When I read the news this morning that the Houston Astros released Liván Hernández, my mind dreams hijacked my train of thought and brought me back to the winter of 1995. The San Francisco Giants had finished the previous season 67-77 but playoff aspirations were still kept alive on residual vapors from 1993. Mark Carreon and Glenallen Hill put up career seasons. Giants fans were still mourning the loss of Billy Swift and John Burkett, but pitching hope was on the horizon. The Giants signed Cuban defector Osvaldo Fernandez. This 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist latin stallion was allegedly 26 and Major League ready.
Osvaldo Fernandez and Liván Hernández were teammates on the Cuban National Team. As the legend goes, while the team was visiting Tennessee, a van pulled up besides them and offered them buckets of cash. Recognizing a possible career opportunity, they accepted. Liván ended up with the Marlins and Osvaldo (the more seasoned of the two) landed with the Giants.
In a time when the internet was only good for Dr. Who fan fiction, no one knew what this guy looked like. Sure, he won an Olympic Gold Medal, but who watches Olympic Baseball? Not I, and apparently not the Giants either when they decided to pay him $3.2 million.
When Spring Training rolled around, reactions to the first Osvaldo Fernandez photos usually went a little something like this,”Ahhhh? Ohhh….. oh. ah.” The supposed 26 year old stud looked more like Omar Visquel’s dad. However, seeing that Mark Leiter was the team ace, competition for breaking the starting rotation wasn’t that fierce.
Osvaldo put up an admirable season with a 4.61 ERA over 171.2 innings pitched. Not too shabby for a rookie on a 94-loss team. Regardless, the Osvaldo Fernandez let down was just the punctuation to a demoralizing season where Jose Bautisa gave up 58 grand slams and Steve Scarsone played 6,437.1 innings at 2B.
“Dustiny” in 1997 quickly wiped away memories of 1996 along with Osvaldo Fernandez. Baseball Reference insisted he pitched 56.1 innings in 1997, but that’s not how remember it. If memory serves, Osvaldo missed the team bus one morning and ended up in the Cincinnati Reds system where he suited up and began pitching for them. Due to a bizarre clerical error, this oversight went unnoticed by either the Giants or the Reds until Osvaldo actually faced the Giants in 2000.
Incidentally, Liván Hernandez was a Giant by this point. Liván had ready been a World Series MVP. Osvaldo would never again reach the intoxicating heights of mediocrity he saw in 1997.
As my mind dream returns me to present day in 2012, my first thought is… it’s been 17 years and Liván Hernandez is ONLY 37? Yeah right.