Willie Hernández pitching for the victorious Detroit Tigers in the fifth and final game of the 1984 World Series in Detroit. He recorded two saves and gave up just one run in 5⅓ innings in winning the Series’s M.V.P. award.Credit…Associated Press
Willie Hernández, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1984 when his brilliant relief pitching helped propel the Detroit Tigers to a World Series championship, died on Monday in Sebring, Fla. He was 69.
His death was announced by the Tigers. His wife, Dulce Carrasco, told the Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora that he had experienced heart problems for many years.
Hernández, a left-hander, also won the Cy Young Award as the A.L.’s leading pitcher in 1984. He was the fourth American League pitcher and seventh pitcher overall to win both the Cy Young and M.V.P. laurels, which are voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It’s unbelievable, winning these two awards in the same year for a relief pitcher,” he told The New York Times on winning the M.V.P. honor.
Hernández led major league pitchers in appearances (80) and games finished (68) in 1984, when he posted a 9-3 record with a 1.92 earned run average. He had 32 saves in 33 chances after tallying a total of only 27 saves in his seven previous seasons.
The 1984 Tigers finished 104-58 in the regular season, then swept the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series and defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-1, in the World Series.
Hernández appeared in three games in the World Series and had saves in two of them. He yielded just one run and four hits in 5⅓ innings. He earned the final out of the clinching Game 5, getting Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to hit a soft fly to left field.
Hernández became only the third pitcher in major league history, after Sandy Koufax and Denny McLain, to win the Cy Young and M.V.P. awards and appear with World Series champions in the same season. He was an All-Star in 1984 and the two seasons that followed.
Guillermo Hernández Villanueva was born on Nov. 14, 1954, in Aguada, P.R., the seventh of eight children. His father, Dinicio, worked in a sugar cane factory, and his mother, Dominga, was a housekeeper. He played baseball as a youth, joined the Puerto Rican national team in 1973 after his high school graduation and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization in September for a $25,000 bonus (the equivalent of about $170,000 today).
After pitching in the Phillies’ and Chicago Cubs’ minor league systems, Hernández made his major league debut with the Cubs in April 1977. He became their leading relief pitcher in 1982.
Hernández began the 1983 season with the Cubs but was traded to the Phillies in May. He helped take them to the National League pennant and appeared in three games in the 1983 World Series without giving up a hit, though they lost to the Baltimore Orioles in five games.
The Phillies traded him to the Tigers in March 1984, and he went on to enjoy his marquee season, concentrating on a cut fastball, which pounded right-handed batters inside, and a screwball.
Hernández pitched for the Tigers through the 1989 season. In his 13 major league seasons, he appeared in 744 games, 733 as a relief pitcher. He compiled a win-loss record of 70-63 with a 3.38 earned run average, 788 strikeouts and 147 saves.
After retiring from baseball, he operated a manufacturing company and a cattle ranch in Puerto Rico.
On April 4, 2019, Hernández returned to Detroit to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Tigers’ home opener to commemorate the 35th anniversary of their winning the 1984 World Series. The team has not won a championship since then.
Hernández had two sons, Guillermo and Xavier, from his first marriage, to Carmen Rivera, which ended in divorce. Apart from his second wife, a list of survivors was not immediately available.
Alan Trammell, the Hall of Fame shortstop and Hernández’s longtime Tigers teammate, 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.”