I really hope history is kind to Tony Fernandez because he always seemed to get short changed during his playing days.
When he emerged in the mid 1980’s, the debate over who the best shortstop was in the majors was between Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken Jr. During one of Fernandez’s best seasons, all the attention for shortstops was split between Smith and Alan Trammell.
When the 1990’s produced a bumper crop of superstar shortstops like Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar, Vizquel and Renteria, Fernandez was still chugging along, making the All Star team and getting big hits.
Sadly one of the best defensive infielders I ever saw play is best remembered for an uncharacteristic miscue in the World Series, a post season that featured one of his greatest highlights.
Well here at Sully Baseball, we remember Tony Fernandez as a superstar. A product of the Blue Jay’s aggressive scouting in the Dominican Republic, Fernandez signed in 1979 and shot through the Blue Jays system. By 1983 he was on the big league club and in 1985 was the starting shortstop when Toronto won its first division title.
He hit well in 1985 (.289/.340/.390) when you consider he was there for his glove only. But by 1986, he began to show he was more than an all field no hit infielder. He was a .310 hitter in 1986 and added 25 steals to his arsenal while winning the first of 4 straight Gold Gloves. He increased his average to .322 in 1987 and his OPS to .805 as the Blue Jays had one of their best overall seasons.
Fernandez got hurt down the stretch and the Blue Jays collapsed in the final week to Detroit. As the debate raged for the MVP between Alan Trammell and the eventual winner, Fernandez’s teammate George Bell, many believed that Tony was the MVP of the Blue Jays and the final week showed it.
More All Star appearances and Gold Gloves piled up on his resume. In the 1989 ALCS, one of the few Toronto highlights was Fernandez’s game tying double in Game 3 that led to the Blue Jays lone victory against the A’s.
The wonderful Toronto squad highlighted by Fernandez, Bell, Fred McGriff et al could never make it past the ALCS. So after they fell short on the final day of the 1990 season to Boston, the team had a makeover.
Fernandez and McGriff were shipped to San Diego for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. That deal has been credited with pushing the team over the top. Sadly for Fernandez, he was on the wrong side of the deal as he toiled for a losing Padres team and later the 1993 Mets, considered to be one of the worst teams in baseball history.
He got a reprieve when the Blue Jays reacquired him for the 1993 pennant stretch and he finally won his World Series ring when Joe Carter took Mitch Williams deep. Even then, the focus was on another veteran earning a World Series title, Paul Molitor, over Fernandez.
Fernandez bounced around in the 1990’s, playing in the post season for the 1995 Yankees. He was scheduled to be the starting shortstop for 1996 but an injury took him out for the season. This opened the door for Derek Jeter, who again overshadowed the solid veteran.
He returned in 1997 to play second base for the Indians along side Omar Vizquel, another player who got more notice for his defense than Fernandez ever did. He had a good overall season, tying his career high with 11 homers. He added a home run off of Armando Benitez in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the ALCS which put the Indians up for good to clinch the pennant.
Back in the World Series, he batted .471 with an OPS of .974 and looked to help clinch Cleveland’s first title since 1948. Sadly for him and his legacy, Fernandez made a rare error in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. This prolonged the Marlins rally and they would win on Renteria’s single over Nagy. Once again, another infielder took the limelight.
Fernandez kept surviving. He found himself in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Japan and a few more turns in Toronto, making the 1999 All Star team, before finally retiring with the 2001 Blue Jays.
He is considered to be an All Time Blue Jay and is beloved in Toronto. But his wonderful career seemed to have deserved more praise. At each stage of his career, there was another infielder to celebrate. But the fact that he was always there makes Tony Fernandez a superstar worth saluting.