Willie Hernández, the three-time All-Star relief pitcher and recipient of the 1984 AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards with the World Series-winning Detroit Tigers, has passed away at the age of 69, as confirmed by Tigers spokesman Chad Crunk on Tuesday. The left-handed pitching legend, renowned for his pivotal role as the closer on the 1984 Tigers, left an indelible mark on the baseball world.
The 1984 season was nothing short of extraordinary for Hernández and the Tigers, led by the formidable trio of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Jack Morris. Opening the season with a remarkable 35-5 record, the team cruised to the AL East title, boasting a formidable 104-58 mark. Their dominance continued with a sweep of Kansas City in the AL Championship Series and a five-game triumph over San Diego in the World Series.
Hernández’s standout performance in 1984 included a stellar 9-3 record, securing 32 saves in 33 chances, and an impressive 1.92 ERA over 80 games and 140⅓ innings. His exceptional achievements placed him among the elite, with only 11 pitchers in history winning both the Cy Young and MVP in the same year, edging out competitors like Kansas City’s Dan Quisenberry for the Cy Young and Minnesota’s Kent Hrbek for MVP.
The pinnacle of Hernández’s season was his remarkable postseason display, culminating in the final out of the clinching Game 5. His skillful pitching induced a short fly ball to left field from Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, triggering an exuberant celebration. Remarkably, the Tigers haven’t secured a World Series victory since that historic year.
In a heartfelt statement, former Tigers star Alan Trammell expressed his sorrow at Hernández’s passing, remembering him as a great teammate. Trammell reflected on the joyous celebration on the mound after the final out of the 1984 World Series and emphasized Hernández’s enduring legacy as a World Series champion.
Hernández’s extraordinary feat of winning MVP honors, the Cy Young Award, and the World Series in the same season aligns him with the ranks of legends Sandy Koufax (1963) and Denny McLain (1968).
Born Guillermo Hernández in Aguada, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 14, 1954, his ascent to baseball stardom was unpredictable during his initial 6½ seasons with the Chicago Cubs. Traded to Philadelphia in 1983, Hernández pitched four scoreless innings in that year’s World Series as the Phillies fell to Baltimore.
A few weeks before the 1984 season, Detroit acquired Hernández and Dave Bergman from the Phillies in exchange for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss. Hernández continued to shine, earning three consecutive All-Star selections from 1984 to 1986.
Hernández concluded his illustrious career with a 70-63 record and a 3.38 ERA. Despite facing a decline in performance that led to fan discontent, Hernández remained a notable figure. In a memorable incident in March 1988, he playfully poured ice water over Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom during an interview with Tigers teammate Frank Tanana.
The subsequent month, Hernández, acknowledging a new chapter, requested to be referred to as Guillermo by the public address announcer, adopting the name for the remainder of his distinguished career. As the baseball community bids farewell to a true icon, Guillermo Hernández’s impact on the sport’s history and the enduring legacy of the 1984 Tigers’ triumph will resonate for generations.