Former Detroit Tiger Willie Hernández Dies at 69

The record-breaking relief pitcher helped deliver the Tigers’ triumphant 1984 World Series win.
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Photograph from IStock

Legendary Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Guillermo “Willie” Hernández passed away Monday night at age 69, at his home in Sebring, Florida, according to reports from the Puerto Rican newspaper, Primera Hora.

Hernández was born and raised in Aguada, Puerto Rico. A young prodigy at 18, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1973, then drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1976. In 1984, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers, and helped deliver a triumphant World Series win over the San Diego Padres, throwing the final pitch of that game.

He was named American League MVP and made history as the first Puerto Rican (and left-handed) pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. He was also the second Tigers pitcher to surpass 30 saves — in 32 out of 33 opportunities. Throughout the ‘80s, he pitched 140 1/3 innings— the fourth highest of any relief pitcher that decade.

But his intensity wasn’t limited to the field — in 1988, he made headlines for dumping a bucket of ice water over journalist Mitch Albom’s head, unhappy with a Detroit Free Press column he had written.

After six seasons with the Tigers, he retired in 1989 and began working in construction management, as well as operating a ranch in Puerto Rico. In 2019, he returned to Detroit on opening day to throw the first pitch at Comerica Park.

The Detroit Tigers released the following statement on X, formerly Twitter:

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