It was the summer of 2004 and some local radio station’s personalities were appearing at a newly opened sports bar. My father and I went to meet them and partake in the prizes and giveaways. The question that was stumping everyone the entire evening was asked to us. As soon as I heard the question, a smile came across my face as I replied, “Tony Fernandez.”
Tony Fernandez was much more than an answer to a trivia question. In his 17 year career, Fernandez was a five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and helped the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series. He was a career .288 hitter, who played for multiple teams and whose fans have wonderful memories of Fernandez’s play.
In 1997, Fernandez was a member of the Cleveland Indians. He was an important piece of a team that made it to the World Series and was involved in two of the biggest plays of the playoff run. The first came in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles. In the Top of the 11th, he hit a solo home run against Armando Benitez to put the Indians up 1 – 0, a score that would hold and send the Indians to the World Series.
His next big moment took place in Game 7 of the World Series. After hitting a two-run single in the 3rd inning to put the Indians up, the Florida Marlins chipped away at the lead. With the game tied in the 11th and Bobby Bonilla at first, Craig Counsell came up to the plate and hit a grounder towards Fernandez, which could have led to a double-play but got by Fernandez and allowed Bonilla to make it to third base. After Bonilla was out at home due to a ground-out by Devon White, Edgar Renteria came up to the plate and got a base hit, just out of the reach of Fernandez, to score the game-winning run.
Some Indians fans want to blame Fernandez for losing the 1997 World Series but the truth is, they would not have made it as far as they did without him. Additionally, for a team that was filled with the power hitters that they were, only scoring two runs off Fernandez’s bat is something to be ashamed of. Fernandez was exactly what the ’97 Indians needed, sadly in the most important moment the ball got passed him.
Tony Fernandez passed away on Saturday evening at the age of 57. He suffered a stroke and was dealing with kidney complications. For many baseball fans of a certain age, Fernandez represents a part of their youth, which is now gone. May all those who loved Fernandez find solace in an appropriate time.