Toronto Blue Jays legend Tony Fernandez dies at 57


DUNEDIN, FLA.—Tony Fernandez, one of the best players to put on a Blue Jays uniform, has died at the age of 57 after a long battle with kidney problems.

Fernandez had been dealing with polycystic kidney disease since 2017. He suffered a stroke in early February and was placed in an induced coma to stabilize his health. There were signs of improvement in recent days, but he reportedly experienced a setback and eventually had to be taken off life support.

The Dominican native appeared in parts of 12 seasons for the Blue Jays during a big-league career which spanned three decades. Fernandez was a career .288 hitter and he remains Toronto’s all-time leader in hits (1,583), games played (1,450) and triples (72). The five-time all star won four gold gloves and he was instrumental in helping the Blue Jays defend their World Series title in 1993.

“It’s very sad,” former teammate Buck Martinez said Sunday morning. “We all knew that Tony was sick for quite a while, and that he was in failing health. Tony Fernandez was one of the finest people I ever met in baseball. He was a terrific person, first and foremost, a great father, a great husband and a great teammate, a hell of a player. I’ll always remember how much joy he had when he played the game.”

Fernandez broke into the big leagues with the Blue Jays in 1983. Within two years he became the club’s full-time shortstop and by 1986 he was an all star. The gifted defender was known for his sidearm flip from the third-base side of the diamond and his ability to scatter the ball all over the field while at the plate.

Toronto made the post-season twice during Fernandez’s time with the Blue Jays during the 1980s. After the 1990 season, general manager Pat Gillick sent two of his biggest stars — Fernandez and Fred McGriff — to the Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. That put an end to Fernandez’s eight-year run in Toronto, but it would not be the last time he donned a Blue Jays logo.

Fernandez returned in 1993 as part of a mid-season trade with the Mets. He hit .306 for the Blue Jays during the regular season and .326 in the playoffs to help Toronto defend its World Series title. Fernandez then bounced around between a few teams in the mid-90s before rejoining the Blue Jays in 1999 and again in 2001 before officially retiring.

“When he was at his best, I didn’t want to play against him,” said former outfielder Devon White, who was teammates with Fernandez in 1993. “I was with the Angels at the time. When he came back with Toronto, we were so defensively strong up the middle for as long as I can remember playing with the Blue Jays.

“When I played against him, I just didn’t want him throwing me out from the hole. That’s what he was known for — throwing off balance, throwing underhand to first base. Those were challenges, like, you’re not going to get me like that.”

Word of Fernandez’s death started making the rounds on social media late Friday night. Todd Stottlemyre, Dan Plesac and David Wells were among those quick to pay tribute to their former teammate. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posted a picture of Fernandez’s plaque from his 2008 induction ceremony.

The Blue Jays also released a statement Sunday morning to honour the man who was named to the club’s level of excellence on Sept. 23, 2001.

“The Toronto Blue Jays are deeply saddened by the passing of Tony Fernandez today, one of our club’s most celebrated and respected players,” the statement said. “Enshrined forever in Blue Jays history on the Level of Excellence, Tony left an equally indelible mark in the hearts of a generation of Blue Jays fans during his 12 unforgettable seasons with the team. His impact on the baseball community in Toronto and across Canada is immeasurable. Our deepest condolences are with the Fernandez family during this time.”

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Gregor Chisholm is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @GregorChisholm or reach him via email: gchisholm@thestar.ca

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