Former Toronto Blue Jays greats Kelly Gruber, left, and Tony Fernandez sign autographs and meet fans on Friday, June 5, 2009 during 20th Anniversary celebrations of the Blue Jays playing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame removed former Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber from its induction week festivities Friday after his actions during a “Pitch Talks” panel discussion a day earlier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Former Blue Jays shortstop Tony Fernandez, a five-time all-star, dies at 57

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Buck Martinez remembers referring to Tony Fernandez as “the gadget man” when the two played together on the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1980s.

Fernandez, Martinez recalled, could always pull out all the tools when he needed them.

Fernandez, a five-time all-star and one of the greatest infielders in Blue Jays history, has died, according to a statement from the team. He was 57.

The 1993 World Series winner had battled kidney problems for several years. He was first hospitalized with polycystic kidney disease in 2017.

“For me, he was a cornerstone of the winning tradition of this organization when he came up in the early 80s,” Martinez, now a Blue Jays broadcaster, said Sunday at the team’s spring training camp. “He kind of solidified the middle of the infield.

“He was one of those multi-talented guys who could do a lot of things to help you win. A terrific person, first and foremost. I feel sad for his family, his wife and his kids.”

Fernandez was in critical condition in an induced coma at a Florida hospital two weeks ago after developing pneumonia.

A statement from the Blue Jays called Fernandez “one of our club’s most celebrated and respected players.”

“Enshrined forever in Blue Jays history on the Level of Excellence, Tony left an equally indelible mark in the hearts of a generation of Blue Jays fans during his 12 unforgettable seasons with the team,” the team said.

“His impact on the baseball community in Toronto and across Canada is immeasurable. Our deepest condolences are with the Fernandez family during this time.”

The Dominican-born Fernandez, who spent much of his time at shortstop while also seeing time at second and third base, played 12 seasons over four stints with the Blue Jays. He is the franchise leader in games played (1,450), hits (1,583) and triples (72).

Martinez was Toronto’s manager during Fernandez’s last stint with the Blue Jays in 2001. Martinez recalled Fernandez’s final game, in which he left the stadium early following a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, assuming his day was over.

“We were playing against Cleveland, and he pinch-hit in the eighth. His spot had come up in the ninth, but he had gone home,” Martinez said with a laugh. “That was Tony. That’s the way Tony was, and everyone understood that. Chris Woodward had to hit for Tony, the pinch-hitter.”

Fernandez’s defence also was a huge part of his game. He won four straight Gold Glove Awards with the Blue Jays from 1986-89.

Originally signed by the Blue Jays in 1979 at the age of 17, Fernandez was one of the prized finds of longtime Jays scout Epy Guerrero, who died in 2013.

The Dominican-born scout played a major role in the Blue Jays’ Latin America push, helping Toronto land Carlos Delgado, George Bell, Damaso Garcia and Alfredo Griffin.

Fernandez, who made his major-league debut with Toronto in 1983, was part of the Blue Jays’ first two playoff teams in ‘85 and ’89 before he was dealt in a stunning, blockbuster trade after the 1990 season.

Then-general manager Pat Gillick dealt Fernandez and first baseman Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Joe Carter.

Alomar, now a Hall of Famer, and Carter helped anchor the Blue Jays as they won World Series titles in 1992 and ‘93. Carter hit the walkoff homer that gave the Blue Jays the ‘93 title over Philadelphia.

Fernandez, however, also was a key part of that ‘93 team. He had nine RBIs and posted a .333 average over the six games against the Phillies.

The Blue Jays had re-acquired the pending free agent in a mid-June trade with the New York Mets, who had picked him up in a deal with San Diego after the ‘92 season. Toronto had a hole at shortstop after Dick Schofield suffered a season-ending injury.

“Just him coming back and knowing what he was capable of doing, it gave us a big lift,” said former teammate Devon White, now a member of the coaching staff on the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate.

Fernandez batted .306 in 94 regular-season games for the Blue Jays in 1993. He posted a .318 average in the American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox and had a .423 on-base percentage against the Phillies.

After stints with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees, Fernandez fell just short of winning another World Series with Cleveland in 1997 as the Indians lost in Game 7 to the Florida Marlins.

Fernandez returned to the Blue Jays for two more years starting in 1998. He made the all-star game in 1999 before spending a season in Japan.

Fernandez finished his 17-season major-league career playing 48 games for the Blue Jays in 2001 after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Late in the 2001 season, the Blue Jays put Fernandez on their Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre. Fernandez was the seventh recipient of the honour, and the second infielder after Alomar.

After his retirement, Fernandez was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2020.

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

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