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Forgotten Players from the 1969 Royals: Pat Kelly and Jackie Hernandez

We remember Pat Kelly and Jackie Hernandez.

Denver Post Archives Denver Post via Getty Images

Pat Kelly

Harold Patrick Kelly was the youngest of nine children born to Orvin and Argie Kelly. The Kelly’s, of Philadelphia, were devout Baptists who took the children to church and Sunday school each week. All the Kelly boys played football, basketball and baseball in high school. Harold, who went by Pat, enjoyed a 15-year career in major league baseball and he was not even the most famous athlete in his family. His older brother, Leroy Kelly, succeeded Jim Brown as the running back for the Cleveland Browns and enjoyed a ten-year Hall of Fame career. Leroy’s rushing total still ranks second on the Browns all-time career list behind Brown. That was a tough act to follow, as Jim Brown still ranks as one of the greatest in NFL history.

Dallas Cowboys v Cleveland Browns
Leroy Kelly
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Kelly’s are only one of three brother sets to have played major league baseball and NFL running back, the other’s being Ron and Alex Johnson, who also played in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and Wayne and Terry Kirby, who played in the 1990’s.

Kelly attended and graduated from Simon Gratz High School in 1962. In basketball, he often competed against Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who played for John Bartram High. Kelly grew up in the Nicetown neighborhood which also produced baseball Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Kelly’s favorite player growing up though was Campanella’s teammate, Jackie Robinson.

After graduation, Kelly signed with the Minnesota Twins. His first stop for the Twins was Class A Orlando, where he had to deal with racial segregation for the first time in his life. “I know those times were hard but what kept me going was what Jackie Robinson went through,” said Kelly.

He spent three seasons in A ball before getting a bump up to AA in 1966. Kelly hit very well in his minor league stint, especially his 19-year-old season in 1964. If there were a better Class A prospect in baseball that year, I’d have to see the numbers. Kelly slashed .325/.429/.518 with 184 hits, 19 home runs, 93 RBI, 107 runs scored and 102 walks over 162 games. He also stole 21 bases in 24 attempts. He was a one-man wrecking crew. Despite that production, Minnesota kept him in Class A in 1965 and were going to keep him in Class A in 1966 before Kelly threatened to quit the game unless they advanced him to AA, which they did.

Kelly finally got an eight-game cup of coffee in late 1967, but only received one at bat. He spent most of 1968 at AAA Denver before getting another twelve games with Minnesota at the end of the season. He collected his first big league hit on September 11th with a second inning double off Sudden Sam McDowell. A few days later, he smashed his first career home run off the Angels Clyde Wright. Despite Kelly’s immense potential, the Twins were set in their outfield with Bob Allison, Tony Oliva and Ted Uhlaender, so they left him unprotected in the expansion draft.

Kansas City selected him with the 34th overall pick. Kelly made the club out of spring training and by April 11 was the Royals starting right fielder. He hit well through April before a 2-for-20 slump in May cooled off his average to .219. He persevered though and by June 24 had pulled his average up to a season high of .293. A late season 12-for-63 swoon in September, dropped his average to the final of .264.

The season was still a success. Kelly ended with 110 hits and stole 40 bases, which led the team. He was second on the team in runs and doubles. Royals manager Joe Gordon said, “he’s improved tremendously with the bat. He’s changed his whole style of attacking the ball. He has a quick bat, a good level swing and has no fear at the plate. He’ll hit all kinds of pitching.”

Kelly began the 1970 season as the Royals starting right fielder. He appeared in 136 games, mostly in right. His slash tailed off to .235/.347/.314 and he once again led the Royals in stolen bases with 34.

His big highlight of the year came on September 11, when he lashed a two-out eighth inning single off rookie Vida Blue, ending Blue’s no-hit bid. Ten days later, Blue did throw a no-hitter, this one at the Twins. Understand, this was not the Vida Blue that Kansas City fans saw from 1982 to 1983. In the early days of his career, Vida Blue was filthy. He was a legitimate threat to throw a no-hitter every time he took the mound. The no-no against the Twins came in only his fourth start of the season. Blue was especially tough on left-handed hitters.

After the close of the 1970 season, the Royals traded Kelly and pitcher Don O’Riley to the White Sox for a pair of first basemen, John Matias and Gail Hopkins. I didn’t understand the trade at the time – the Royals already had Bob Oliver at first. Oliver had hit 27 home runs and driven in 99 during the 1970 season, but Royals brass felt like Hopkins was the answer. Matias never played a game in Royals uniform. He did get a baseball card out of it though. Hopkins was not the answer, but Cedric Tallis atoned for the whiff on Kelly by acquiring John Mayberry, who was the answer at first.

Given new life, Kelly played six seasons on the South Side and played well. He appeared in 692 games for Chicago and had a career White Sox line of .273/.357/.374. He made the American League All-Star team in 1973 (in a game played in Kansas City no less) while the Royals cycled through Joe Keough, Ted Savage, Richie Scheinblum, Steve Hovley, Bob Oliver, Ed Kirkpatrick, Hal McRae, Vada Pinson and Jim Wohlford in right field before Al Cowens finally laid claim to the position. In retrospect, they’d have been better off hanging onto Kelly.

