Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why Not? Wednesday: Why Don't O's Fans Hate Tony Fernandez?

The second installment of Roar from 34's series about the 1989 Why Not? season

Orioles fans don't hate Tony Fernandez. Why Not?

The obvious answer is that Fernandez played only one season with the Yankees in 1995, and he never appeared in a Red Sox uniform.

Even though he's never truly been a part of the division's Evil Empires, Fernandez has twice helped block the Orioles from post-season glory. That should be worth some hatred, right?

Fernandez was a member of the 1989 Toronto Blue Jays who edged the 87-win Orioles for the A.L. East title during the non-Wild Card era. Then, in 1997, the Cleveland Indians' clutch-hitting second baseman stroked an agonizing 11th inning home run off Armando Benitez to clinch the ALCS.

Nevertheless, O's fans are more likely to hate a kid who turned a sure out into a home run ball during an ALCS Game 1 than they are to hate the player who swatted a series-ending home run during an ALCS Game 6. Even if Fernandez didn't cheat to win, he still plunged the final dagger into our warm post-season hearts.

Two factors seem to explain the lack of hatred for Fernandez in Baltimore:



-First, Fernandez's extra-innings clout in the '97 ALCS came for the underdog Indians, so there was no inferiority complex at work.
The Wire-to-Wire O's finished 98-64. Cleveland finished 86-75.

It's fair to say that O's fans held somewhat generous feelings toward the Indians for knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs, even as the teams squared off in the ALCS. Also, there was a widely held sentiment entering Game 6 that the Birds would come back to win the series.

The reaction at Camden Yards to Fernandez's home run that October day was more shock than hatred (though we shouldn't have been surprised given that Benitez was on the mound). In fact, Orioles fans gave the Indians a standing ovation - a good old-fashioned tip of the cap - as they piled up on the mound after the game. I'm not sure we would've done the same thing for the Yankees.

Fernandez batted .357 during the '97 ALCS with a .438 on-base percentage.

-Second, while Fernandez was an All Star, a Gold Glove winner, and an MVP candidate in 1989, he didn't really perform well that season against the Orioles.

In 13 games against Baltimore Fernandez batted .235 with a .259 on-base percentage, no home runs, 7 RBIs, and one stolen base. His .235 batting average against the O's was among a handful of his worst numbers against any one team.

Meanwhile, in the Jays' division-clinching win in Toronto on Sept. 30, 1989, Fernandez went 0-for-4 including an eighth-inning ground out with two runners on.

Why hate a guy who's not producing?

So that's my answer to the Why Not? question surrounding Baltimore's lack of hatred for Tony Fernandez. Anyone else care to test out a theory?


Link to last week's Why Not? Wednesday: "Halfway Home and There's Still Hope."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

That day in 1997 was such a turning point in Orioles history. I remember it like it was yesterday. Mussina pitched an absolute gem, a two hitter I believe. We were so sure we were going to win. The weather was perfect. The crowd was juiced. The stars were aligning. And then, a solo shot by Tony Fernandez, who rarely hit HRs. I remember thinking, "a slider, he threw a freaking slider to Tony Freaking Hernandez!" The real question should be: Why Don't O's fans hate Armando Benitez (more)? That was the turning point, right there, its been all down hill since.

Matthew Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Taylor said...

Your description of that day is spot on. Mussina was unbelievable. I definitely attribute the outcome of the series to Armando Benitez, with an assist from Lenny Webster.