WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 15: Livan Hernandez #61 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after pitching a complete game 10-0 shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on June 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Nationals starter Livan Hernandez pitched his last game of 2011 on Sunday and perhaps his final inning as a member of the Washington Nationals. What will the Cuban's Washington legacy be?
All right, Natstown. Your brother in blog has something on his mind, and he needs your help. I’ve struggled with an issue that dips a little into baseball and a little into parenting. Being a Washington Nationals fan and a father is complicated enough having to deal with the losses, the diapers, the lack of fundamentals and the birds and the bees talk, but damn it, no parenting class or stat book ever warned me about Livan Hernandez.
Some back-story before we get to the meat of the problem: I am an avid Washington Nationals collector. I in fact hoard anything I can find and can afford that has to do with the team. Programs, baseball cards, ticket stubs, anything. I even have a vial of dirt from the Nationals Park warning track and a hair pick I once found in the Nationals bullpen in hopes of one day doing a DNA scan to find out what player used it on his head. Don’t ask how I acquired these -- I’ll never tell -- but they are part of my collection. Also in my collection are items that don’t belong to me per say, but to my daughter until she is of an age I can give them to her. A signed Stephen Strasburg ball is one such item. The darling little rugrat and her mother somehow got No. 37 to sign during Spring Training 2010.
Another item is a ball given to my daughter by Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez. On June 4th, 2010 I brought a nice sized portion of the family, including my daughter, to Nationals Park for a game. We sat on the first-base line a little past the dugout, and during the pre-game festivities; Hernandez came walking out of the bullpen in a Nationals hoodie in route to the dugout to prepare for his start. My daughter took full of advantage of the fact Nationals Park doesn’t sell out and so made use of the empty rows running up and down them in joy. Hernandez saw this and, God bless his soul, he tossed a ball to my daughter’s Grandfather and motioned him to give the ball to her. She happily took it. That ball is now in my collection. I had it placed in a nice ball holder complete with a slot to put a baseball card in. I provided a nice Allen & Ginter Hernandez card and now my daughter has a very nice Nationals item to look forward to in the future.
Sunday was Hernandez’s last ride in 2011. Manager Davey Johnson shut him down so the Nationals can get a chance to see some of the young bucks in their farm stable. The old workhorse had the crowd giving ovations, the media gushing and talking about how every move he made was "classic" or "vintage" Livo. Nice, if you are into that sort of over-exaggerated candy charm.
Here is where the problem comes in. When I go to give her the ball many years from now, how do I explain the enigma of Livan Hernandez? Like it or not, he still has those allegations swimming around out there about his possible role as a "straw buyer" for a known drug trafficker.
It is a dirty situation, almost unfathomable to think about. Hernandez, "Mr. National," a guy who has given countless innings to the franchise, throwing in with Puerto Rican degenerates. He has not been charged with anything or declared guilty in any sense of the word, but he might as well been given the black spot on a page ripped out from the Bible. He will forever have this scuffmark on his career, even if the truth is never found and no serious charges are brought against him. There will always be that nagging doubt.
It will be that doubt that ends his career here in Washington. The Nationals and MLB have a thing against the drug trade. They’ve had some nasty experiences with it in the past. On top of it all, Hernandez’s career is well into its twilight. He isn’t getting any better. Oh yes, there was that dream 2010 season where he threw a smooth 3.66 ERA, but if 2011 has shown anything about Hernandez, it is that past season was an aberration not a new standard.
I just can’t see the Nationals, on the verge of possibly making a huge push in 2012, wanting to explain their decision to keep an aging, possible known drug trafficking accomplice on the roster, no matter how many innings he gives or complete-game shutouts he throws. This is not to mention other quirks like paying a man to allow him to beat the poor guy's testicles to mush.
Hernandez doesn’t even fit the profile of player that Mike Rizzo prefers: young, athletic, fast. Fact of the matter is, the Nationals have been lucky at dodging the bullet with Hernandez and shouldn’t want to be there when the sites land right between their eyes. He claims he would take a long relief role with Washington, but if he goes elsewhere, he wants to start. All that means is he isn’t gagging to stay in D.C. as much as one might think.
Livan the reliever? Maybe, but it is really time to move on. A rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scarface doesn’t necessarily excite or give off a sense of pride. Or maybe it does in certain circles and I am wrong.
But it does not change the fact that my job will not be any easier when my little girl asks me who Livan Hernandez was. I am not sure what I am going to say about the man, considering the story is still being written, but one thing is for sure. I am going to tell her she can touch the ball, but I better not ever catch her in her room sniffing it.