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Former Cubs reliever Willie Hernandez has passed away

He went on to better years in Detroit after the Cubs traded him.

Willie Hernandez pitching for the Cubs in 1977
Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Willie Hernandez, a lefthander who pitched for the Cubs from 1977-83, has passed away, aged 69. This Spanish-language article has details (and if you put it into Google Chrome, you should be able to read a translation.

Hernandez was signed by the Phillies out of Puerto Rico in 1973 (this, before Puerto Rican amateurs became subject to the MLB Draft). The Cubs acquired him December 6, 1976 in the Rule 5 Draft.

He became one of the Cubs’ best Rule 5 picks ever. In 1977, Hernandez was one of the big reasons the Cubs contended for much of the season, posting a 3.03 ERA and 1.109 WHIP in 67 appearances covering 101 innings. He wasn’t quite as good the following two years but overall as a Cub he made 323 appearances (11 starts, which, why?) with a 3.81 ERA and 1.375 WHIP. All of that was good for 6.7 bWAR, perfectly fine for the sort of middle reliever he was.

The Cubs traded Hernandez to the Phillies May 22, 1983, a deal I covered just here just last week in my trade series.

But after Hernandez pitched well for the Phillies, including three appearances in the World Series, they traded him and Dave Bergman to the Tigers for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss.

Well. Talk about deals that were one-sided, Hernandez had a spectacular 1984 season in which he had a 1.92 ERA, 0.941 WHIP, 32 saves and just one blown save (which came long after the Tigers had clinched the AL East). He won both the Cy Young Award and MVP, and is one of just three relief pitchers to do that in the same season (also Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers).

Hernandez pitched five more seasons in Detroit and overall in his 13-year career had a 3.38 ERA, 1.245 WHIP and 147 saves, and the World Series ring earned in 1984 along with 16.5 bWAR.

Rest in peace, Willie. Sincere condolences to his family, friends and many fans.