1984 Cy Young and MVP Winner Willie Hernández Dies at 69: Remembering the Former Tigers Pitcher

Former Detroit Tigers Cy Young winner Willie Hernández passed away at the age of 69 on Monday. The National Baseball Hall of Fame confirmed his death on Tuesday, paying tribute to him with a tweet.

Hernández’s career in the major leagues spanned 13 years, during which he played for three teams. His journey began with the Chicago Cubs, where he spent six and a half years primarily serving as a relief pitcher. Despite a few opportunities to start, he maintained a 3.81 ERA with the Cubs, which was 7% better than the league average at the time.

In 1983, Hernández was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he excelled, posting a 3.29 ERA and saving seven games over 95 2/3 innings.

Willie Hernández’s Rise to Stardom with the Tigers

Prior to the 1984 season, Hernández was traded to the Tigers. The team designated him as their closer, and he quickly emerged as a prominent figure, saving 32 games and achieving a 1.92 ERA, leading baseball in games pitched and games finished. His outstanding performance earned him the MVP and Cy Young awards in 1984.

Willie Hernández posted a 1.92 ERA with the Tigers in 1984. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Willie Hernández posted a 1.92 ERA with the Tigers in 1984. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) (Focus On Sport via Getty Images)

The Tigers finished the regular season at the top of the AL East with a 104-58 record and heavily relied on Hernández’s pitching during the postseason. He attained a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings and secured three saves as the Tigers emerged victorious in the World Series.

Hernández was a three-time All-Star with the Tigers and remained with the team until 1989, although he faced elbow issues that led to a brief absence. Throughout his six-year tenure with the Tigers, Hernández maintained a standout 2.98 ERA, which was 35% better than the league average.

Although he attempted two comebacks, including a stint with the New York Yankees at the age of 40, Hernández never returned to the major leagues. Despite this, he made a memorable appearance at the Tigers’ home opener in 2019 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.


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