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February 15, 2009 - John Mehno
It seems to have largely escaped notice that former Pirates reliever Ramon Hernandez died on Feb. 4 in Puerto Rico at the reported age of 68.
Hernandez was a very good situational lefthander, and one of the more unique characters to perform for the team. He waved off all interview requests, maintaining that he couldn't speak English, even though he started pitching in the United States in the late 1950s. He was quiet in the clubhouse, mingling mostly with Spanish-speaking teammates. The Pirates had a bench-clearing brawl one year and, of course, all the players rushed to the field from the bullpens. All except one: Hernandez stayed planted on the bench on the bullpen. His teammates didn't hold it against him.
They respected the job he did for the Pirates. He could drop down and throw sidearm, which just baffled a lot of good lefthanded hitters. LH batters hit .224 against him in his career. Hernandez and Dave Giusti gave the Pirates a very effective 1-2 combination out of the bullpen, especially in 1972. After bouncing around the minor leagues, Hernandez found a home in Pittsburgh. One day it ended when he was traded to the Cubs. The Pirates had younger pitchers coming along and it was always rumored that Hernandez was older than his listed age.
He pitched briefly for the Cubs, then was with the Red Sox for an even shorter time. Then his career was over. Hernandez went home and didn't stay in touch. He was with the Pirates for four full seasons, but no one really knew that much about him. He showed up every spring, did his job, then went away until the next spring. There's something to be said for that.