Blue Jays: Top-five greatest shortstops in franchise history

Toronto Blue Jays
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No. 1 Tony Fernández

To gauge how much of an impact Tony Fernández had on the Blue Jays franchise, just look at the tributes that poured in upon his death in 2020 at the age of 57.

“Tony Fernández was one of the finest people I’ve ever met in baseball,” said former teammate and later TV commentator Buck Martinez. “He was a terrific person, first and foremost, a great father, a great husband and a great teammate, a hell of a player. I’ll always remember how much joy he had when he played the game. He loved to play the game.”

Fernández was just 17 when he was signed by Blue Jays Latin American scout Epy Guerrero in 1979. His first full season as the Blue Jays shortstop in 1985 coincided with the start of a golden age for the franchise. The Blue Jays won their first AL East title as Fernandez was the first to embrace left-fielder George Bell after Bell caught the clinching fly ball. He was a four-time All-Star with the Blue Jays and won four consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

More than two decades after he last wore a Blue Jays uniform, Fernández is still the franchise’s all-time leader in hits (1,583, more than 700 ahead of any other shortstop) and games played (1,450). Among shortstops, he’s first in RBI (613) and batting average (.297, tied with Bo Bichette). An entire generation of young Blue Jays fans would put on their gloves, head out into their backyards, and try to emulate Fernández's signature move, a crossbody throw after snagging a groundball in the hole.

He was already a franchise icon when he was involved in a deal that changed the course of Blue Jays history. On Dec. 5, 1990, the Blue Jays sent Fernández and future Hall of Famer Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

Fernández missed the franchise’s first World Series title in 1992, but he returned in time for the 1993 postseason. He led the team with nine RBI during their six-game win over the Phillies as the Blue Jays became back-to-back World Series champions.

Fernández had a third stint in Toronto in 1998-99 when he hit .324 and averaged 73 RBI over those two seasons. He returned yet again for one final time in 2001 when, at the age of 39, he batted .305 over 48 games. The Blue Jays added his name to the Level of Excellence that season.

Perhaps the biggest tribute came when the Blue Jays wore a patch featuring his iconic No. 1 during the 2020 season. He was gone too soon, but for the Blue Jays, his name will live on forever.

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