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.