When Jose Fernandez headed for the mound every fifth or sixth day, it wasn't just a baseball game. It was an Event. With a capital E. And maybe a capital V-E-N-T, for that matter.
But not just in Miami. For the entire sport of baseball.
"When he went down, I got a lot of text messages from people around the game," Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said. "And it was all stuff like, `I love watching him pitch.' ... 'I love his energy.' ... And that's the thing about Jose. He didn't just represent all the fun things that go with being a dominant pitcher. What people loved about the kid was his energy, and the fun he had out there."
Well, it's funny Jennings should mention that. As the news was breaking this week that Fernandez was headed for Tommy John surgery, I was already in the process of polling 19 scouts and executives from around baseball on the following question:
Who are the 10 "must-see" starting pitchers in baseball?
I wasn't just looking for pitchers with great numbers. I was looking for pitchers who made you stop what you were doing and watch.
I was searching for pitchers who, if you were flipping through a riff of games on your TV remote, forced you to stop flipping, through their sheer charisma on the mound.
Most of all, I was hunting for guys who exude that special quality that Jose Fernandez exuded every time he grabbed the baseball -- namely, FUN. It was just fun to watch him do his thing.
Well, not surprisingly, Fernandez was running away with that poll when his season was so rudely interrupted. So even though he's about to drop off the radar for the next year, he still makes this list. But the rest of this group is a reminder that even without the most fun guy to watch in the entire port, this is an age where we're still lucky enough to have plenty of marquee attractions taking the mound daily.
So here they come, our Top 10 Must-See Starters in Baseball:
The first scout I surveyed for this poll uttered Fernandez's name in about 1.6 seconds, then said, "I'd be surprised if this one wasn't unanimous."
Well, pretty close. Fernandez got 17 out of 19. And I only asked for five names from each voter, simply to make their lives easier. So if I'd asked for 10, I have no doubt he'd have gone 19-for-19.
Just listen to some of the stuff people on other teams had to say about him: "He is, by far, the pitcher I track the most, who isn't available via trade, or not on our team." ... "I'd pay to see him." ... "I love the way he attacks hitters -- and the smile on his face."
And then there's this: "He's got the best stuff in the game, and it's not close. He overshadows anybody else in the major leagues."
Now all this came from teams that had to face this man, remember. Let's just hope that when Fernandez returns next year, he brings the fun --and that electric stuff -- back with him.
"He has to be on the list," chuckled one NL exec, after tossing Kershaw's name out there. "He's the highest paid pitcher in the game."
Uh, no he doesn't. That's the best part of a list like this: No dollar signs attached whatsoever.