Yankee Duke

Orlando Hernandez left Cuba for big league stardom

October 10, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

By Cassidy Lent 

Orlando Hernandez entered the big leagues to great fanfare after defecting from his Cuban home. 

And El Duque lived up to the advance billing. 

After establishing himself as a major star in the Cuban leagues and leading Cuba to the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Hernandez defected to Costa Rica and eventually the United States in 1997. He quickly signed a four-year, $6.6 million contract with the Yankees. 

In 1998, Hernandez went 12-4 with a 3.13 earned-run average for the Bronx Bombers, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting. He carried that momentum into the postseason, where he pitched Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees were down two-games-to-one going into Game 4 against the Cleveland Indians, but El Duque pitched a gem, going seven innings while allowing three hits and no runs. The Yankees went on to win the series and then the World Series. 

El Duque continued to excel in the postseason, and earned the Game 1 start for the 1999 World Series against the Braves after going 17-9 for the Yankees in the regular season. In 19 postseason games with the Yankees and White Sox, Hernandez posted a 9-3 record with a 2.55 ERA. He was a part of four World Championship teams: Three with the Yankees (1998-2000) and one with the White Sox (2005). 

After nine seasons and four World Series rings, Hernandez retired at the age of 42. He posted a career record of 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA.

 Check out bios of other Latin Legends here

Cassidy Lent was a 2012 library research intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.

For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here