Salvador José Hernández Ramos
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 195 lb.
- Debut April 16, 1942
- Final Game July 28, 1943
- Born January 3, 1916 in Havana, Cuba
- Died January 3, 1986 in Havana, Cuba
Catcher Chico Hernández spent thirteen summers and fourteen winters in professional baseball from 1936 to 1951, including two seasons in the majors, one in the Negro League and many in Cuba and Mexico. He was part of the first All-Latino battery in the major leagues and won home run and RBI titles in Mexico.
1935-1941: On the way to the majors
Chico debuted as a pro in the winter of 1935-1936, hitting .257 and slugging .355 for the Havana Reds; the rookie played third base and was second on his club with 18 RBI. In 1936, he made his Organized Baseball debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in the AA American Association, during the period when AA was the highest tier of the minors. He hit .258 and slugged .350, while fielding .908 at the hot corner. With Almendares in 1936-1937, Salvador hit .250 and slugged .413; despite playing only about half the time, he tied for the team lead with 3 homers, even with Hall of Famer Willie Wells. In '37, he hit .278 for the Montgomery Bombers while making the transition to catcher, where he would spend the vast majority of his career.
In 1937-1938, the Havana native struggled in Cuba with a .178 AVG and .343 SLG between the Reds and Marianao. He spent most of 1938 with the Bloomington Bloomers, his last time below the A level - he hit .337/.429/.500 with 15 triples and 97 runs; he was also 2 for 3 that summer for Milwaukee. He was named the Three-I League All-Star backstop, finishing fourth in that circuit in average. In 1938-1939, he formed a potent 1-2 punch at catcher for Havana with Julio Rojo, Sr. - Chico hit .322 and slugged .429 as the starter, while Rojo hit .357 as the backup. Hernández led the team in doubles (11), extra-base hits (14) and RBI (30), beating out major leaguer Gil Torres, Hall-of-Famer Martin Dihigo and Negro League star Alec Radcliffe among others. He was not the league's most impressive catcher by any means, though, as the legendary Josh Gibson hit .356 with 11 homers, a .638 slugging, 50 runs and 39 RBI for Santa Clara.
The 23-year-old hit .297 and slugged .432 for Milwaukee in 1939. There was a roadblock ahead of him in Chicago in Gabby Hartnett, who, while fading, was still a productive player. In that winter, he hit .263 and slugged .333 for Havana. He drove home 33 runs, second in the Cuban Winter League behind Tony Castaño. The CWL named a league All-Star team for the first time and Hernández was picked at catcher. He hit .269/?/.393 for the Los Angeles Angels in 1940. He helped Havana win the CWL pennant in 1940-1941 though his numbers were down (.252 AVG, .344 SLG, 19 RBI). He was named the All-Star catcher again, beating out Mike Guerra and Bill Perkins among others.
The Cubs demoted him to the Tulsa Oilers in 1941 and he hit .257 while slugging .336. That winter, he was atrocious for Havana, hitting .170 with one double and no other extra-base hits in 112 AB for his hometown club; Rojo, the other half of the dynamic duo from just three years prior, was even worse at .130 with no extra-base hits. For the first time, another catcher (Carlos Colas) was named the CWL All-Star. Little did Hernández know that the next season, he would be up in the majors.
1942-1943: With the Cubs
With Hartnett having retired, he joined Bob Scheffing in backing up Clyde McCullough for the 1942 Cubs. His first hit in the majors came off Joe Beggs in a 14-inning affair. He batted .229/.295/.271 and fielded .975, while throwing out 8 of 18 attempted base-stealers in 47 games as a MLB rookie, spending all year with Chicago. When he formed a battery with Puerto Rican pitcher Hi Bithorn, it was the first All-Latino battery in MLB history. That winter, he put up an even lower average for Havana at .220 (he slugged .258); despite two poor offensive years in a row for the Reds, he remained the starting catcher. With the 1943 Cubs, Chico produced at a .270/.324/.302 clip, fielded .981 and threw out 6 runners while allowing 8 swipes. He and Mickey Livingston backed up McCullough, Hernández appearing in 43 contests.
