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Tomase: Hernández's sense of humor shown in these two great stories originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Kiké Hernández would've made an amazing Idiot, and that's a compliment.
In another year, when fans and media had regular access to players, we'd have a much better sense of Hernández's personality, and it turns out he would've fit right in with Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and Co. in 2004. There's a reason he was such a fan favorite in Los Angeles, and it's not just because he played hard at virtually every position on the diamond.
Hernández is a legitimate character, a non-stop jokester who believes in keeping things light in the clubhouse while leaving everything he has on the field. The results speak for themselves. Hernández is a leader and he's becoming more and more productive, with 13 homers and Gold Glove-caliber defense in center as he makes the leadoff spot his own for the first-place Red Sox.
"He's a crazy dude," said bench coach Carlos Febles. "He's a fun guy to be around. He's the type of guy you need in your clubhouse. He's a likeable guy. He comes up with stuff that makes people laugh. It's fascinating. Every team needs, not a clown, but somebody that's different, somebody that's fun."
Hernández certainly fits that bill. During a recent conversation after batting practice, Hernández told two stories that illustrate his sense of humor: the time he spent half a season in the minors pretending he couldn't speak English, and his reaction to giving up a walkoff homer with the Dodgers.
Let's start with the minors. An unheralded sixth-round pick of the Astros in 2009 out of American Military Academy in Puerto Rico, Hernández reached Triple A five years later.
His manager was an old-school hard-ass named Tony DeFrancesco who had missed spring training and the start of the season while being treated for cancer. When he returned in late May to take over Triple-A Oklahoma City, Hernández was hitting over .300.
"You're a pretty good baseball player," he told Hernández in their first meeting. "How's your English?"
Hernández, who is perfectly fluent with barely even a hint of an accent, said he had one immediate thought.
"Well, you're (expletived)," he said with a laugh. "And I said, 'English class! English class! Very, very good!"
For the next month, Hernández summoned a translator for every interaction with DeFrancesco, wondering why the manager never noted that he didn't require one to talk to the pitcher during mound visits.
Teammates could barely contain themselves at the length of the deception. Hernández finally broke character in a team meeting.
"We were going through a rough stretch and he pulled all the position players into his office and he was wearing us out, and in the middle of him yelling at us and cussing us out, I raised my hand and he goes, 'WHAT?!? WHAT THE (EXPLETIVE) DO YOU WANT!??'" Hernández said, clearly giddy at the memory. "And I told him, 'I just want you to know that I speak perfect English and that I've been (expletive) with you this whole time. He started laughing like, 'I knew it! I knew it!' and he couldn't be mad anymore."
When the Red Sox signed Hernández over the winter, manager Alex Cora cited the DeFrancesco story as an example of Hernández's warped humor. The super utility player is just being true to himself.
"I've been this way since I was a little kid," he said. "I'm not very good at being a hypocrite or not being myself. I've always cared very little if other people want to judge me. If you like me, great. If you don't, that's great as well. This is just who I am and I'm going to be myself. It's a very long year. It's too long a season to pretend you're somebody else. I did it from Day 1 in pro ball. I'm not going to change who I am. That's just me."
Hernández said he dialed back his personality for the first couple of weeks of spring training to get the lay of the land with a new team. "I wasn't fully all-out Kiké the first few weeks, because I didn't want people to think, 'This guy's really weird' from the get-go," he said. "But the more I got to know the guys, the more they got to know me as well, they got to see that side."
His reputation preceded him. One of his more notable moments in a Dodgers uniform came in 2018 when L.A. ran out of pitchers in the 16th inning of a tie game vs. the Phillies. On came Hernández for his pitching debut in less-than-ideal circumstances. He retired the leadoff man on a lineout before walking two and then serving up a mammoth opposite-field walk-off to Trevor Plouffe.
The game ended after 1 a.m., with a 12:30 p.m. start looming the next afternoon.
"Position players pitch in blowouts," Hernández said. "I happened to pitch in a tie game and I gave up a walkoff homer and it was a very (expletive) feeling because you just cost your team a game. We got in the clubhouse and you could hear people breathing, that's how quiet it was."
The Dodgers needed a pick-me-up, so Hernández broke the silence.
"I was like, 'Hey, guys, has anybody ever gone 0 for 7 at the plate and also lost a game on a home run like I just did?'" Hernández asked. "Then I started seeing tweets and Googling and researching and it turns out only me and Babe Ruth have gone 0 for 7 at the plate and lost the game on the mound. That's pretty (expletive) special. I got some bragging rights -- only position player in history to give up a walkoff homer. So, those are some humblebrags I got for you. I don't get paid to pitch."
Hernández's research was actually slight off, but he's keeping no less impressive company. The only other player to go 0 for 7 and surrender a game-losing homer was none other than Boston's Cy Young, who served up a two-run shot to Philadelphia's Harry Davis in the top of the 20th while going 0 for 8 in 1905.
At nearly 3 a.m. after taking the loss, Hernández tweeted, "Welp… I thought it'd help me in arbitration but … It backfired! K bye. See you tomorrow. #L"
It's all part of not taking himself too seriously -- except when it matters. After all, Hernández played a key role in the Dodgers winning a World Series last year, and he's got a three-homer playoff game to his credit, too. He has brought that full persona to Boston.
"People quickly get an understanding that I'm, whatever you want to call it -- loose, funny -- but once we're between those lines, I'm as serious as anyone else about this game," he said. "I think people get a quick understanding of that. They look at the way I play the game. I'll run through walls if I have to, and people tend to love that."