The best shortstop ever to play for the Blue Jays, Tony Fernandez, would be 58 today.
Tony is our franchise leader in games played (1450) and hits (1583), among other things. He also holds our single season record for singles (161) and triples (17). He also leads position players in bWAR at 37.5 (Jose Bautista is second at 37.0).
Fernandez actually had 4 different tours of duty with the Jays. He came up to the Jays in 1983, at 21 years old and played shortstop for us until 1990. Then he was part of the big trade, going to San Diego with Fred McGriff for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. You may have heard about that trade before.
Then in 1993, our shortstop Dick Schofield, was injured in early May. The Jays tried Alfredo Griffin and Domingo Cedeno at the spot but neither were really up to the job, so they traded with the Mets to get Fernandez back. It worked out well, Tony hit .306/.361/.442 in 94 games with the team and got himself a World Series ring.
After the season he signed with the Reds as a free agent. He played with the Reds, Yankees and Indians before we signed him as a free agent, before the 1998 this time to be an utility infielder for us. He ended up playing a bunch of games at second and third base in 1998. Then in 1999 he was a full-time third baseman. He had a super year with the bat in 1999, hitting .328/.427/.449, though his defense left some to be desired.
In 2000 he went to play in Japan. Then the Brewers signed him, as a free agent before the 2001 season. He played there for a couple of months, was released and we signed him again. He pinch hit and DHed a bit for us and was able to retire as a Blue Jay.
Tony won 4 Gold Gloves, he was a very athletic shortstop. He was always a favourite of mine. He had a great ability to make that leaping jump-spin throw to first. I remember him smiling and happy on the bench but then he was generally quiet with the media, maybe it was a language thing. I thought that Dominican players, back then, had a bit of a distrust of the media, but maybe it was the media that didn’t like talking to players through a translator.
I always say that he was the smoothest shortstop I ever watched play baseball.
Fernandez is in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In a more just world he would be in the MLB Hall of Fame.
His death, back in February, made me sad for days.