’93 Finest: Tony Fernandez

The year 2020 was the year of what might have been if not for tragedies. COVID-19 took off and led to large swathes of everyday life shutting down. Kobe Bryant was among 9 killed in a helicopter crash a month earlier. Kidney disease claimed the life of Toronto fan favorite Tony Fernandez, six years after the same condition took my father.

Baseball played a season without an in-person audience and was limited to just 60 games. The shortened calendar led to intense speculation on the likelihood of a player batting .400 for the first time since 1941. It was indeed possible: Tony Fernandez batted .432 himself in the 60-game stretch spanning April 12 – June 21, 1999.

Fernandez could make good contact, sometimes with less than 100% concentration. In one game he called for time as the pitcher began his windup. The umpire did not grant the request and Fernandez made a flailing lunge at the pitch, somehow hitting a double. He averaged more than 3 WAR per 162 games played with about 1/3 of that total coming from his defensive skill. Fernandez’ defense at short is good enough to rank #120 of all lifetime MLB players and is just ahead of Hall of Fame contemporary Barry Larkin.

Fernandez is pictured in ’93 Finest with the Mets, a team with which he would play less than 60 games (actually just 43) before being traded to the Blue Jays. He played four separate stints with Toronto over the course of his career.