The best shortstop ever to play for the Blue Jays, Tony Fernandez, would be 59 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 had four different tours of duty with the Jays. He came up to the Jays in 1983, at 21 years old, and played shortstop 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 Cleveland before we signed him as a free agent before the 1998 season to be a 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 four Gold Gloves. He was a very athletic shortstop and was always a favourite of mine. Tony had a remarkable ability to make that leaping jump-spin throw to first. And, of course, that sidearm throw to first was something I tried to copy. I remember him smiling and happy on the bench, but he was generally quiet with the media. Maybe it was a language thing. Back then, I thought that Dominican players had a bit of a distrust of the media, but perhaps it was the media that didn’t like talking to players through a translator. I had someone ask me why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t speak English. I suggested he does but would prefer to interviews in the language he was most comfortable using. I don’t think players got that choice back in Tony’s day.
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.
He passed away back in February of 2020.