A turning point in Kelly’s life happened in 1975, when his friend Clyde White took him to a bible class. Kelly abandoned his previous lifestyle of alcohol, drugs and women and was born again. His teammates nicknamed him “the Rev”. “The Pat Kelly I had known for 30 years just stopped existing.” said Kelly.

Kelly’s last season in Chicago was 1976 – the Sox had a youngster named Ralph Garr in the wings. They traded Kelly to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Dave Duncan in what turned out to be a great trade for Baltimore. Duncan never played a game for the White Sox while Kelly had four fine seasons in Baltimore. White Sox owner Bill Veeck called the trade “a most glaring mistake.” The White Sox of those days made a lot of “glaring mistakes”. The 1976 roster included young players such as Brian Downing, Bucky Dent, Chet Lemon, Ralph Garr, Rich Coggins, Rich Gossage and Pete Vukovich, all of who would go on to some degree of stardom once they were traded away from Chicago.

With the Orioles, manager Earl Weaver used Kelly and Andres Mora as a very effective right/left platoon. Kelly also appeared in the 1979 World Series for the Birds. Even though he only appeared in 69 games in 1979, he delivered some clutch hits, including an eighth inning, pinch-hit grand slam, which helped the O’s overcome a 4-3 deficit and defeat the Oakland A’s. Kelly had to make two curtain calls before play could be resumed.

He became a free agent after the conclusion of the 1980 season and signed a deal with the Cleveland Indians. His Cleveland career only lasted 48 games before the Tribe released him in April of 1982.

After retiring from baseball, Kelly dedicated his life to preaching the gospel. He became a licensed minister in 1986 with the Evangelical Baptist Church in Baltimore. He was also the executive director of Christian Family outreach, a non-profit in Cleveland that assisted inner city youth. The ministry had been founded by his future father-in-law, the Reverend Howard Jones. Pat and Phyllis Jones had met through former Indian great Andre Thornton, who was married to Phyllis’ sister Gail. Pat and Phyllis were married February 10, 1979 – the Reverend Jones performed the ceremony. The couple had one daughter, April Marie.

On October 2, 2005, Kelly had preached in the Methodist Church of Amberson, Pennsylvania and was on his way to visit some friends when he was felled by a heart attack. Pat Kelly, husband of Phyllis, father of April, brother of Leroy, 15-year major league veteran and man of God, was only 61. After his passing, Joe Ehrmann, a former standout defensive lineman with the Baltimore Colts, said of Kelly, “Pat was such an asset to the community. He was the embodiment of his religious beliefs. He transcended race, class, sports and was just a fabulous lover of people, a good husband and father. He was a charismatic preacher whose message came from his own life and he wanted people to know that he walked with the lord.”

Jackie Hernandez

Like many young boys, I collected baseball cards. The cards of stars were always treasured, but none more so than those of my favorite team, the Royals. I was a little bit OCD about my cards and seemed to notice when Topps would muff a card. For example, in the 1972 set, recently acquired John Mayberry got his first Kansas City card. In those days, I’ve heard that Topps photographers would take two pictures of every player: one in full uniform and hat and the other either without a cap or a picture looking up at the players face with the team insignia and cap logo not visible. This card of Mayberry is from that view, looking up to the underside of his cap. The issue with that set is that the two players traded to Houston for Mayberry, Lance Clemons and Jim York, also got cards showing them as Royals. Whoever was working in the “this player got traded” department at Topps must have had that day off.

In November of 1972, the Royals consummated a trade sending Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum to Cincinnati for Wayne Simpson and Hal McRae. When the 1973 set rolled out, Nelson and Scheinblum were still featured with the Royals and McRae was shown with the Reds. Wayne Simpson, however got a 1973 card with Kansas City. I guess getting one quarter of the deal right was better than nothing, right? Simpson’s card was one of those hideous Topps classics where they tried to airbrush the new teams color and logo on top of the previous team’s cap. Needless to say, those were some ugly baseball cards.

So, it goes with one of the original Royals, Jackie Hernandez. Even though Hernandez only played 228 games in Royal uniform across the 1969 and 1970 seasons, he did receive three Royals cards: 1969, 1970 and 1971, the last one coming long after he had been traded to Pittsburgh in a deal that changed the direction of the Royals franchise. More on that later.

Jackie Hernandez was born on September 11, 1940 in Central Tinguaro, Cuba. His given name was Jacinto, which was later Anglicized to Jackie or Jack. A Central was a giant sugar mill complex, where families lived and worked. The Centrales almost always had baseball facilities for their workers and families. This is how Jacinto got his start in baseball, first as a batboy for the Tinguaro team and later as a player in the Cuban Amateur League. In 1960 Jacinto attended a tryout in Santa Cruz del Norte. Also present were two other future big leaguers: Paulino “Paul” Casanova and Dagoberto “Bert” Campaneris. The scouts told Campaneris that he was too small and to come back next year. The Kansas City Athletics eventually signed Campaneris in April of 1961 in what remains one of their best free agent signings in their team history.

