Should The Miami Marlins Memorialize Jose Fernandez?

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Should the Miami Marlins proceed with plans to honor Jose Fernandez?Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Should the Miami Marlins proceed with plans to honor Jose Fernandez?Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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Everyone in the Miami Marlins organization recalls the passing of Jose Fernandez. But, a large question has arisen. Should Jose Fernandez be honored?

What once seemed a foregone conclusion for the Miami Marlins has now become a subject of public debate: should the franchise proceed with plans to permanently memorialize Jose Fernandez?

On the one hand, he was one of the most talented players to ever don a Marlins uniform, and seemed well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

On the other, he made a string of terrible decisions on that fateful September night that not only cost himself his life, but the lives of two others as well.

The discussion has seemed to pick up a fair amount of speed since a nationally publicized interview for ESPN between Jerry Crasnick and team owner Jeffrey Loria debuted a couple weeks back.

This interview has been followed up a string of work ranging from USA Today to the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote at the more local level. It is at that local level where we will keep most of the focus here.

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Remembering a Marlin

The plan, as currently conceived, is to commission a bronze statue of Fernandez outside of Marlins Park. Greeting fans in much the same way a bust of Tony Gwynn welcomes Padres fans to Petco Park, or that a statue of Roberto Clemente is prominently displayed outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Fernandez would be only the second South Florida athlete so honored outside a local stadium. Only the Miami Dolphins Dan Marino similarly immortalized.

Of course, only one of those names had a similarly sudden and tragic departure from their respective team. None of them under circumstances so dubious and within their control to have avoided.

It is that last part that has brought the Miami Marlins and their community to a point that, again, would have been unimaginable seven months ago.

When the team returned to action that first night after Fernandez’s passing, plans were already in place to retire his number.  The game played that night should be the last time any Marlin ever wears the No. 16 jersey.

Miami Marlins teammates honor fallen comrade Jose Fernandez. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Marlins teammates honor fallen comrade Jose Fernandez. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

On that day, for that week, for that month, naming the field after him wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. Not with a community, and indeed all of baseball, in mourning.

But then the investigation proceeded. It became harder to shake the feeling that the other shoe was eventually going to drop.

A needless tragedy would indeed become that much more tragic and needless. Avoidable even. Criminally so.

So the question has been raised: can we, should we, honor someone guilty of such an act?

What to do?

I say yes. For a number of reasons, but chiefly because this doesn’t really change the most enduring part of what his legacy would have been.

When fans thought of Jose Fernandez, they celebrated his passion for the game above all else.  They celebrated how even on days he wasn’t pitching, he was the most emotionally invested player in the Marlins dugout. That’s not a knock on the rest of the team.

Jose was just that crazily competitive, that infectiously infatuated with the game of baseball. Calling that enthusiasm contagious would be an understatement. It spread not only through the rest of his teammates, but the entire ballpark.

Combined with his story of survival, how he first reached this country, his legacy was of one who reminded everyone that every day was a gift.

Something to be lived to its fullest. That nothing should be taken for granted. That would have been his legacy after the 2013 season. It only grew from there.

I’m just not sure that changes after a senseless death. In fact, I think that message grows all the stronger.

The Lesson

Of course, there is now added to that message a burden of responsibility. A message that focus can never waiver. A message that even our heroes are human and capable of making a mistake. The message that drugs and driving do not mix.

No one who decides to test that limit is guaranteed a chance to test those limits a second time. A selfish and senseless act, while over in perhaps a tragic second for you, impacts your loved ones long after you are gone.

There are countless great, purely positive reasons to erect a shrine to Jose Fernandez. Perhaps the most beloved and embraceable player in Miami Marlins history.

The reasons not to, unfortunately, are more quantifiable. Simply calculate the number of people who lost their lives as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. Particularly behind the wheel, and were not awarded a statue of their own.

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Without a statue, there is no opportunity to easily impart any lessons. Be it something as benign as always hustling or as critical making the right decision after a party one night. To the future generation of children clicking through the turnstiles at Marlins Park.

Whatever view you presently have of Jose Fernandez, there is so much value in passing either legacy down. Ideally both. Celebrate one, but never forget the other.

So the statue must stand.

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