Jose Fernandez, one of baseball’s brightest stars, is gone too soon. He played with childlike bliss, enjoying every moment of the game he loved. With baseball’s history comes the underlying governance with the “unwritten rules”. Fernandez was one of the few who transcend that fog.
Players like Ken Griffey Jr., David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and a few others, were similar. They weren’t disrespectful on the field. They truly enjoyed every moment they had playing the game. Jose was no different. He made baseball fun again. His attitude towards the game will be his legacy, and should serve as an example to the generations of baseball players that follow.
The Jose Fernandez Legacy
Fernandez’s story has been well circulated throughout his career. From his multiple attempts to defect from Cuba, rescuing his mother from drowning on their successful attempt, to being reunited with his grandmother for the first time since he defected. Fernandez’s story is the epitome of the American dream. He came to America because it provided hope and prosperity beyond what his current environment could’ve. He gave everything he had, and enjoyed every moment along the way.
Of course, the curmudgeons who live their life by the unwritten rules would frown upon his flamboyant style. His ability, though, backed up his confidence and exuberance. Baseball reference tweeted out that in the live-ball era, he has the highest FIP (Fielding Independant Pitching) of any player with a minimum of 400 innings thrown.
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) September 25, 2016
Miami Marlins owner Jeffery Loria said in today’s press conference, “Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones who extinguish the fastest.” Calling him one of the brightest lights in MLB is an understatement.
Fernandez burst onto the scene in 2013, going 12-4 with the Marlins in his rookie season. He put up a 2.14 ERA in 172.2 innings. He struck out 187, walked less than 58, and held an FIP of 2.73. Keep in mind, he was as a 20-year-old. He won Rookie of the Year, and finished third in the CY Young voting as well. Eight games into the 2014 season, the Marlins found he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery. He came back as strong as ever last year, and in 11 starts went 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA. This season? An All-Star and sure-fire CY Young Candidate, Fernandez seemed headed toward the category of “potential Hall of Famer.” Plenty of others have reached that point, but few like Fernandez.
Fernandez had age on his side; barring this tragic accident, he could’ve become the greatest to ever pitch. But there has yet to be a pitcher quite like him. No pitcher had the charisma, the enthusiasm, and the HoF level input all combined. He didn’t beg for the spotlight, his play commanded it. And in the spotlight, we saw a man who absolutely enjoyed every minute he had playing the game he loved. In a game which continues to battle a disconnect with younger generations of fans, his exuberance on the field represented what baseball needs to win them over.
A Player for the People
Social media and technology play a major role in the younger generation’s existence. The need for entertainment is high. When that need isn’t satisfied, they’re on to the next thing.
The NBA and NFL have capitalized on the “entertainment factor” of their leagues. Basketball has become extremely offensively-minded, especially with the three point shot. Defense in the NBA is, frankly, boring to fans, outside of a posterizing block. Even then, the entertainment level with the NBA is through the roof, thanks to flamboyant stars who command the spotlight. Steph Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, to name a few, consistently dominate highlight reels. In the NFL, players like Cam Newton ans Odell Beckham Jr. are stars because their play commands the spotlight, and the fun they have playing the game they love is evident. They live for every play.
If MLB wants to reconnect with younger audiences and not get left in the dust by the NBA and NFL, they need more players like Fernandez. Baseball needs to be fun again. Unwritten rules are not fun. Bat-flips, dingers, and pumped up players are fun. Seeing players at the top of their craft enjoying themselves every step of the way is entertaining. Golf had that in Tiger Woods, a dominant, exuberant player. Woods, at the height of his popularity, basically saved golf. The old white boys club had a member that didn’t fit and defied everything we knew and expected out of a golfer. Jose Fernandez could’ve done the same for baseball, and he still might.
Make baseball fun again. A great game has begun to lose its entertainment factor, its ability to draw in the casual fan. If it continues to rule itself through unwritten rules, then it will slowly decline into a place of irrelevance that it has never experienced. It needed a fresh breath of life, and Jose Fernandez helped provide that. The legacy of Jose Fernandez should be that he made baseball fun again. Hopefully, his legacy provides future generations with an example of what baseball should be: Fun.
Rest in peace Jose Fernandez
July 31, 1992-September 25th, 2016