Former closer Willie Hernandez doesn’t carry the same star power of past Detroit Tigers who have won Most Valuable Player awards, including most recent winners Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.
In fact, Joe Posnanski of MLB.com says one could argue Hernandez’s MVP win following the 1984 season was the biggest surprise in the history of the award.
Though Hernandez ranks third on Posnanski’s list of unlikliest MVPs, posted Tuesday, he included that “the only reason Hernandez is not No. 1 on this list is that MVP voters kind of went out of their minds for a while with relief pitchers, between 1981-92.
“For a while there, any relief pitcher who had a good year was an MVP Award candidate.”
And, make no mistake, Hernandez in 1984 had a great year.
The lefty, acquired in the offseason from the Phillies, used his trademark screwball to save 32 games for the World Series champion Tigers, going 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA. He threw 140.1 innings, compiling a 0.94 WHIP with 112 strikeouts en route to also winning the American League Cy Young Award.
“Hernandez had been a serviceable lefty out of the bullpen, nothing more, when the Tigers at the very last minute decided to acquire him in a trade from the Phillies a few days before Opening Day in 1984,” Posnanski wrote. “Sparky Anderson made Hernandez his closer, and Detroit shot out of the gate 35-5, coasted to the World Series title, and Hernandez did not blow a save until the very end of the season.”
Hernandez beat out Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek in the MVP race, getting 16 first-place votes to five apiece from Hrbek and Kansas City Royals closer Dan Quisenberry. He was the Tigers’ first MVP since right-hander Denny McLain won the award with the 1968 world champions. He would be the last until Verlander won the award 27 seasons later, followed by back-to-back MVP awards from Cabrera.
Hernandez spent six seasons in Detroit, where he saved 120 games.