César Hernández made his major league debut for the Phillies in 2013 at the age of 23. While he played in 33 games that year and batted .289, I can’t say I remember the start of his major league career as being particularly impressive. What I remember more clearly are baserunning blunders and my dad complaining that he had no “baseball IQ.” However, since 2013, Hernández has become a mainstay in the Phillies lineup turning into a dependable second-baseman and productive lead-off hitter. On a streaky team full of streaky players, he is the one person the Phillies can count on for a consistently good performance.
Yet, despite Philadelphia’s reputation for having a passionate and knowledgeable fan base, the second-baseman’s reliability seems to go unnoticed by fans. Hernández barely surpasses 3,000 followers on his Instagram account (@cesarh232) and is underrepresented on the Phillies’ social media. Moreover, you don’t see many fans wearing his name on shirts or jerseys, and the last time I visited the clubhouse store, I couldn’t even find one. A friend of mine attributed his lack of popularity to his Latino heritage and inability to speak perfect English. Yet, players like Odúbel Herrera and Freddy Galvis who are from Venezuela—the same country as Hernández is from—have had no problem gaining popularity with Phillies fans.
Hernández isn’t by any means a flashy player. He doesn’t do anything to engage the media and he doesn’t even seem to smile very much. This description seems to offer an explanation as to why Hernández isn’t a fan favorite, but at the same time, it brings to mind one of the most loved Phillies of all time—Chase Utley. Utley was serious and hardworking, and for these qualities, he was adored by fans. He won the Heart and Hustle award six times for the Phillies. This year, the MLB Players Association honors César Hernández with the same award, yet, he hasn’t received half the appreciation from the fanbase. In fact, Utley has probably received more adoration from Phillies fans in one series in Philadelphia than Hernández has all year.
But perhaps it is Philadelphia’s unconditional love for Chase Utley that has allowed Hernández’s talent and hard work to go unnoticed by fans. When Utley was traded to the Dodgers in 2015, he left big shoes to fill. Though, his last years with the Phillies were unimpressive numbers-wise, he represented the Phillies at the height of their success, and was one of the last players from their successful era to leave the team. It can’t be easy for Hernández to live in the shadow of possibly the most beloved second baseman in Philadelphia Phillies history. Moreover, making his debut in 2013 meant joining the team for their first year of having a record below .500 since 2002. From 2013-2017, the Phillies have placed either fourth or fifth in their division, driving down attendance at games and losing the interest of frustrated fans. But for the last five years in which many fans have stopped paying attention, Hernández has accrued a career .277 batting average and a .358 on-base percentage.
However, now that the Phillies have begun to reclaim some success in 2018, the fans—those that have been watching for the past five years and those who are just now returning—still don’t seem to appreciate Hernández. They are more drawn to players like Rhys Hoskins and Odúbel Herrera, who, while impressive, do not demonstrate the same long-term consistency that Hernández has shown. As the Phillies (hopefully) continue an upward trend of success, it remains to be seen whether fans will begin to give Hernández the attention and admiration he deserves or whether the Phillies will even keep him around as the starting second-baseman. Now 28 years-old, he is still young, and has grown and changed with a slowly transitioning team. Hopefully, he is finally able to enjoy success with the team he has worked so hard for.