TORONTO — Tony Fernandez, one of the greatest infielders in Toronto Blue Jays history, has died, according to a statement from the team. He was 57.
Fernandez had battled kidney problems for several years. He was first hospitalized with polycystic kidney disease in 2017.
A statement from the Blue Jays called Fernandez “one of our club’s most celebrated and respected players.”
“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,” the team said.
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“His impact on the baseball community in Toronto and across Canada is immeasurable. Our deepest condolences are with the Fernandez family during this time.”
The Dominican-born Fernandez, who spent much of his time at shortstop while also seeing time at second and third base, played 12 seasons over four stints with the Blue Jays. He is the franchise leader in games played (1,450), hits (1,583) and triples (72).
Fernandez’s defence also was a huge part of his game. He won four straight Gold Glove Awards with the Blue Jays from 1986-89 and was a five-time major league all-star.
Originally signed by the Blue Jays in 1979 at the age of 17, Fernandez was one of prized finds of longtime Jays scout Epy Guerrero, who died in 2013.
The Dominican-born scout played a major role in the Blue Jays’ Latin America push, helping Toronto land Carlos Delgado, George Bell, Damaso Garcia and Alfredo Griffin.
Fernandez, who made his major-league debut with Toronto in 1983, was part of the Blue Jays’ first two playoff teams in 1985 and ’89 before he was shipped out in a stunning, blockbuster trade after the 1990 season.
Then-general manager Pat Gillick dealt Fernandez and first baseman Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Joe Carter.
Alomar, now a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Carter were two of the most important players as the Blue Jays won their first and only two World Series titles in 1992 and ’93. The latter hit the walkoff home run in the 1993 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Fernandez, however, also was a key part of the ’93 team after the Jays re-acquired the pending free agent in a trade with the New York Mets, who originally landed the shortstop in a deal with San Diego after the ’92 season. The Jays had a hole at shortstop after Dick Schofield suffered a season-ending injury.
Fernandez batted .306 in 94 regular-season games for the Blue Jays in 1993. He then had averages of .318 and .333 in the American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox and World Series versus the Phillies, respectively.
After stints with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees, Fernandez fell just short of winning another World Series title with Cleveland in 1997 as the Indians lost in Game 7 against the Florida Marlins.
Fernandez returned to the Blue Jays for two more years starting in 1998. He made the all-star game in 1999 before spending a season in Japan.
Fernandez finished his 17-season major-league career playing 48 games for the Blue Jays in 2001 after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Late in the 2001 season, the Blue Jays put Fernandez on their Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre.
Fernandez was the seventh recipient of the honour, and the second infielder after Alomar.
After his retirement, Fernandez was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2020.
The Canadian Press
Photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame