best game, and that assistance covers a lot of ground in this instance.

When Keith Hernandez retired after 1990, he finished his seventeen season major league career with a batting average of .290, a total of 162 HR and 1,071 RBI. His father John survived to see it all unfold, watching his son have the major league career that had slipped away from his own personal grasp. Now, was this all random coincidence – or a beautiful example of divine serendipity? A talented father is denied a major league career due to an unsolvable vision problem, but this reality puts him in position to become an everyday guiding factor in his own future son’s development as a ballplayer.

Based on what we each believe, or disbelieve, we all have to decide this question for ourselves. As for me, I’m casting my vote for the Hernandez family as a prime example of divine serendipity. Keith Hernandez certainly was no altar boy model as a young man, but nevertheless, he turned out very allright in the long run.

What would have happened to Keith Hernandez had he not had the everyday dad that John Hernandez turned out to be while he was growing up? That is the real unanswerable question.

 

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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13 Responses to “John Hernandez: Minor League Star, Major League Dad.”

  1. johnny hernandez Says:

    i just typed in my name on google&this article popped up, i have to say it was quite an excellent read my friend. one question though what happened to the other son of mr hernandez?

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Johnny:
      Hi, Johnny!

      Thanks for checking in. You were my first 1st baseman hero when I was old enough to wake up to baseball in 1947. I can’t tell you how honored I am to hear from you this late in the ballgame for both of us, but I really am.

      My apologies, but I have to plead ignorance on what happened to your other son. Please let me know, if you will. If it’s anything you feel OK about, I’d love to write a follow up article about him too. Plus, anything you care to write about your ’47 Buff experience would be welcome material too. working for Allen Russell, playing for Johnny Keane, and playing with guys like Hemus, Epps, Papai, Costa and Beers come to mind as subjects I would love to know about from your outlook on things.

      Hope to her more from you.

      Regards,

      Bill McCurdy

    • Gary Hernandez Says:

      I’m Keith’s brother, Gary, and am delighted to read such a nice piece on our dad. We were fortunate to have two great parents who were devoted to giving the best they could to help us succeed. Could Keith have made it to the big leagues without my dad’s tutelage? He certainly had the talent, and was a great joy to watch as a three sport star in high school.
      But our dad kept us on track, and with so many distractions and things that can happen in life, let’s just say he greatly increased the odds of that happening.
      Gary Hernandez

    • Gary Hernandez Says:

      I am Gary, Johnny’s oldest son. I played basketball and baseball one year at Menlo Junior college, where I finished 2nd in the league in hitting. From there I went to Cal Berkeley, where I was All American in 1971, set 10 school records, and 6 Pacific 8 records and led the league in hitting with a .459 batting average. After my junior year, I signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, playing 4 seasons and advancing as far as AA.
      Did not have the talent my brother had, but had a great experience.
      I became a State Farm Insurance agent in 1980, and 38 years later am still doing so.
      Thank you for your interest.

  2. Who’s a Blum? « Faith and Fear in Flushing Says:

    […] last extra-inning game at Minute Maid Park in which Geoff Blum homered was an Astro loss. Unlike Keith Hernandez’s dad, I’m by no means a Houston buff, yet I do know one thing well about Geoff Blum: he hit the latest […]

  3. m.voskovitch Says:

    I ALSO HAD A DAD WHO PLAYED AND TAUGHT ME THE GAME – I RECEIVED A FULL RIDE TO COLLEGE FROM THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS – A SMALL WAY TO PAY MY FATHER BACK FOR ALL HIS SUPPORT – I WAS AT SPRING TRAINING WITH HERNANDEZ – A TALENTED BALLPLAYER HE WAS BUT NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO SAY NO TO DRUGS – MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO HIS FATHER ABOUT ALL AREAS IN LIFE- I DID AND IS ABLE TO SAY NO —

    • Gary Hernandez Says:

      Nice that you have had a good life, and a father like ours.
      As for your comments on my brother’s drug experience, which lasted about a year and a half, when he quit for good one day, and went on to enjoy a great career as a player, and now as a very poplular tv analyst.
      He regrets that short period in his life, but rose above it.
      Unfortunately, A major leaguer’s life is in a fish bowl.
      I wonder if you ever did anything in your life that you were not proud of, but did not have to worry about it ending up in the media, as it was most likely not newsworthy.
      God only made one perfect person.
      I am proud that Keith overcame what was a horrible experience, and went on to enjoy not just one, but two successful careers.

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  8. Mike Signori Says:

    John Hernandez was the batting coach for the Millbrae Joe DiMaggio team in the early 1970s.
    I was lucky enough to play on that team.
    Keith was by far the best player: pitcher, fielder and hitter. His dad knew baseball inside out and his hitting instruction was beyond compare.
    Keith was a great guy with immense talent. His brother Gary also was a fabulous player: set all the hitting records at the University of California.
    Great to have your dad as a great baseball player and coach but both Keith and Gary were very talented. Keith should be in the HOF on his fielding alone, best fielder at first ever. Along with his consistent clutch hitting.
    Great family and I am honored I was able to know them.

    • Gary Hernandez Says:

      Thank you Mike! We were very fortunate to have him as a father and baseball instructor.
      I remember my dad and Millbrae PAL coach Tony Santora talking about you also, and what a fine hitter you were.
      I can speak for my brother and myself when I say that WE are lucky to know YOU.
      Thanks again for recognizing our dad, and the many hours he put in for youth baseball.
      B
      Very best regards,
      Gary Hernandez

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