Blue Jays mourn passing of Tony Fernandez

February 16th, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays lost a legend this weekend. Tony Fernandez, the All-Star shortstop and 1993 World Series champion known for his defensive brilliance and one-of-a-kind throws across the diamond, has died at 57 after suffering a stroke while battling kidney issues.

“The Toronto Blue Jays are deeply saddened by the passing of Tony Fernandez today, one of our club’s most celebrated and respected players," the Blue Jays said in a statement issued on Sunday. "Enshrined forever in Blue Jays history on the Level of Excellence, Tony left an equally indelible mark in the hearts of a generation of Blue Jays fans during his 12 unforgettable seasons with the team. His impact on the baseball community in Toronto and across Canada is immeasurable. Our deepest condolences are with the Fernandez family during this time.”

Fernandez spent parts of 12 seasons with the Blue Jays over his 17-year Major League career, winning four consecutive Gold Glove Awards and making five All-Star appearances along the way.

On Sunday, those who knew Fernandez spoke of the life he brought to the field, and the man they knew off of it.

“Tony Fernandez was one of the finest people I've ever met in baseball,” said Buck Martinez, the Blue Jays broadcaster who played with Fernandez and later managed him. “He was a terrific person, first and foremost, a great father, a great husband and a great teammate, a hell of a player. I’ll always remember how much joy he had when he played the game. He loved to play the game.”

Over Fernandez’s career, the talented Dominican impacted the game in every way. In the field, Fernandez was known for the awe-inspiring plays where he would go deep into the hole and throw back, across his body, to beat the runner at first. That became a backyard staple for a young generation of Blue Jays fans trying to imitate what Fernandez was to so many -- their favourite player.

“He didn't do things by the book,” Martinez said. “He made up things and I think that's what kids liked about him. Kids could go out on the field and say, 'This is what Tony Fernandez would do,' and throw an off-balance throw or make a backhanded catch.”

The switch-hitting shortstop made his Major League debut in 1983 at age 21, and he played for Toronto over four stints (1983-90, ‘93, ‘98-99 and 2001). He is the club’s career leader in games (1,450), hits (1,583) and triples (72).

After the 1991 season, the Blue Jays dealt Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres for Alomar and Joe Carter, both of whom boosted Toronto to a World Series title in 1992. Fernandez was reacquired by the Blue Jays in a deal with the Mets in 1993 and went on to help the team win its second consecutive Fall Classic in 1993, leading the Blue Jays with nine RBIs while batting .333 in the six-game World Series.

The plays that Martinez remembered were something for which Devon White had a front-row seat when they joined forces in Toronto after White, a center fielder, was acquired from the Angels in the winter of 1990 and the two combined with Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar to form an exceptional defense up the middle. But White also remembered how it felt to play against Fernandez.

Hit a ball on the ground in Fernandez’s direction, and White knew he was running the risk of ending up on a highlight reel.

"When I played against him, I just didn’t want him throwing me out from the hole,” White said. "That’s what he was known for -- throwing off-balance, throwing underhand to first base. Those were challenges, like, 'You’re not going to get me like that.'”

Fernandez’s impact on the Blue Jays stretched beyond the field. Martinez called him “a cornerstone of the winning tradition of the organization.”

Fernandez compiled a .288 average during his 17 seasons in the bigs, during which he also played for the Indians, Reds, Yankees and Brewers, in addition to the Padres and Mets, before finishing his playing career with the Blue Jays in 2001.