The baseball world is mourning the loss of relief pitcher Willie Hernandez, who passed away at age 69. Hernandez, a lefty, began 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.
Hernandez struggled as a reliever for the Cubs to varying degrees of success, but his best days were yet to come. During the 1983 season, he was traded back to the Phillies before being shipped to the Tigers in a four-player swap. This move would prove to be pivotal in his career, leading him to have one of his best seasons ever and develop a screwball and cutter.
The 1984 Tigers were unstoppable, starting the season with a record of 35-5 and winning a World Series title after going 7-1 in the playoffs. Hernandez was outstanding during this time, saving three games and striking out more batters than he walked. He appeared in over 140 innings that year and had one of the highest WAR marks ever by a reliever at 4.8. His incredible performance earned him All-Star status and both AL Cy Young and AL MVP honors – making him one of only eleven pitchers in history to win both awards in the same season.
Hernandez’s legacy will always be remembered for that magical year with the Tigers, where he helped lead them to their first championship since 1945. He closed out the World Series with a two-inning save, fittingly ending his remarkable career on top of his game. Despite struggling with health issues later on in life – including heart surgery – Hernandez remained passionate about baseball until his death at age 69.