#9 Relief Pitcher Willie Hernandez
He will always be Willie to me...mostly because he really made me upset when I was just a 12 year old Tigers fan. Back in the day at Old Tiger Stadium the players would have to come up on to the main concourse to get to the Players parking lot...I was at a game in the summer of 1988 and Willie had gotten roughed up a bit that afternoon by the Minnesota Twins...I waited for my chance to meet him and asked very nicely 'Mr. Hernandez, could you please sign my ball?' He looked at me grumbled something under his breath and walked on down the concourse. I get it, he had a bad day but dude if you don't have time for your fans go sell insurance or something and you won't have any.
Willie Hernandez was the second of three Tigers hurlers to win both the Cy Young and the MVP in the same year (Denny McClain in 1968 and Justin Verlander in 2011 being the other two). He is also important because he came to the team very late in Spring Training of 1984. The Tigers completed fleeced the Philadelphia Phillies as they got not only Hernandez but Dave Bergman (RIP Dave, thank you for your years of service wearing the Old English D). The Tigers gave up Johnny Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson...not to bad for two key components of the 1980's Tigers dynasty.
Let us also dispel one of the biggest myths of the 1984 team...Willie Hernandez was not the closer...and least not as we think of that role today. Sparky Anderson had bullpen arms and he used those arms in a lots of different ways. Willie was always a late inning guy but Sparky used him in many different situations and late in Willie's career he would come to rely on Mike Henneman in the ninth. By the end of the '84 season and in the playoffs it was clear Willie was Sparky's preference but to say he was the closer is something of a misnomer.
Another thing I want to point out here is Willie pitched 140 innings in 1984 as a reliever. That is incredible and I do not know how many two inning saves he had but it was a lot and he pitched multiple innings in Game Five of the 1984 World Series clincher. He was a work horse and a fan favorite up until that season when he decided to change his name.
Maybe that is a little harsh, and had he played in today's MLB he would simply go by Guillermo...and we would all know how to pronounce it and spell it but after a career of playing as Willie his sudden name change was confusing and made him look like a clown.
Now I prefer to remember Willie in his prime the 1984-1986 Willie when the talented southpaw was the workhorse of the Tigers pen.
My 25 favorite Detroit Tiger players