Intro: The Miami Marlins earlier this week announced plans to build a nine to ten foot tall statue in front of their ballpark to remember recently fallen pitcher José Fernández. They already wear a number 16 patch to honor his jersey number, left his locker the way he left it and plan to retire his jersey someday. Some believe that the statue is merited because he represented and connected with the Cuban-American fans like no previous player in franchise history and his story represents The American Dream. Others believe this sculpture is inappropriate because Fernandez’s death was influenced by illegal drug use and excessive alcohol consumption, he was responsible for the deaths of two others and he only played four seasons for the Marlins. Here, the two sides face off, with Online Editor-in-Chief Thomas Martinez (TM) justifying the sculpture being built and Sports Editor Benjamin Spiegelman (BS) arguing against it.
The death of Jose Fernández was like the death of a family member for Cuban-Americans and Marlins fans like myself. I will never forget sobbing to this shocking news; news that I have yet to come to grips to. Jose was gone forever at 24. His biggest mistake was consuming illegal drugs and excessive alcohol content. That mistake led to his tragic death and the deaths of two others.
The Marlins acted honorably in wake of his death. This franchise, disgraceful oftentime in the eyes of its fans, for its constant deceit and corruption that spans the tenure of current owner and art dealer Jeffrey Loria, remembers Fernandez for how he lived life, not by how he left life. That is valuable. That is why this statue will be justified once built.
His nickname was Niño in the locker room. Jose’s infectious and fun-loving personality on the field was accentuated by the fact that he felt he made it. Baseball was a game, one that he loved. And, although he acted like a youth baseball player, urging the Marlins manager to let him pinch hit and pitch more innings along with throwing semi often temper tantrums in the dugout, he was more mature than most thought.
This statue is not about him winning Rookie of the Year, setting strikeout records or making all-star games. Other Marlins did that and they did not receive a statue in front of the ballpark. In fact, no player in the franchise’s 25 year history has even had their jersey retired. (beside Jackie Robinson) Jose would not warrant a statue based on his accolades, that’s a given. The kid is a hero, though. You may know the story by now: he attempted to flee his native Cuba multiple times, getting arrested as a teenager and when he finally escaped with his mother at age 15, he saved her after she fell overboard their boat, saving her life and risking his even though he didn’t know it was his mom he was jumping after. He left behind his beloved abuela at home, the same one who taught him the game that put him on the map, but brought her over also once he made it big. El Niño was humble, down-to-earth, grateful: rarities in the veins of superstar baseball players less common than steroids.
His ironic death, in the night on the perilous yet magical waters he fought so persistently to reach as a teenager, left fans in the City of Miami to realize that they took this Cuban wonderkid for granted. More devastating than the departures of King James, D-Wade, even the death of former Cane Sean Taylor. We were spoiled. He was too good to be true and his death most profoundly revealed one thing: he was human. No tombstone, commemorative patch or retired jersey can truly capture the essence of Jose Fernández. This sculpture’s nine to ten foot tall height will capture it perfectly: he was larger than life.
The Miami Marlins have decided to dedicate a bronze statue to the so-called “legacy” of ace Jose Fernandez. Last September, Fernandez killed himself along with two other people while boating under the influence of alcohol and cocaine off the coast of Miami Beach. As an organization, the Marlins have decided to commemorate him for all of the good that he did for the team and for the Cuban community. Some see Fernandez as a hero who truly left his footprint on the Cuban community in Miami.
However, Fernandez was driving a boat recklessly under the influence of cocaine, and in this, he killed two others. What does that say about the Miami Marlins that they intend to forever honor a man who only played for four years and in the process, got drunk and high on an off night and may have committed manslaughter. Some see Fernandez as a role model but why look up to someone whose carelessness took the lives of others?
In Miami, there are two sports figures commemorated with statues. One is Dolphins legend Dan Marino who almost led the Dolphins to a perfect season and completed enormous amounts of work for charities that support people with developmental disabilities. The other is Coach Don Shula, who is the only coach to lead a team to a perfect season and the most successful coach in NFL history in terms of wins. Shula started the Shula Fund at the Moffitt Center which focuses on working towards a cure for breast cancer. With all due respect to his memory, does it really seem fair to mention Jose Fernandez in the same sentence as these two greats?
I am in no way doubting the fact that Fernandez was a terrific baseball player with loads of talent; however, this does not compensate for his actions. Fernandez should be remembered as a talented baseball player but no more than that. It would be a poor representation of the Miami community in its entirety if we erect a statue of Jose Fernandez. Fernandez should be remembered as a fantastic baseball player but not an individual that left a great lasting impact on a city and a man that left his wife and unborn child along the way due to reckless decision making.
Would Fernandez still be a role model if he had been put in prison which was most likely the next step if he had survived the boating accident? If you are still “on the fence” on this issue, ask yourself this question; had Jose Fernandez lived that night while his victims had died. Had he faced the criminal charges which would surely have come, would we even be having this conversation?