Three-time All-Star relief pitcher Willie Hernández, who played for the Chicago Cubs for parts of seven seasons in the 1970’s and 80’s, has died at the age of 69, according to a spokesman with the Detroit Tigers.
Tigers spokesman Chad Crunk said Tuesday that Hernández died in Florida and the team confirmed Hernández’s death with his family. No cause was announced.
Best known for his time with Detroit, where he won the 1984 AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards — on top of helping capture the World Series that year — Hernandez played for the Cubs from 1977-83, making 323 career appearances to the tune of a 3.81 ERA while on the North Side.
A Rule 5 draft selection for Chicago in Dec. 1976, Hernandez’s best year for the Cubs came during his rookie season in 1977, where he went 8-7 across 67 games in 110 innings on the mound, posting a 3.03 ERA with 78 strikeouts to just 28 walks.
Chicago went on to trade Hernandez to the Philadelphia Phillies in May 1983, where he pitched four scoreless innings in that year’s World Series as the Phillies lost to the Baltimore Orioles, before the Tigers traded for him the following offseason — acquiring Hernández and Dave Bergman from the Phillies for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss a few weeks before the 1984 season.
The left-handed Hernández had a 13-year career but is mostly known for his role as the closer on one of the most dominant teams in the past 40 years. The 1984 Tigers, led by Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris, opened the year 35-5 and cruised to the AL East title with a 104-58 mark before sweeping Kansas City in the AL Championship Series and beating San Diego in a five-games World Series.
Hernández had a 9-3 record and 32 saves in 33 chances in 1984, with a 1.92 ERA over 80 games and 140 1/3 innings. He is among just 11 pitchers to win the Cy Young and MVP in the same year, edging Kansas City’s Dan Quisenberry for Cy Young in 1984 and Minnesota’s Kent Hrbek for MVP.
Hernández would go on to have an excellent postseason and got the final out of the clinching Game 5, coaxing a short fly ball to left field from Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, setting off a celebration. The Tigers haven’t won a World Series since.
“Willie Hernández was a great teammate, and I’m terribly sorry to hear the news of his passing,” former Tigers star Alan Trammell said in a statement. “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 remembered as a World Series champion. My thoughts and prayers are with this family.”
Guillermo Hernández was born in Aguada, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 14, 1954.
Hernández finished with a 70-63 record and a 3.38 ERA, making all three of his all-star game appearances with Detroit from 1984-86.
After a decline in performance led to fan booing, Hernández poured ice water from a bucket over Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom in March 1988 while the reporter was speaking with Tigers teammate Frank Tanana. The following month, Hernández asked the team to have the public address announcer refer to him as Guillermo, and Hernández went by that for the rest of his career.