The baseball world has lost another iconic figure as relief pitcher Willie Hernández passed away at the age of 69. Hernández, a lefty, started his professional career as an amateur free agent with the Phillies in 1973 before being selected by the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft in 1976. Over seven seasons with the Cubs, he had varying levels of success, including an outstanding rookie year in 1977 when he had a 3.03 ERA and was worth 3.2 WAR.
However, it wasn’t until Hernández was traded back to the Phillies and then shipped to the Tigers in a four-player swap that his best season would come. The move paved the way for Hernández to develop a screwball and cutter, which would prove to be highly effective during the regular season of 1984. The Tigers won their first World Series title that year after starting off with a dominant record of 35-5 and finishing with a winning record of 104 games.
Hernandez’s performance during those playoffs was nothing short of outstanding, earning him three saves while maintaining an impressive ERA and WHIP ratio. His contributions were crucial to the team’s success and earned him numerous awards including an AL Cy Young Award and AL MVP.
Despite his impressive achievements on the field, Hernandez faced some health challenges later in life, undergoing heart surgery to install a pacemaker in 2009. However, he continued to remain active in baseball and even threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Tigers game following his surgery. He will be remembered for his incredible season in 1984 and for being one of just eleven pitchers in history to win both the MVP and Cy Young award in the same season.