Everyone rightfully hates Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, so it's easy to immediately hate his decision to build a ten-foot bronze statue in honor of Jose Fernandez. And plenty of people did just that. The Miami Herald's Fabiola Santiago accused Loria of "cashing in" on the ballplayer's death, while Fox Sports Radio's Ben Maller argued that anyone who killed two other people while high and drunk doesn't deserve such a public honor.
Those are all good arguments, and Loria, indeed, is the worst. But put aside your well-earned loathing and consider some valid reasons Miami could embrace a statue of Fernandez at the steps of Marlins Park.
Jose Fernandez had a unique connection with the city of Miami.
No one expects outsiders to understand the bond Fernandez and Miami had, but what he brought to the mound every fifth day was secondary to what he meant to the people of Miami. As a Cuban defector, he had a connection to the Magic City's Cuban population that so few outsiders totally get. Fernandez journeyed from an impoverished boy in Cuba to a young man in the United States who had to learn on the fly how buffets and grocery stores worked. Then he made it to the very top of Major League Baseball. That's Hollywood movie stuff, and Miami fans had a private viewing over the last five years. It's devastating that there will never be a proper ending.
A statue, in this case, is more of a memorial than a symbol of sports excellence.
When news of Fernandez's death broke, people flocked to the steps of Marlins Park just to hold metal fencing or feel the building's concrete against their face. A poster board for fans to sign became a shrine. There are only a handful of ways to grieve a person as famous as Fernandez. A statue will forever keep his memory — the good memories — in the minds of the people who visit the ballpark.
Fernandez played the game of baseball the way it is meant to be played. His joyful demeanor is evident in the Marlins team this season. People remember who he was before his last day, and they should continue to do so forever.
No one should be judged forever on his worst night.
There's no sugarcoating what happened Fernandez's last night. Toxicology reports show he was well over the limit for drunk driving and had cocaine in his system; though his family still disputes he was at the wheel of the boat when it crashed, it doesn't look good for the pitcher. This much is undeniable: The deaths of Fernandez and his two friends, Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero, were due to a series of bad decisions. But that fact doesn't mean Fernandez or all three should be forever handcuffed to that one night. It also doesn't mean that's the only way they should be remembered. A statue at Marlins Park can remind fans of the pitcher they adored, not the terrible way his life ended off the mound.
Fernandez is the greatest pitcher in Marlins history and was likely a future Hall of Famer.
Jose Fernandez is unquestionably the greatest pitcher to put on a Marlins uniform, albeit in a relatively small sample size. He made 76 starts in a Fins uniform — going 36-17 with a 2.58 ERA and a ridiculous 589 strikeouts — all before he hit 25 years old. None of those things matters to the families of Macias and Rivero, but they matter to the fans who watched Fernandez dominate hitters. A statue is more about reminding the fans of his memory, not honoring everything he did in his life.
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#JoseDay got Marlins fans through the worst times.
When Fernandez was pitching for the Fish, entire months passed when the only thing fans had to look forward to was catching his turn on the hill. It may have only been a few seasons, but any real Marlins fan will tell you that when you're 20 games under .500 for the third straight season, you hold onto anything worth a damn. Fernandez made a 45-81 Marlins team appointment viewing. He got the team through some dog days. Fans deserve to remember him on a daily basis. If the Marlins go through with the statue, they should do everything possible to draw that distinction — perhaps by setting up a fund to donate to drunk-driving and drunk-boating education campaigns that could go do good while also remembering the best parts of Fernandez's legacy in South Florida.