i salute you, guillermo hernandez

Any discussion of the 1984 Tigers will include amazing Cy Young award relief pitcher Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez. The name change took place after 1984, but he’ll always be Willie to me. I always respected his desire to be known by his given name- even as a kid, it bothered me how some sports writers took veiled pot shots at him as that period of time coincided with his dip in performance. It was a once-in-a-lifetime performance, really: But even without 1984 Hernandez had a respectable major league career. Ironically, he was eventually usurped by another one of my favorite childhood baseball players (Mike Henneman). I’ll feel forever linked to Guillermo: During my freshman year of high school I was relentlessly bullied by a mean and popular kid who spitefully nicknamed me “Guillermo” and my best friend “Queerermo” (ya gotta love the double bonus of racism and homophobia as insults). My friend and I were harmless dorks joined at the hip. I probably could have easily beat up our tormentor but after getting in trouble a handful of times during junior high for defending myself from bullies who targeted my hearing aid, I quickly learned school principals were inexplicably morons and I was NOT jeopardizing my citizenship score on my report card (lest I be denied the opportunity to enroll in a college located at least fifty miles from my point of origin)! At any rate, this particular bully hated that I got the chance to pitch on the school’s baseball team (and it was only a chance, for I spent most of my time riding the bench picking my boogers and daydreaming about whether or not I’d ever have a girlfriend before I died an old man).

I always liked Willie’s smooth windup and how it had a nice unroll at the end before the devastating screwball (at least the 1984 version). And then there are the cool Pumas he wore. I always thought those were pretty jazzy!

This card came from the traded series, you couldn’t get these at Bernie’s gas station. I got mine at baseball card shows later on (you have to remember, this was before the days of the internet).  The traded series was basically a smaller set of cards issued later in the year that included players who got traded just before or during the season to new teams, or breakout rookies who hadn’t made their mark in time to be included in the regular-issue set. During the heyday of baseball cards, cards from the traded series were a pretty nice prize to be had, they held a certain exotic appeal. They just looked different (i don’t think it’s my imagination the backs were frequently a lighter, waxier-looking stock of paper). In the regular set, Willie is featured wearing his Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

Willie Hernandez was born in Aguada, Puerto Rico.

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