Cuba in 1961, under Fidel Castro, was a country in turmoil. After Castro abolished the Amateur League, Hernandez, Casanova, Campaneris and several other players made the hard decision to leave the island, and their families, to pursue their baseball dreams. They secured visas to travel to the United States through Mexico.

Hernandez signed with the Cleveland Indians and was sent to their Class A affiliate, the Dubuque (Iowa) Packers of the Midwest League. After that first season, a homesick Hernandez spoke with his mother about returning to Cuba. She admonished him, saying “don’t come back! Things are getting worse and if you return you may never be able to leave again.” Mom knew what she was talking about.

Hernandez, who began his career as a catcher, was converted to a shortstop by the Indians. He progressed slowly through their minor league system and early in the 1965 season was given his release by Cleveland. He immediately signed by the California Angels and on September 14, 1965 made his Major League debut. He had a six-game cup of coffee with the Angels and on September 24 collected his first major league hit, a single off future teammate Wally Bunker. That game against the Orioles saw 11 players who either played for the Kansas City Athletics or the Royals.

He got a 58-game stint with the Angels in 1966, primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He only got 23 at bats, collecting one hit for a paltry .043 batting average. He did score 19 runs.

Just as the 1967 season was getting underway, the Angels sent Hernandez to the Minnesota Twins as the player named later in the Dean Chance trade. The Twins were set with Zoilo Versalles at shortstop, which regulated Hernandez to a utility role. Versalles had a career year in 1965, winning the American League MVP award, though a strong case can be made that the award could have gone to his teammate, Tony Oliva. Hernandez spent most of 1967 at the Twins AAA team in Denver and played well. He did appear in 29 late season games for Minnesota, but struggled at the plate, hitting only .143.

At the conclusion of the 1967 season, Minnesota traded the declining Versalles to the Dodgers, opening the shortstop position for Hernandez. Unfortunately, Jackie could not produce with the bat. After hitting just .171 through July 19, Minnesota sent him back to Denver. He was recalled for the last 12 games of the season, but only collected 35 hits in 199 at bats.

Minnesota left him unprotected in the expansion draft and the Royals took him with their 43rd overall pick. Hernandez was plugged into being the Royals starting shortstop. For the 1969 season, Hernandez appeared in 145 games, starting 139 of them, both career highs. His hitting rebounded slightly to .222 but he did make 33 errors. Royals manager Joe Gordon praised some of the spectacular plays he would make and said, “if he just slows down a little bit, he’ll become steadier.”

Being a new team, and with a new manager in 1970, the Royals continued to tinker with their lineup. Hernandez appeared in 83 games that summer while the Royals also gave shortstop time to Rich Severson, Tom Matchick, Paul Schaal and Bobby Floyd. The Royals love affair with light hitting middle infielders started early.

General Manager Cedric Tallis started shopping for another shortstop and on December 2, 1970 consummated a big splash trade, sending Hernandez, little used catcher Jim Campanis and pitcher Bob Johnson to Pittsburgh for catcher Jerry May, pitcher Bruce Dal Canton and shortstop Freddie Patek. Patek became a fixture in Kansas City’s lineup over the next nine seasons and is now a member of the Royals Hall of Fame.

Don’t feel bad for Jackie Hernandez though. He went from an expansion team to a contender. He appeared in 88 games for the Pirates in 1971 as incumbent Gene Alley battled injuries. With a vote of confidence from Roberto Clemente, Hernandez played well down the stretch and in the playoffs as the Bucs defeated the Baltimore Orioles for the World Series title. It was also with the Pirates, on September 1, 1971, that manager Danny Murtaugh rolled out an all-black lineup, the first ever in Major League history.

Hernandez played a utility role for the Pirates in 1972 and 1973, seeing time at first, second, short and third. He still had his struggles at the plate and by 1974, his big-league career was over. He spent 1974 with the Pirates AAA affiliate in Charleston, followed by two years in the Mexican league.

And a return to Cuba? After his mother passed away in 1990, the Castro regime allowed him to return to the island for her funeral, the first and only time he was allowed to come back.

In retirement, Hernandez relocated to Miami and from 1999 to 2006 spent time coaching in the Independent Leagues.

Just before his 79th birthday, Jackie felt sharp pain in his back. The prognosis was not good. He was diagnosed with cancer, which had started in his lungs and metastasized. He died on October 12, 2019. His body was cremated and placed next to that of his beloved wife ida, who had passed away in 2013 after 47 years of marriage.

Jackie Hernandez was a light-hearted man who endeared great respect from his teammates. He overcame countless obstacles in the pursuit of his dream. Jackie once said, “as long as you stay happy, there’s nothing to worry about.”