Sports | Ex-Detroit Tigers star, 1984 AL MVP Willie Hernandez dies at 69
Former Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Guillermo “Willie” Hernández, who won the American League MVP award, AL Cy Young award and World Series championship in 1984 as part of his 13-year MLB career, died on Monday night.
He was 69.
Hernández, who suffered from heart conditions after his playing career, died at his home in Sebring, Florida, according to a report from La Primera Hora. Funeral services are expected to take place in Aguada, Puerto Rico, where Hernández was born in 1954.
“The Tigers are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Willie Hernández,” the Tigers said in a statement Tuesday. “Our thoughts are with the Hernández family, his friends, and teammates.”
Hernández is one of 10 players to win the MVP and Cy Young in the same season, along with Don Newcombe in 1956, Koufax in 1963, McLain in 1968, Bob Gibson in 1968, Rollie Fingers in 1981, Roger Clemens in 1986, Dennis Eckersley in 1992, Justin Verlander in 2011 and Clayton Kershaw in 2014.
Three of those players — Fingers, Hernández and Eckersley — worked as relievers. Both Fingers and Eckersley were induced into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“Willie Hernández was a great teammate, and I’m terribly sorry to hear the news of his passing,” Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, who played for the Tigers from 1977-96, said in a statement Tuesday. “I will never forget our team’s celebration together on the mound after he recorded the final out of the 1984 World Series. He will always be remembers as a World Series champion. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
In the 1984 season, Hernández posted a 1.92 ERA and 32 saves across 140⅓ innings in 80 games out of the bullpen. Of those 80 games, 68 of them were games finished. He appeared in an additional six games during the postseason, including three games, 5⅓ innings and two saves in the World Series.
“He was our stud,” Trammell told the Free Press on Tuesday. “We certainly would not have won the championship without him. His control was pinpoint that year. He had an amazing screwball which hasn’t been thrown much in the history of the game. … Willie was a friendly guy who got along with everyone.”
Hernández, a left-hander, pitched the final two innings of the 1984 World Series. He faced eight batters and earned the save to secure an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium.
He also picked up the save in Game 3 of the World Series.
“It obviously came as a shock to learn of Willie’s passing,” former Tigers catcher and teammate Lance Parrish said Tuesday. “I heard his health was not good. It’s a sad day. We all loved Willie and he was such a huge reason for our success in ’84.
“It was fun to catch Willie who had endless success that year. He was so dominant. It didn’t take me long to get on the same page with him on how he liked to pick batters apart. It was fun to sit back there and watch him work because he had amazing command of everything. Willie was a fun guy to be around. He was a great guy in the clubhouse with a great work ethic. Sparky (Anderson, manager) asked him to do things that aren’t asked of many closers in today’s game and he never failed to answer the bell.”
The Tigers acquired Hernández (and Dave Bergman) from the Philadelphia Phillies in March 1984, trading away Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss. Before the trade, Hernández played for the Chicago Cubs (1977-83) and the Phillies (1983).
Hernández spent his final six seasons, from 1984-89, as a member of the Tigers. He made the AL All-Star team in 1984, 1986 and 1987, registering a 2.60 ERA and 87 saves across 335⅔ innings in 218 games during the three-year stretch.
In his 13-year MLB career, Hernández had a 3.38 ERA with 147 saves and 778 strikeouts over 1,044⅔ innings in 744 games. He tacked on a 1.32 ERA with three saves and seven strikeouts over 13⅔ innings in 10 games in the postseason.
“We were the best of friends and it is very sad for me and my family,” former Tigers utility player and teammate Barbaro Garbey said Tuesday. “I was a rookie in ’84 and Willie was like a brother to me and we did everything together. He gave me great advice for on and off the field.
“My English was very poor back then and he often acted as a translator for me. We only had a few Latinos on the team back then. He was happy all the time, joking around. Of course everyone knows what a great pitcher he was. The baseball world has lost a great guy and competitor and he will be missed. The Tiger family is not doing well today.”
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