A Life Worth Emulating: The Death Of Baseball Star Jose Fernandez

There is a reason many of us tend to uphold sports figures to such lofty pedestals.

We like to think they are the personification of our best qualities; that they are what we strive for collectively and individually; they are bigger, faster and stronger than us; they also partake in more epic battles than our best war generals.

Their mortality is a reminder that we are upholding men, not actual Titans, Giants, or … Marlins.

Jose Fernandez died Sunday morning in a boating accident along with two friends. The Miami Marlins pitcher was 24 years old. He was a Marlin. He was also a giant.

Fernandez was never less than amazing once he made it to the United States. He helped his Tampa Bay high school team win the Florida state championship … twice.

He threw a (combined) no-hitter in the minor leagues.

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013 while putting up historic numbers.

He also represented the Marlins twice at the MLB All-Star game over the course of his short career.

In competition for a possible Cy Young again this year following Tommy John surgery, Fernandez had racked up 253 Ks and 16 wins to go along with another sub 3.00 ERA. In fact, Fernandez never had a season ERA above 3.00 in any of his four years pitching in the Major Leagues. Also, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) indicates he was the best pitcher in baseball at the time of his death (6.1). And for his career, he had an insanely low 1.05 WHIP and a strikeout ratio usually achieved only by elite closers (11.25).

Fernandez had accolades, praise and wonderment heaped upon him every game along the way. He was not only a large part of the Cuban-American community within baseball and South Florida, but he was also the face of the Marlins franchise.

Following their cancelled game Sunday, the team announced they are retiring Fernandez’s number. Every player wore his number 16 jersey for Monday’s game against the Mets. It’s the last time the number will ever be worn by any Marlin.  But something even more spectacular happened during the first Marlins at-bat following Fernandez’s death, a moment that encapsulates perfectly what the pitcher meant to his teammates.

Dee Gordon, friend a teammate, hit a lead-off home run, his first home run of the season, while wearing Fernandez’s helmet.

As of Monday night, the emotional video has over six million views in just a few hours.

The fact it was a boat that led to Fernandez’s death also adds to the irony of his passing.

It was a boat that gave him life and allowed him to give it to others. It was a boat that allowed Fernandez and his family the means to flee Cuba in 2007, saying good-bye to a land that imprisoned him for attempting to flee to America several times before. And, it was a boat that threw his mother overboard before he jumped into choppy waters and rescued her on that fateful voyage.

Fernandez was more than numbers. He was “joy.” That’s the one word that keeps popping up from those that knew him most: “joy.”

It is a time for grieving. It’s a time to honor a young man who left behind a life most of us could only dream of living up to. And it’s a time to recognize that even one of baseball’s elite can fall.

Jose, thank you for leaving a legacy we can all look up to for generations to come.


B. Redd Reddoch is a contributor for Crave Sports.

Crave Sports editor Josh Helmuth also contributed to this article. 

Photo: Getty