Slick-fielding Fernandez seeks Hall call
Beloved Blue Jays shortstop on BBWAA ballot for first time
TORONTO -- High above the playing field inside the Rogers Centre and spread across the facing of the stadium's 500 level are seven names.
Tony Fernandez is one of the men honored on Toronto's Level of Excellence, which is the team's highest honor. The slick-fielding shortstop will always be remembered as one of the greatest players in Blue Jays history -- not to mention one of the top Dominican players of his era.
Now, Fernandez is on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Results of the 2007 BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 9, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"He has Hall of Fame credentials, especially in the eyes of Blue Jays fans," said Toronto play-by-play man Jerry Howarth, who was in the radio booth for Fernandez's entire career with the Jays.
"Tony Fernandez was one of the most popular players in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays and for good reason. He played the game with grace and elegance."
Fernandez spent 18 seasons in the Major Leagues and had stints with the Blue Jays, Padres, Mets, Reds, Yankees, Indians and Brewers. When Fernandez retired after the 2001 season, he had accumulated 2,276 hits, which represented the most by a player from the Dominican Republic until Julio Franco and Sammy Sosa passed the total.
In 1979, Toronto signed Fernandez as a 17-year-old amateur free agent. He made his big-league debut in 1983 and then spent the first eight years of career with the Jays. Fernandez picked up four consecutive American League Gold Glove Awards from 1986-89, establishing himself as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.
"Fans will always remember his fluid motion from the hole at short," Howarth said. "Retiring runners at first with those long, looping throws that seemingly took forever to get to the bag, but were always there just in time for the out."
Toronto traded Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres in exchange for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in 1990. Alomar and Carter went on to help the Blue Jays capture their first World Series title in 1992.
Fernandez wouldn't be left out two years in a row, though. After being traded to the Mets prior to the 1993 season, Toronto reacquired the shortstop in a trade the following June. Fernandez then led the Jays with a .333 batting average and nine RBIs in the team's second straight World Series victory.
"Fernandez had a big smile for everyone and played the game with great passion," Howarth said. "He could hit -- a switch-hitter par excellence who helped the Blue Jays with his bat and glove win the 1993 World Series."
All together, Fernandez was a member of the Blue Jays for parts of 12 seasons, including his final year in 2001. At the time of his retirement, the five-time All-Star was Toronto's all-time leader in games played (1,450), at-bats (5,335), hits (1,583) and triples (72).
Fernandez also ranked second in Blue Jays history in doubles (291), and third in runs (704), total bases (2,198) and batting average (.297). His achievements in a Toronto uniform led the team to elevate him to the Level of Excellence in 2001.
Since retiring, Fernandez has dedicated his time to the Tony Fernandez Foundation, which he established while playing for the Yankees in 1995. Fernandez has gone back to the sandlots of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic -- the city where he grew up -- in order to use his growing foundation and baseball academy to aid underpriviliged children.
Since the foundation's inception, Fernandez has expanded his work into the United States, as well as Canada, helping to donate to various non-profit organizations. In August 2003, he created the Tony Fernandez Foundation Baseball Camp, which provides a place for children from his native land to get proper training from baseball experts.
"I had a great opportunity to fulfill my dreams," Fernandez said during an interview in 2005. "I have reached everything I want, and now I want to help others that have not been as fortunate as I have. What is a better way than doing it through baseball?"
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.