Blue Jays Flashback: Tony Fernandez

This edition of Bodog’s Blue Jays Flashback is tinged with sadness, as our MLB nostalgia expert Kevin Glew reminisces on the brilliance of the late Tony Fernandez.

It’s still hard to accept that Tony Fernandez is gone.

He died on February 16, 2020 after a lengthy battle with kidney problems when he was just 57.

But the graceful, switch-hitting shortstop who wore No.1 with the Toronto Blue Jays remains No.1 in the hearts of many of the team’s fans.


“Tony was a baseball legend in every sense,” the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame said in a statement following Fernandez’s death.

On top of wearing No.1 on the back of his jersey, Fernandez is No.1 on the Blue Jays’ all-time hits list with 1,583 and is No.1 among Blue Jays in triples (72) and games played (1,450).

He was also the first Blue Jays infielder to win a Gold Glove Award and the first infielder added to the club’s Level of Excellence.

But the road to the big leagues wasn’t easy for No.1.

Fernandez grew in poverty in San Pedro de Macoris, D.R. One of the reasons he possessed such soft hands in the field was that his family couldn’t afford a glove, so for much of his youth, he fielded ground balls with his bare hands.

A bone chip was discovered in Fernandez’s right knee when he was 16, which made him damaged goods to many scouts. But after the money was pulled together to have the bone chip removed, Fernandez recovered and worked tirelessly to hone his skills. Legendary Latin American scout Epy Guerrero took notice and signed him for the Blue Jays in 1979.

At about 6-feet and 140 pounds, Fernandez entered the Blue Jays’ minor league ranks in 1980 and quickly impressed. He received his first big league call up in 1983 and batted .270 in 88 games the ensuing campaign which convinced the Blue Jays to deal Alfredo Griffin, their starting shortstop, to the Oakland A’s as part of a package for closer Bill Caudill.

With a loose grip on his bat and a stance modelled after seven-time American League batting champ Rod Carew, Fernandez seemed like a magician at the plate, capable of slapping balls to any field. In 1985, his first season as the Blue Jays’ full-time shortstop, he batted .289 in 161 games and led the team with 10 triples.

But fans marveled at Fernandez’s defence even more. The sure-handed shortstop would often range far to his left or right, glove the ball and fire it sidearm to first base. It was a throwing motion imitated by almost every kid playing baseball across the country in the mid-to-late 80s.

His grace on the field helped the Blue Jays secure their first division title in 1985. From there, Fernandez developed into one of the best shortstops of his era, capturing four consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1986 to 1989. During that stretch, he was also selected to three All-Star Games.

“What a great player he was,” said longtime teammate Jesse Barfield of Fernandez during his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech. “He had all of the tools. I know Ozzie Smith deserves a lot of credit, but in the American League, we had the best shortstop by far.”

Former Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, who played seven seasons with Fernandez, offered a similar assessment.

“Not only did Tony make all the routine plays, but he made some spectacular plays up the middle and in the five-six hole and then that little throwing action that he had – the little flip – was very accurate,” said Whitt. “And he was a pretty good hitter, too. He did a lot for us.”

In 1986, Fernandez became the first Blue Jay to record 200 hits in a season and three years later, he helped lead the Blue Jays to another division title.

Following the 1990 campaign, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres, along with Fred McGriff, for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

But after two seasons with the Padres and part of another with the New York Mets, Fernandez was traded back to the Blue Jays on June 11, 1993. He proceeded to bat .306 in 94 games down the stretch to help the Blue Jays to another division title. The veteran shortstop then contributed a team-leading nine RBIs in the World Series to help the Blue Jays capture their second consecutive championship.

Fernandez departed for the Cincinnati Reds after the season and stints with the New York Yankees and Cleveland would follow before he returned to the Blue Jays for a third tenure in 1998 that he would see him bat .321 in 138 games. He followed that up by hitting .328 in 142 games in 1999, which earned him his fifth All-Star Game selection.

In 2000, he signed with the Seibu Lions of the Japan Pacific League, before returning to start the 2001 campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to finishing out that year with his fourth and final stint with the Blue Jays.

That short tenure allowed No.1 to retire as a Blue Jay.

Fernandez finished with 2,276 hits in 17 big league seasons. For his efforts, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

“That’s one of my best friends in life, not just in baseball,” said Barfield about Fernandez in June. “What a great ambassador for the sport. I miss him dearly – a part of me left when he left.”



Longtime Blue Jays fans feel the same way about No.1, who remains No.1 in their hearts.