1944-1951: The remainder of his playing career and managing
In 1943-1944, Chico made his third CWL All-Star team at catcher. Playing for pennant-winning Havana, he hit .242 with a meek .261 slugging. He somehow managed 24 RBI, second on the team behind Gil Torres and ahead of slugger Bobby Estalella among others. In 1944, he made his Mexican League debut with the Azules de Veracruz, hitting .305/.398/.501 with 74 runs, 97 RBI, 29 doubles and 13 homers; he only struck out 22 times in 357 AB. He led the league in home runs, doubles and RBI. In the winter, he hit .276 and slugged .345 for Havana. His second summer in Mexico, he improved to .341/.448/.523; in 86 games, he scored 56, drove in 66, had 63 walks and 113 hits. He hit 12 circuit clouts. He also made an appearance with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues, whose primary catcher that season was future big leaguer Sam Hairston. It would be five years until his next stint in the USA.
Hernández batted .238/?/.305 for Havana in 1945-1946. In the 1946 season, he played for both Veracruz and the Mexico City Red Devils, with a composite line of .333/.409/.526 in limited action. With Havana in 1946-1947, he slumped to .192 and slugged .256. He once again had good RBI totals in Cuba despite a low average, with 32. He tied Hank Thompson for second on Havana behind Lenny Pearson and ahead of Lou Klein, Henry Kimbro, Pedro Formental and Rene Monteagudo.
In 1947-1948, he guided the Leones to the Cuban Players League title in his managerial debut. He also was the team's starting catcher, hitting .232 and slugging .310; he was the only native Cuban to serve as a starting backstop that year as Red Hayworth and Red Steiner were with the other two entries. Back in the Cuban Winter League in 1948-1949, he was a player-manager for Cienfuegos. The team finished last and Salvador was a backup for the first time in Cuba in over a decade; Ray Noble was given most of the playing time for Cienfuegos, a good call for the player-manager.
With Veracruz in 1949, Hernández returned to summer baseball after a two-year absence. He hit .291/.410/.358 with 55 walks in 76 games to show he could still be productive. He also managed the team to a 42-42 record. In 1949-1950, he was a full-time skipper for Cienfuegos, which remained in the pennant race until the last week. For the first time in 15 years, he did not play in Cuba for a winter, using Sam Calderone and Noble as his team's backstops.
Despite having been out of the US game for 7 years and having not played all winter, Hernández was back in the minors in 1950 with the AAA Baltimore Orioles. He did very well as a third-stringer behind Clyde Kluttz and Al Unser, going 15 for 47 with 2 doubles and 13 walks in 33 games. Hernández played with Cienfuegos in 1950-1951, going 4 for 23 with a double as Noble's backup; he also managed the team but did so poorly (8-22), he was let go in favor of Billy Herman (who was 22-24 the rest of the way). Concluded his playing career, he struggled with the 1951 Nuevo Laredo Owls, batting .233/.353/.279, with walks (16 in 26 games) the lone positive offensively.
1951-1954: More coaching and managing
Hernández coached for Habana in 1951-1952 and 1952-1953, both years the team won it all. The team also won the 1952 Caribbean Series. He succeeded his longtime manager Mike Gonzalez in 1953-1954 and went 35-37; he was then replaced by Dolf Luque before the next winter.
In his time with with the Cubs, he had appeared in 90 games and had 61 hits in 244 at-bats for a Major League career batting average of .250. He had a .309 OBP and .287 slugging percentage, having failed to go deep once in The Show. He fielded .980 and threw out 44% of attempted base-stealers.
Chico spent seven seasons in the minor leagues between 1936 and 1950, appearing in 635 games and hitting for an average of .290 with a .407 slugging percentage. Almost half his playing time (286 games) was spent in the highest classification league around.
During five seasons in Mexico, he hit .309/.415/.458 with 30 home runs, 225 RBI and 199 walks in 1,117 at-bats and 302 games. He only struck out 86 times.
- Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo
- 1939 Spalding Guide
- The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros
- A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman
- The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright