Getty Images

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #2: Jose Fernandez killed in a boating accident

5 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

On the early morning of September 25,the U.S. Coast Guard found the wreckage of a boat, Kaught Looking. It was overturned on a jetty. Three bodies were found. One of them was Jose Fernandez, star pitcher of the Miami Marlins.

The circumstances of the crash would come to light over the ensuing weeks and months. Speed was a factor. Darkness. As was alcohol and cocaine, each of which were found in Fernandez’s system, though it is unclear if he was driving the boat. Of the other two men on board, both had alcohol in their systems, one had cocaine.

Whatever the circumstances of the crash were, the fallout was devastating. Fernandez was only 24 years old. Though only in his fourth season in the majors, he was easily one of the best and most exciting pitchers in the game. In those four seasons — only two of them full or mostly seasons — he won 38 games and posted a fantastic ERA of 2.58 while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He was an electric presence on the mound and, fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, was poised to become one of baseball’s most highly-paid and entertaining superstars.

While Fernandez found himself at the center of controversy at times, mostly relating to the whole “play the game the right way” debate, those who once found themselves at odds with him but who later came to know him came to be changed by him as well. Every person who dies in tragic circumstances is spoken of highly after their death, but there was a profundity and a sorrow to the words of those who spoke about Fernandez. He touched and affected people who came into contact with him in a unique and remarkable way.

Fernandez won’t be forgotten, especially in Miami. The Marlins plan to retire his number and build a memorial in his honor. Certainly any of us who saw him pitch will never forget him. As is always the case in such situations, however, a memory is a poor substitute for the man who left us far too young.

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.