A Dog Bite Helped Cuban Legend

By Yasel Porto

When people tell me that luck doesn’t exist, this is one of those examples I like to point out to show that in baseball, as in everything in life, talent is not enough to succeed.

A dog bite will never be something that does anyone any little favor, unless that person is committing a crime of any sort or attacking someone with a disadvantage.

However, one of the greatest stars of Cuban baseball was benefited by the aggressiveness of a puppy. The action was, by the way, very welcome by people from his country. Rejoicing for that is not a good thing, but the events that unfolded brought up the very Orlando “El Duque” Hernández.

The dog situation took place in 1998, and “El Duque”, despite being hundreds of miles away, had a direct role. The dog’s victim at the time was none other than one of the members of the coveted spots in the New York Yankees starting rotation.

The great David Cone was attacked by his mother’s puppy, a tiny and young female dog by the name of Veronica, who hurt his thumb and sidelined him to the injured list. This opened the gates for El Duque to make his MLB debut on June 3, 1998.

As a curious detail, when the little animal died 16 years later, the already retired pitcher published a very peculiar tweet, in which he included the Cuban pitcher. According to Cone, the cause of death was her advanced age, as most people would have imagined.

What is very curious is how such a tiny animal managed to get David Cone out of play for at least a week. This is enough reason to take luck into account as one of the factors that influence sports. According to what David Cone–one of the most successful pitchers of his generation–said, Veronica bit him because she thought he was attacking her, when his intention was actually play with her

Hernández had been signed by the Bombers that very year ($6.2 millions for six season) and until the Cone-Veronica incident, he had been limited to the Minors his entire professional career. When he was called up, he had a 7-1 ledger between High-A and mainly AAA.

The debut of the Industriales and Team Cuba pitcher was impeccable. He threw seven innings with just a run, five hits and seven strikeouts to the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the old Yankee Stadium. His team backed him well enough to help him win his first outing in baseball’s grandest stage 6-1.

The damage sustained by Cone was not so serious for Orlando to have a second start in his place. However, luck would be next to the Cuban during the whole season and even farther.

Orlando “El Duque” Hernández making his MLB debut.

The other David in Joe Torre’s staff, Wells, got an injury that was more serious than that of his namesake. This was another opportunity for the legendary #26, which propelled him to prove that his arrival in the Big Show had been to shine for a long time.

El Duque not only became part of the rotation of the pinstripes, but also became the most successful pitcher of the club during the second half of the season.  He had a more than positive 12-4 record and a 3.13 ERA; besides, he started and won two crucial games in the playoffs. 

The first was in the ALCS to help the Yankees tie the series 2-2 against the Cleveland Indians, and then Game 2 of the Fall Classic against the San Diego Padres.

The Bronx Bombers would win that World Series, and would do the same the next two, having the Havana-burn hurler as a crucial player.

It is very likely that if Cone’s incident with the dog hadn’t happened, Hernández would have received the call sooner or later: for David Wells a week later, but the story could have been different. Nobody knows, because it is in the past and completely subjective.

The only real thing is that El Duque’s first game in the MLB was a very extraordinary coincidence, while others consider it to be a good movie script. If we add to the equation the fact that a few months before that he was stranded in Cuba, banned for life and with a very cloudy future in baseball, already at age 32, the movie that has never been made about him becomes more dramatic.

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