Catcher– Carlos Hernandez
The ’98 Padres’ team was anchored behind the plate with former long-time Los Angeles Dodger, Carlos Hernandez.
After seven years as a backup for the Dodgers, Hernandez was granted free agency in October of 1996. Within two months, the San Diego Padres signed him as he was to back up catcher John Flaherty for the 1997 season.
Hernandez went on to hit .313 in limited duty in 1997 and the Padres decided to give Hernandez a shot at playing every day. He was always known for his great defense, but wasn’t considered reliable with the bat. Flaherty was dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before the 1998 season for Andy Sheets and Brian Boehringer, two important cogs for the team in their National League run of 1998.
In 1998, as an everyday catcher, Carlos Hernandez hit .262 with nine home runs and 52 runs batted in. He played in a career-high 129 games, a number he never even came close to again. At the age of 31 in 1998, Hernandez finally got a chance to play every day and he ran with it. He was an important piece for the Padres. The way he handled the pitching staff and controlled the game was invaluable to the team.
Hernandez immediately endeared himself to the fans by slugging two game-tying homers in the month of April. On April 13, a two-run home run in the ninth inning tied the game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Padres won the game in the 10th in front of a sellout crowd of 55,454 fans. 11 days later against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hernandez hit another two-run homer in the 8th inning, a game the Padres won in the 10th inning, their 11th win out of their last 12 games.
In his 10-year career, Hernandez played in 488 games. He had 1,244 at bats and recorded a .253/.298/.354 batting line. The backstop slugged 24 home runs and earned 141 RBI in his career. The greater part of his career was as a backup catcher, so these numbers are very respectable. In the spring of 1999, Hernandez ruptured his left achilles tendon in a game against the Chicago White Sox. He was lost for the year. That injury was actually a great thing for the San Diego Padres organization.
With Carlos Hernandez lost for the year, the Padres were desperate for catching options.
Young catcher Ben Davis was still very raw and the Padres were not happy with him being forced into an everyday role. Back up catchers Greg Myers and Jim Leyritz were offensive catchers who, at their age, could not handle the rigors of catching every day in the major leagues. Kevin Towers, the Padres G.M., was aggressive as always in pursuing a possible catcher. He did not have to look far as the Los Angeles Angels had a surplus of catchers on their roster. Phil Nevin was dealt to the San Diego Padres as a catcher for utility infielder Andy Sheets. Nevin went on to hit 24 home runs and drive in 85 runs with a .269 batting average in 1999. He caught in 31 games for the Padres, but ultimately was moved to third and first because his bat was blossoming. Nevin finished with 156 career Padres home runs, including a monster 2001 season in which he played in 149 games, recorded a .306 batting average with 41 home runs and 126 RBI. He totaled a 5.8 WAR that season.
Carlos Hernandez missed the entire 1999 season and was dealt at the trade deadline in the 2000 season. He was moved to the St. Louis Cardinals for Heathcliff Slocumb and Ben Johnson. Carlos Hernandez retired after the 2000 season. Injuries just took their toll on the catcher from Venezuela.
He managed the Toros De Tijuana and owned and operated a Venezuelan-themed restaurant in San Diego at one time. He is still active with the team and comes out to Petco Park on 1998-themed nights.
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