Former star SS Fernandez dies at 57; Blue Jays hits leader

Former All-Star shortstop Tony Fernández has died

TORONTO -- Tony Fernández, a stylish shortstop who made five All-Star teams during his 17 seasons in the major leagues and helped the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series, died Sunday after complications from a kidney disease. He was 57.

Fernández was taken off a life support system in the afternoon with his family present at a hospital in Weston, Florida, said Imrad Hallim, the director and co-founder of the Tony Fernández Foundation. Fernández had been in a medically induced coma and had waited years for a new kidney.

Fernández won four straight Gold Gloves with the Blue Jays in the 1980s and holds club records for career hits and games played.

“Not only was he a great ball player but a great human being as well. R.I.P. my brother. We will all miss you,” former Toronto teammate Joe Carter tweeted.

A clutch hitter in five trips to the postseason, Fernández had four separate stints with the Blue Jays and played for six other teams.

One of those was the New York Yankees, who replaced him at shortstop with a 21-year-old Derek Jeter in 1996. Fernández was slated to slide over to second base and stick around as insurance, but he broke his right elbow (for the second time in his career) lunging for a ball late in spring training and missed the entire season.

Jeter, of course, went on to win AL Rookie of the Year and the first of his five World Series titles. Fernández, who had been set to help ease Jeter's transition, was given a World Series ring by the Yankees that season.

The next year, Fernández caught on at second with the Cleveland Indians and was instrumental in their 1997 American League pennant. He batted .357 in the AL Championship Series against Baltimore and homered in the 11th inning at Camden Yards to give Cleveland a 1-0 victory in the clinching Game 6 — his only postseason home run.

Fernández then hit .471 with four RBIs in the World Series against the Florida Marlins. His two-run single in the third inning of Game 7 put the Indians ahead 2-0, but the Marlins tied it in the bottom of the ninth and won 3-2 in 11 innings to take the championship.

In 43 career postseason games, Fernández batted .327 with 23 RBIs and a .787 OPS. He went 7 for 21 (.333) with nine RBIs in the 1993 World Series, helping the Blue Jays beat Philadelphia in six games for their second consecutive title.

A wiry switch-hitter with speed, Fernández made his major league debut with the Blue Jays at age 21 in September 1983. He also played for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers in a career that lasted through 2001.

He was a .288 hitter with 94 homers and 844 RBIs in 2,158 big league games. He remains the last Yankees player to hit for the cycle in a home game, accomplishing the feat in 1995.

Fernández finished with 2,276 hits, 1,057 runs, 414 doubles, 92 triples, 246 stolen bases and a .746 OPS. He struck out only 784 times in 8,793 plate appearances — never more than 74 times in a season.

Especially early in his career, the rail-thin Fernández was a breathtaking defender at shortstop. Silky smooth in the field, he had a familiar way of slinging the ball almost underhand from his hip, causing his throws to arc their way to first base before landing softly in a teammate’s mitt.

“A great teammate and friend. A pitchers dream to have him at shortstop when your pitching. One of the best ever,” former Blue Jays pitcher David Wells tweeted.

Fernández was part of a blockbuster trade in December 1990 that sent him and slugger Fred McGriff from Toronto to San Diego for Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar and Carter, who hit the game-ending home run that won the 1993 World Series for the Blue Jays.

Carter posted on Twitter a photo of all four players from that memorable deal in Blue Jays jerseys.

Fernández was traded to the Mets after the 1992 season and then back to Toronto in June 1993. He spent 1995 as the primary shortstop for a Yankees team that gave the franchise its first playoff berth in 14 years.

He signed back on with the Blue Jays for 1998 and made his final All-Star team at age 37 with them in 1999. Playing third base, he set career bests by batting .328 with 75 RBIs and an .877 OPS. His 41 doubles equaled a career high.

Fernández played the next year in Japan, then split his last big league season between Milwaukee and Toronto. He finished up where he started, hitting .305 over 48 games for the Blue Jays in 2001.

“Tony Fernandez embodied kindness and gentleness,” Toronto teammate Vernon Wells said on Twitter. “Heaven is where he belongs. Praying for those who are mourning. I’m thankful I knew him.”

Fernández is Toronto’s career leader in hits (1,583), triples (72) and games played (1,450). He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

He was born in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, a cradle of shortstops and home to dozens of major leaguers who followed such as Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Canó.

After he retired from baseball, Fernández became an ordained minister and the Tony Fernández Foundation was established to assist underprivileged and troubled children.

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