I had intended to use this post to commemorate the career of Dodgers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully’s retirement (and 67 years as the mellow-toned, harmonious voice of the Dodgers). However, I will hold that for BBRT’s upcoming traditional end-of-the-month MLB wrap up – let me just say that there could be no more appropriate way for Scully to cap his broadcasting career than with the call of an extra-inning, game-winning, title-clinching, walk-off home run.
More on Scully next week, today I’d like to recognize the loss of one of baseball’s rising stars – Miami Marlins’ RHP Jose Fernandez – in a tragic boating accident this past weekend. In recent posts, I have talked about my excitement over the host of new young stars (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant – to name just a few) taking the field across the major leagues, even comparing this youthful new era to the 1950’s, when we saw the emergence of players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Whitey Ford and more. Jose Fernandez clearly was one of today’s brightest and fastest-rising young stars. The twenty-four-year-old Fernandez was also one of baseball’s most inspiring stories. He worked hard and risked much to get here – and once he arrived he played, worked and lived with dedication and joy. He was a player, who – despite early stardom – did “more smilin’ than stylin’.”
Jose Fernandez took joy in his craft, bringing to life Roy Campenella’s comment that “You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball for a living.”
Fernandez took joy not only in his opportunity to earn a living on the baseball field, but also in the game itself. And, he was as much fun to watch in the dugout as on the field – cheering on and applauding teammates and openly expressing awe and appreciation for long balls and sparkling plays. He also took joy in his interaction with family, friends and fans; his relationships with teammates and opponents; the opportunity afforded by his U.S. citizenship; and his impending fatherhood. As fans, we were priviliged to observe and share that joy.
Fernandez immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 2008 – after three unsuccessful attempts to defect from Cuba (and the ensuing prison time). Finally, in a fourth and successful attempt (2007), his family to escaped Cuba (reaching Mexico). In that water crossing, Fernandez’ mother was tossed overboard and the 15-year-old Fernandez dove into the choppy waters in a harrowing and successful rescue. After coming to America from Mexico in 2008, Fernandez attended high school (and played baseball) in Tampa, Florida – where he went 13-1, 2.35 as a Senior (2011). His performance earned him a first-round draft pick by the Marlins (14th overall) – and he was on his way.
In 2012, after pitching in just two games at Rookie- and A-level the previous season, Fernandez put up a remarkable 14-1, 1.75 ERA record in stops at A-level Greensboro and High-A Jupiter. He started 25 games and gave up just 89 hits and 35 walks, while fanning 158 batters in 134 innings.
In 2013, at the age of 20, he joined the Marlins’ staff, going 12-6, 2.19 and fanning 187 batters in 172 2/3 innings – earning him an All Star berth, NL Rookie of the Year honors and a third-place finish in the NL CY Young Award voting. He overpowered (and baffled) hitters with a multi-pitch repertoire topped by a mid- to high-90s fastball and a devastating breaking ball.
In 2014, Fernandez was already recognized as the Marlins’ staff ace, honored with the Opening Day start. Fernandez got the win as the Marlins topped the Rockies 10-1, going six innings, giving up just one run on five hits and no walks, while fanning nine. Fernandez went 4-2, 2.44 in eight starts, as his season was cut short by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
Fernandez began the 2015 season on the Disabled List – dedicating himself to the hard work of recovery and rehab. He returned to the Marlins’ mound on July 2 and finished the season 6-1, 2.92 with 79 whiffs in 64 2/3 innings. He was back.
This season, Fernandez earned his second All Star selection (11-4, 2.52 at the break). He was 16-8, 2.86 and had fanned 253 hitters in just 182 1/3 innings at the time of the accident. For his MLB career, Jose Fernandez was 38-17, 2.86, with 589 strikeouts in 471 1/3 innings – including a brilliant 29-2, 1.49 at home. He apparently took joy in swinging the bat as well, with a career average of .213 (.250 this season), with two home runs and 14 RBI in 136 at bats. In his very last game (September 20), he beat the Division-leading Washington Nationals 1-0, going eight innings, giving up just three hits and walking none, while fanning a dozen.
Jose Fernandez – his personality was as electric as his curveball. He will be missed by many – including all of those who find joy in the national pastime. Condolences to his family, friends and fans. Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria perhaps said it best, “Sadly the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fasted.”
Photo by Corn Farmer