August 12 – Happy Birthday Michel Hernandez
One year before “El Duque” fled Cuba and signed with the Yankees and a year after his older brother, Livan did the same, there was another Cuban named Hernandez who made the same escape. His first name was Michel, he was no relation to the Hernandez siblings and he was a 23-year-old, highly heralded catcher. The Yankees managed to sign him but not without controversy. Major League Baseball began an investigation of allegations that some of the necessary paperwork filed by New York was forged.
As it turned out, Michel was not quite good enough to enjoy a long career as a Major League catcher. He spent five unspectacular years in the Yankee farm system before getting his only shot at the parent club. That opportunity came in September of the 2003 season. Joe Torre got him into his first four games as a late-inning replacement for Jorge Posada and then started him against the Orioles. He got his first hit against Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez when he led off the bottom-of-the-eighth inning of a tied game with a line drive single. Torre then sent Alfonso Soriano into run for him and Michel Hernandez’ Yankee career was over.
The following January the Yankees put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Red Sox. It would take the catcher another five years to get his second shot at the Big Leagues and by then, he was a member of the Ray’s organization. In 2009, he got into 35 games for Tampa as their back-up catcher and hit his first and only big league home run against Josh Beckett. He’s still playing minor league ball for the Cleveland organization.
The only other Yankee born on August 12th is this pitcher. One of my favorite actors of all time, John Cazale, who played Fredo in the Godfather movies, Sal in Dog Day Afternoon and Stosh in the Deer Hunter was also born on this date in 1936. He died on March 12, 1978 from lung cancer during filming of the Deer Hunter. Cazale was only in five movies during his short lifetime and all five were nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture Oscar.