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I’d like to give a big thank you to Tony Fernandez. I recently had the opportunity to interview possibly the best shortstop in Blue Jays history. He is as great a person as he was a player. Without further ado, here is the interview:
Throughout Blue Jays history, you are known to be one of, if not the best shortstop to ever play for Toronto. How does it feel knowing you had such an impact, and that the fans and team recognize that?
First of all it’s always good to be recognized, first of all by your peers and if you are recognized by the fans, that’s even better. Unfortunately there are many athletes and great ballplayers that put up great numbers but they don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I don’t know that if I played in the States that it would be different, but I’m glad I played my career here.
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You played for Toronto in the 80’s for the most part. What was Blue Jays baseball like in that time period?
Well baseball in the 80’s was huge. That was about the time Canada started to follow along with baseball, and you couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about baseball. I know that this is a hockey town, and a hockey country, but I think Canada fell in love with baseball. Especially in the 80’s. When I see people around when we come to Canada they say, “Oh the good old days,” but of course the times changed. The world is evolving and so is baseball. I think the 80’s were the best days as far as I’m concerned. Although we won in 1993, I know the Jays won in 92′ and the teams we played with in the 80’s were as good as they were in 92′ and 93′.
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Do you think they are as good now as they were back then?
Well it’s a different era. It’s hard to judge. They take so many more things into consideration now than they did back then. So it’s tough to make that comparison. I think everyone has that gift. Every team is great. In the 80’s, we were as good as anybody, and in the 90’s even better! I mean we won the World Series. How many times do you get to make the playoffs? So how do you judge a good team? That’s up to you. The 80’s and 90’s had different standards, and I’m sure that every decade they had different standards. You have to recognize and give credit to each team during their era.
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In 1990 you were traded to San Diego, and in return Toronto got Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. How did you feel then when you were sent away, and now looking back on it?
Meh. As a professional baseball player and as a professional athlete, you accept the good and the bad. You’re never prepared. You think you are prepared for change but it’s always surprising. Especially when you lose the fans. I fell in love with the fans in Toronto, my children were born here. It’s always tough regardless. We all knew that we needed a change. At least I was able to come back and win.
Jose Bautista turns 39 today.
The last 11 years or so would have been so much different without him. He gave us so many great moments over the years. None better than than the home run and bat flip in game 5, but many many other great moments.
When we traded for him, back in August of 2008, the trade didn’t even merit a post on our site. It turned out to be the best trade of JP Ricciardi’s time as manager and it didn’t get it’s own post. He played in 6 games before getting his first hit as a Jay, and people weren’t exactly thrilled with him. He hit has first home run on September 2nd.
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In total he hit 288 home runs, as a Blue Jay, number 2 on our franchise list, 48 behind Carlos Delgado. He’s also 2nd on the list for bWAR among batters, at 37.3, just behind Tony Fernandez (37.5). He’s also 7th on the team list in OBP (.372), 5th in slugging (.506), 2nd in runs scored (790, trailing Delgado again by 99), 3rd in RBI (766, behind Vernon Wells and Delgado) and 2nd in walks (803, 24 behind Carlos) and 5th in games played (1235).
Beyond that, he was the face of the Blue Jays for several years. And he gave the team a personality. We quickly became a team that played with a bit of an edge or swagger. A team that other team’s fans didn’t like. As Reggie Jackson said ‘they don’t boo nobodies’.
Jose was intense, which isn’t a strong enough word. He wanted to win very badly. Sometimes his ‘intenseness’ rubbed people the wrong way. I honestly never thought I’d see a player that would match him for intensity, then we got Josh Donaldson, who seems his twin in that way. I remember the times when Jose, quietly, stepped in between Josh and umpires when, it seemed like Donaldson was about to get himself thrown out of a game and thought Jose could have used someone doing that for him in the past.
I kind of like guys who really really want to win, though I’ll admit, I do like it when Jose showed us his sense of humor.
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There were people complaining that Jose wasn’t a leader or a good teammate. And, of course, it always came from people who were a long way away from the team. He seemed to do the quiet things that showed how good a teammate he was. Standing up for Devon Travis when Sportsnet, doing a feature of having Hazel Mae pick out a suit for him, and then having Travis pay for it himself. Jose, not making a show of it, refused to talk to Sportsnet until they made things right.
And video of him working with Chris Colabello in the outfield, oh playing the outfield or working with players on their swing seemed to suggest he was a good teammate.
Anyway, Happy Birthday Jose. I hope it is a good one.
John Olerud 58.2 WAR
Fred McGriff 52.6 WAR
Carols Delgado 44.4 WAR
Jorge Posada 42.8 WAR
Tony Fernandez 45.3 WAR
Don Mattingly 42.4 WAR
Yady Molina 37.8 WAR
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What was that experience like? To be able to come back and win a World Series?
Oh that was great. I feel bad for the other guys. The other players spend their whole careers just to get an opportunity and to come up short. We had the opportunity to win. And fortunately we were able to win at home.
For most of the 90’s you moved around from team to team, but you always came back to Toronto. Would it be fair to say that this is like a second home for you?
We consider Toronto part of our home. I always thank Canadian people for allowing me to be a part of their home. You can say that this is like my home away from home. That doesn’t mean I never tried anywhere else I played. I always did my best wherever I was. I was always reminded by the circumstances, the media, the fans, that I was an athlete. I owed it to the organization I was playing for to give it my all, and I have peace with it.
As well as having a great bat, you were fantastic in the field. In 89′ for fielding percentage by a shortstop, were you aware you broke the record?
No. I know the media is more aware of things than we are. I know that I held the fielding record, but I didn’t need the recognition. I won the Gold Glove but I’m glad to hear that it lasted 10 years. I think, someone in the Dominican Republic mentioned it to me but I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t coming out of the United States or Canada so I didn’t know. But I’m glad to hear that again.
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Toronto hasn’t really had a franchise shortstop since you’ve played. There’s one coming up by the name of Bo Bichette. I don’t know if you were aware of this but what is your reaction?
I’ve been out of baseball a while so I wouldn’t know. Bichette? Is that Dante’s kid? That’s crazy.