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José María Fernández

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José María Fernández, Sr.

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 175 lb.

BR minors page

[edit] Biographical Information

Catcher José María Fernández was a four-decade player in the Negro Leagues who also set a longevity mark in his native Cuba. He is the father of Pepe Fernández and the brother of Rodolfo Fernández.

Fernández debuted in his native Cuba in 1915-1916, going 6 for 32 as the third-stringer for the San Francisco club. He started for the Cuban Stars in the US in 1916. He backed up Julio Rojo, Sr. for the Cubans in 1917. With the White Sox club of the 1917 Cuban Winter League, he went 16 for 50 with a double and a triple. He led the CWL in hits and was second in batting average, behind Dolf Luque.

José hit just .067 in the US in 1918 but went 12 for 24 in 1919 to lead the top eastern black teams. He played first base primarily as Rojo was at catcher. In 1918-1919, he had hit only .211 with a .273 slugging percentage for Almendares. The next season, he was 10 for 39 in Cuba. In 1920, he hit .214 for the Cuban Stars, followed by .188 in 1921. He remained a starter in 1922.

Fernández helped the brand new Marianao club to the CWL title in 1922-1923, hitting .303 and slugging .446. His 15 extra-base hits tied for the team lead and only Pelayo Chacón had a better average for the league champs. In the US, the veteran backstop improved to .293 in 1923. With Almendares in 1923-1924, he hit .250 and slugged .280, then hit .241 in the special season in Cuba, splitting catching with Ernie Krueger. José hit .308 in 1924 in the Negro Leagues but was just 8 for 45 with 3 doubles in 1924-1925 in Cuba, backing up Biz Mackey with Almendares.

The Guanabacoa native hit .270 in 1925 and broke up a perfect game bid by Phil Cockrell. Back in Cuba in the winter, he hit .279/?/.336 to help Almendares to the pennant. In 1926, he fell to .273. The 30-year-old backed up Eufemio Abreu in the winter of 1926-1927, going 6 for 20 with two doubles, then hit .239 for Marianao in the Cuban Triangal League. He batted only .207 for the 1927 Cuban Stars.

Fernández reobunded to .333/?/.433 for Almendares in 1927-1928 then hit .450 in the summer of 1928. Had he qualified, he would have been second in the Eastern Colored League in average, behind Pop Lloyd. He put up a .318 average and .357 slugging percentage for Almendares in 1928-1929, 3 points shy of Tubby Scales for the team lead in average as Almendares won it all. Fernández fell to .229 in 1929. That year, he was ejected from a game after throwing his bat at a Hilldale Daisies hurler who plunked him. That winter, he backed up Larry Brown with Almendares and also saw some action at first base; he was 19 for 69 with a double.

In 1930, Fernández played for the Chicago American Giants, his only stint with a non-Cuban Negro League team. He had a big year, hitting .373, 5th in the Negro National League behind Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, Jabbo Andrews and Frank Duncan. He was 5 for 16 with two doubles for Almendares that fall when the season was cut short. In the Campeonato Unico that followed, he went 9 for 22 with a homer for the Almendarista club. He returned to the Cuban Stars in 1931 and continued his roller-coaster ride at .095 while splitting catching with Duncan.

José María was 14 for 57 with two doubles for Almendares in 1931-1932; he was a backup on the team as they won the title. He was a bench player in the Negro Leagues in 1932; the Stars were not part of any league in 1933-1934 so stats are limited. Back in Cuba, he hit .256/?/.314 for Almendares in 1932-1933 and .290/?/.390 in 1934-1935, when they won the title. On the champs, only Lázaro Salazar had a better average. That season, he first formed a brother battery with Rodolfo Fernández, who was 15 years his junior. When the New York Cubans formed in 1935, Fernández was with them as a backup to Duncan. He hit .242 and slugged .262 for Almendares in the winter of 1935-1936, then spent another summer backing up Duncan. He was 3 for 5 in an exhibition against the Cincinnati Reds in Puerto Rico.

Now 40 years old, Fernández was not slowing down yet, batting .306 and slugging .382 for Almendares in 1936-1937. He again put on a show in exhibition play against a big league team, going 3 for 7 against the 1937 New York Giants. Backing up Duncan with Almendares in 1937-1938, the old-timer was 20 for 75 with a double and a triple. He became the New York Cubans' player-manager in 1938 and would hold the reigns through 1950 (except for a stint in 1948 by Louis Louden). He was 9 for 47 with a homer in 1938-1939, backing up Mike Guerra with the Almendares club.

In 1939-1940, he managed in Cuba as well, guiding Santa Clara. He hit .281 and slugged .311. Again defying his age, the 43/44-year-old hit .412 as the starter for New York in 1940. Had he qualified, he would have beaten out Lennie Pearson for the NNL batting title. Back with Almendares in 1940-1941, he went 18 for 62 with a double while backing up Guerra. He outhit the much younger Guerra (who was in between MLB stints) by 70 points, making a case he should have been the starter. He fell back to .133 with the 1941 Cubans, backing up Carlos Colas behind the plate. He was 11 for 34 between Cienfuegos and Almendares in 1941-1942 to conclude his playing career in Cuba.

By 1942, Louden was the starting catcher for the Cubans, a job he would hold for years, as Fernández was becoming a full-time skipper. He replaced Armando Marsans as manager of Marianao during the 1945-1946 campaign and was a coach for the team in 1946-1947. In 1947, José María guided New York to the NNL title, then to victory over the Cleveland Buckeyes in the 1947 Negro World Series, the only Negro World Series title for a Cuban entry. He also coached for the East in both the 1947 East-West Game and 1948 East-West Game.

Back in Cuba, Fernández coached for Marianao in 1954-1955, 1955-1956 (when they won the title) and the 1958 Caribbean Series, probably serving in other seasons as well. He got his last manager's job in Cuba in 1960-1961, the final CWL campaign. He guided Marianao to a 31-35 season, last place, but only four games out in a close race. Among his players in his last year as a skipper were Mike Fornieles, Jose Tartabull, Juan Delis, Minnie Minoso, Zoilo Versalles, Jose Valdivielso and Julio Becquer, all of whom had the opportunity to play in an integrated majors which Fernández could not.

When the Cuban Serie Nacional started in 1962 following the Castro-led revolution, Fernández managed Habana to a last-place, 10-17 record.

Fernández's 24 seasons as a player in the Cuban Winter League are the all-time record. He does not rank among the circuit's top 10 in any other category, though. Of the four players behind him, two were also catchers - Rojo and Mike Gonzalez. He made the preliminary ballot for the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues Election.

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