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Top 60 All-Time Jays: #5 Tony Fernandez

Detroit Tigers vs. Toronto Blue Jays

Octavio Antonio Fernandez Castro | SS, 3B | 1983-1990, 1993, 1998-1999, 2001

Tony Fernandez (born Octavio Antonio Fernandez Castro) was born June 30th, 1962, in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Jays in 1979. The Jays, back then, scouted the Dominican pretty thoroughly; we signed several players from there.

The Jays called Tony up when the rosters expanded in September 1983 and got into a handful of games. He was called up to the Jays for good at the end of May 1984, at first splitting time with veteran Alfredo Griffin and slowly taking over the position as the season went on. He also played some third base. A switch hitter, he had a pretty decent rookie season, hitting .270/.317/.356 in 88 games.

After the season, the Jays traded Alfredo Griffin to the Oakland A’s, along with Dave Collins, for closer Bill Caudill and to make room for Fernandez. The trade didn’t work out but making room for Tony did. Griffin was a pretty good defensive shortstop but poor with the bat. Fernandez was an outstanding acrobatic shortstop with a good bat.

In 1985 Tony played in all 161 games the Jays played, starting at SS in 158 and coming in as a pinch hitter in 3 others. He hit .289/.340/.390 mostly batting in the 9th spot in the order, but they had him lead off some games near the end of the season. He scored 71 runs and drove in 51, with 10 triples. It was not a great offensive season, but for a team that had Alfredo Griffin at short, it looked good.

In 1986 Tony again played in all the Jays games, 163 that year. He hit at the back of the order again until early June when Jimy Williams finally decided that having Damaso Garcia leading off with a .300 on-base percentage might not be the best use of his players. Fernandez led off for the rest of the year. Tony lead the league with 687 at-bats, was 3rd in hits with 213, 5th in doubles (41), 10th in steals (32), and 7th in batting average (.310). It was a good season for him. He was an All-Star, won the Gold Glove, and was 14th in MVP voting.

Fernandez set career highs in batting average and on-base percentage in 1987, hitting .322/.379/.426 in 146 games. He scored 90 runs, drove in 67, and stole a career-high 32 bases. He won his second Gold Glove, played in the All-Star game again, and came in 8th in the MVP voting. 1987 was the bad year we lost our last seven games to lose out on the Tigers’ first play. As you likely remember, Fernandez was injured when Tiger Bill Madlock slid (well, really more a rolling block) into him while he was trying to turn a double play. Fernandez broke his elbow and was out of the lineup for the last nine games. Losing him and Ernie Whitt cost us a shot at the playoffs.

Tony won his 3rd consecutive Gold Glove in 1988; he didn’t hit quite as well as he did the year before (.287/.335/.386) but still hit 41 doubles and received some MVP votes again.

We made it back to the playoffs in 1989. Tony hit .350/.381/.500 in our five-game series loss to the A’s. He also won his 4th straight Gold Glove, made the All-Star team, and came in 19th in the MVP voting. On April 7th, Tony was hit by a Cecilio Guante pitch in the face and missed almost a month of playing time with facial reconstruction surgery. It was a terrible moment to watch.

1990 was Tony’s last year of his first tour with the team. Again he was very durable, playing in 161 games. He hit .276/.352/.381 and led the league with 17 triples. After the season, he was part of one of the biggest trades in Blue Jays history. He and Fred McGriff went to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. The trade worked out for us. Tony played in San Diego for two years, and then they traded him to the Mets after the 1992 season.

His time with the Mets start well, and the Jays weren’t happy with what they were getting from their shortstops early in 1993. We tried Dick Schofield, Luis Sojo, Domingo Cedeno, and even had brought back Alfredo Griffin, but none of them really could handle the job. Pat Gillick traded to get Fernandez back on June 11th, giving the Mets Darrin Jackson.

Tony hit .306/.361/.442 in 94 regular-season games with the Jays, then hit .318/.375/.318 in our six-game ALCS win over the White Sox. He hit .333/.423/.381 in our six-game World Series win over the Phillies. It is nice that he could come back to get a World Series ring with the Jays.

