April 26, 2014

The Curse of Willie Hernandez

Give Me The Ball

I still remember the day the Tigers acquired Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman from the Philadelphia Phillies. This was before Twitter, ESPN.com, and any other avenue for sharing information quickly. Nobody texted out the information or sent a quick email. I remember reading about it in the Traverse City Record–Eagle. I think the caption said something like, "Give me the ball!" And Willie Hernandez was a Tiger.

Willie Hernandez Arrives

Acquired late in the spring training season on March 24, Hernandez and Bergman arrived in Lakeland, Florida, ready for what promised to be a big season. The Tigers had signed a free agent Darrell Evans — the first time they went down that road. The Tigers had battled so well in 1983, falling just short of the Baltimore Orioles in the pennant race.


As you remember, the Tigers went on to win the World Series in 1984. It was the beginning of a dynasty. Or so we thought. The Tigers only made it back to the playoffs one time, in 1987. Hernandez was a good reliever in 1984 and 1985 but by 1986 was no longer effective and several Tigers saved games that year.


The Tigers had a series of ace relievers after Hernandez: Mike Henneman (current West Michigan White Caps pitching coach), Todd Jones (who left and returned), Matt (ahem) Anderson, Juan Acevedo (really?), Ugeth Urbina, Fernando Rodney & Kyle Farnsworth, Todd Jones, Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Nathan.

Why Don't the Tigers Dominate

Several former Tigers are closing games elsewhere and doing well. Why don't the Tigers ever seem to have a shut down reliever? I mean Jones was the "Rollercoaster" because it was never easy watching him close games, Rodney was the "Demon Drop" because he wasn't much different from Jones, and Valverde despite saving nearly 50 straight games NEVER made it seem EASY. Papa Grandé was only good when he had a save situation.

The Curse of Willie Hernandez

I think the Tigers closer problems date to 1984 when Hernandez joined the Tigers and won the Cy Young and MVP awards with a season that wouldn't even be considered "in the conversation" with today's closers. He was good in '84 and his season is considered one of the best ever. His manager was the amazing "Captain Hook," Sparky Anderson who changed the way bullpens were used in the 1970s. Between Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez, the Tigers two ace relievers accounted for 277 innings pitched and 46 saves. Doug Bair even saved four games. It was an incredible season for the Tigers, and Hernandez was a major component. And when Sparky "gave him the ball," it changed the outcome of many games. But Hernandez was unique. He didn't throw hard, threw a screw ball, and fizzled out quickly.

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