Jose Fernandez was the best.
What else is there to say about the Marlins ace, who passed away on Sunday at the utterly unfair age of 24? There is a tendency when famous people die for their stature to be elevated in retrospect, but Fernandez was a player so appreciated over the last three years, so beloved not only for his high performance but for his backstory and his insatiable love for life that hyperbole seems impossible.
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way—by FanGraphs WAR, Jose Fernandez was the 17th best pitcher in baseball since his rookie year in 2013, despite considerably fewer starts than anybody ahead of him (Adam Wainwright has the second-fewest starts at 101; Fernandez had 76). Only thirteen post-World War II pitchers were worth more fWAR through their age 23 seasons than Fernandez.
As it stands, Fernandez trails only Clayton Kershaw in fWAR for 2016; he will almost certainly receive NL Cy Young consideration, and it won’t just be a maudlin attempt at sentimentality—it will be a legitimate reflection on what a tremendous pitcher Jose Fernandez was. Frequently in Viva El Birdos posts, usually in reference to Carlos Martinez, Fernandez was the exception to the rule—”Carlos Martinez is a great pitcher and he might be the best super-young pitcher in baseball...except Jose Fernandez. Let’s not be ridiculous.”
And again, this is the boring stuff. Consider for a moment how much that says about Jose Fernandez the Person, that Jose Fernandez the Generational Pitching Talent could be secondary.
For those who have followed Fernandez’s career, or even just retrospectives about his life yesterday (our own Lil Scooter’s Twitter account was an indispensable anthology of Fernandez remembrances, anecdotes, videos, GIFs, etc. yesterday), most of this is old news, but it bears repeating, because Jose Fernandez was such a uniquely special player and person.
Jose Fernandez unsuccessfully attempted to defect from Cuba three times, each of which was followed by a prison term. On his fourth attempt, which was successful, he saved his mother from drowning. And against all logic, these experience in no way seemed to jade Fernandez. He was consistently and thoroughly a delight.
Earlier this season, Bryce Harper talked about trying to “Make Baseball Fun Again”. And while I don’t question Harper’s intentions, there was always something a bit corporate, a bit manufactured about it. Jose Fernandez didn’t have a catchphrase; he just exuded fun and excitement relentlessly. And he did it with such a sense of humility that it never came across as the least bit demonstrative—it came across as somebody who was just really, really excited to be playing Major League Baseball.
There was the incredibly joy he exuded when he learned that his beloved grandmother was going to get to see him pitch for the first time in the majors.
My favorite Jose Fernandez wasn't on the field. It was the love and joy he showed when he realized his grandma was going to see him pitch. pic.twitter.com/gzgd6IS85u— Cards Nation (@CardsNation13) September 25, 2016
There was the time that he hit his first career home run and while the Atlanta Braves got annoyed that the guy who was enjoying playing a children’s game “wasn’t playing the right way”, Fernandez just smiled. He wasn’t being a jerk; he was just happy. Wouldn’t you have been?
My fav pic of Jose Fernandez. After hitting his first career HR he flipped his bat and admired his shot. The Braves tried to fight him. pic.twitter.com/z1DRDHXn8s— Rashad Alaiyan (@rashadalaiyan) September 25, 2016
And then there’s the time Fernandez robbed Troy Tulowitzki of a hit.
This remains my favorite Jose Fernandez GIF. pic.twitter.com/A02TUUj8Lu— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) September 25, 2016
Baseball is better for having had Jose Fernandez, even if for too brief of a time.
It was a frustrating Sunday in baseball but aside from the (correct) decision to cancel the Miami Marlins game against the Atlanta Braves, baseball happened. And by the end of the day, it was a relief to have it. Here’s what happened in the area of St. Louis Cardinals coverage at Viva El Birdos.
Ben Markham wrote about Aledmys Diaz and Luke Weaver and how they have overachieved compared to their preseason projections.
The red baron broke down an immaculate inning Jake Woodford threw. It’s a bit of a statistical anomaly that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot in the long run but statstical anomalies are fun.
Enjoy your day. Cherish it. Don’t live a happy life because Jose Fernandez would want you to do so; live a happy life because Jose Fernandez showed how great it is to live one.