After the season, he signed as a free agent with the Reds and then played a season with the Yankees. Tony was to play short, but he suffered an early-season injury, and Derek Jeter was called up. He hit for the cycle on September 3rd, 1995, with the Yankees. An elbow injury in spring training of 1996 cost Tony the season. In 1997 he made it back to the World Series with Cleveland, but an 11th inning error in game seven helped lose the Series.

The Jays signed Fernandez as a free agent in the off-season before the 1998 season to bring him back for his 3rd stint. Tony played 82 games at second base and 54 games at third base, hitting a terrific .321/.387/.459 scoring 71 runs and driving in 72, a career-high till the next season. He came in 9th in the league in batting and on-base percentage.

In 1999 Tony played third base and had one of the best offensive seasons ever for a Jay 3B. He hit .328/.427/.449. His batting average was 5th best, and his On-Base % was 3rd best in Blue Jay history. He scored 73 runs and drove in 75. Unfortunately, he also had what must be one of our worst defensive seasons for a third baseman. He had very little range left and made 18 errors for a .939 fielding average.

Fernandez went over to Japan to play for the Seibu Lions in 2000. In 2001, he came back and played for the Brewers for a couple of months, got released, and then signed with the Jays for the last go-around, where he played in 48 games, mainly as a pinch hitter a DH. After the season, he retired.

Tony Fernandez had a 17 year MLB career playing 2158 games with 7911 at-bats. He hit .288/.347/.399 with 94 homers, 1057 Runs, 844 RBI, and 246 stolen bases. Twelve of those seasons, Tony played with the Jays, mostly at SS. He was an excellent, athletic SS when he was young, winning 4 Gold Gloves. He wasn’t quite Ozzie Smith, but he was very good. I think he is the smoothest shortstop I ever watched. A switch-hitter he hit much the same from the left side as the right side. And he hit well with RISP (.319/.389/.442).

In his Big Book of Baseball Lineups, Rob Neyer has Tony as our best shortstop in team history and, of course, our best fielding shortstop. Neyer also gives ‘Professor Gadget’ as his nickname for his ability to use anything at hand as a ‘strength conditioning tool. Bill James had him as the 24th best shortstop of all time in his New Historical Baseball Abstract.

He did have a reputation of being a little moody. That seems to be one of those things people tended to say about Dominican players. White middle infielders are gritty, Dominican ones are moody. He didn’t walk as much as you would like, and his stolen base percentage could have been better. But he rarely struck out and was terrific defensively. If you look at our ‘Best Seasons for Jay Shortstops’ you see Tony Fernandez in the top four spots and seven of the top ten. He is also on the list of top seasons for third basemen.

He was always a favourite of mine, but then I like watching great defensive shortstops. He had a remarkable ability to make that leaping jump-spin throw to first. I remember him smiling and happy on the bench, but he was generally quiet with the media. Maybe it was a language thing.

If I ruled the world, Tony would be in the Hall of Fame. There are a list of people to whom I owe a thanks for making me a baseball fan. Tony is high on that list.

Fernandez had a charity, the Tony Fernandez Foundation, in the Dominican that has the goal of “influencing children’s lives to be productive citizens of the world, bringing hope to a troubled society.”

Fernandez passed away on February 16th, 2020. We remembered him back here.

Tony Fernandez place among Jay hitting leaders:

bWAR: 2nd, 37.5

Defensive WAR: 1st, 12.4

Batting Average: 5th, .297

On-Base %: 14th, .353

Slugging Average: 36th, .412

Game Played: 1st, 1450

Plate Appearances: 3rd, 5335

Runs: 5th, 704

Hits 1st 1583

Doubles: 3rd, 291

Triples: 1st, 72

Homers: 38th, 60

RBI: 8th, 613

Walks: 6th, 439

Strikeouts: 21st, 493

Steals: 4th, 172

Times on Base: 2nd, 2070

Sacrifice Bunts: 5th 34

Sacrifice Flies: 5th, 44