JOSE FERNANDEZ (1992-2016)
The death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez on the morning of Sept. 25 stunned the baseball world. Fernandez, 24, was found dead with two friends after a boating accident. He was the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, and had a career 38–17 record, a 2.58 ERA and a remarkable 589 strikeouts in 471.1 career innings.
At his death, the 10 most statistically similar players to him, according to BaseballReference. com, include a pair of current Mets, Jacob deGrom (No. 1) and Matt Harvey (No. 3), seven men who started their careers before the end of World War II, and Dick Hughes, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1966-68; his career ended prematurely due to torn rotator cuff.
Except for the current players, those aren’t great comparisons. Fernandez was a superstar, and he may have been getting better. After making 11 starts last season since recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2014, Fernandez was 16– 8 this season with a 2.86 ERA. His 253 strikeouts at the time of his death were nine behind Max Scherzer, who had thrown 35 more innings. In Fernandez’s last start on Sept. 20, he pitched eight innings of shutout ball with 12 strikeouts, no walks and just three hits. He told teammates that was the best game he’d ever pitched. The 12.49 strikeouts per nine innings was the highest of his career.
We’ll miss much more than Fernandez’s baseball talent. The Cuban defector, who became an American citizen last year, played the game with a childlike joy and enthusiasm that’s very seldom seen. That was one reason that so some players on other teams hung “Fernandez” jerseys in their respective dugouts the day of his death. Boston’s David Ortiz, who had been Fernandez’s childhood idol and a good friend, canceled the “farewell” ceremony for him scheduled in Tampa that day and wept on the field in a pregame moment of silence for Fernandez. All 30 teams paid tribute in some form.
Fernandez is on a small list of players who’ve died during the season. The last was Angels reliever Nick Adenhart (2009), a 22-year-old who had thrown just 18 MLB innings, and before that, Cardinals’ reliever Josh Hancock in 2007. Both were killed in car accidents. Other prominent players who’ve passed away during the season include Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss ( meningitis, 1911), Ray Chapman ( hit by pitch, 1920), Twins outfielder Lyman Bostock (murdered in 1978), Yankees’ seven-time All-Star catcher Thurman Munson (plane crash, 1979) and three-time All-Star pitcher Darryl Kile of the Cardinals (heart attack, 2002).