“A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.”
– Jackie Robinson
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria sat down with ESPN for an interview. The headline was “The most loathed man in MLB? There’s another side to Jeffrey Loria”. The topic of conversation? The untimely death of Jose Fernandez.
Fernandez, you’ll remember, was the incredibly gifted pitcher for the Marlins who died in a boating accident in September of last year. He was known for his laughter, his big heart, his infectious smile, his love of the game, and so many more superlatives. I personally first noticed him when I watched this happen on live TV:
That’s Fernandez, catching Troy Tulowitzki’s line drive out of the air and not even batting an eye. When asked, “Did you catch that?” Jose’s aforementioned infectious smile is on full display as he confirms, “Yes, I did”. He was a one-of-a-kind talent, and was most likely heading for Cooperstown someday. I loved him and his playing from that moment on. He became my favorite active (non-Red Sox) player. These memories – the positive qualities that so many people have retold in the months since the accident, his jailing after unsuccessfully defecting from Cuba, and the unbelievable story of saving his mother’s life and coming to Miami – led Loria to make a pretty big announcement:
Marlins Park is getting a 9 to 10 foot high statue of Fernandez.
“He was a great friend, who immediately won our hearts with his smile, personality and willingness to always help for the success of the team.”
That is not a quote about Jose Fernandez.
That is part of a tribute issued by the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Miami to Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, who died with Fernandez that September evening. He was a passenger of the boat piloted by Fernandez, along with Eduardo Rivero, 25. Macias went to Florida International University, graduating in 2013. His co-worker, Perry Greenfield (First Vice-President at Wells Fargo) wrote this along with a financial donation to Macias’ family to help cover funeral expenses:
“I will very much miss seeing you everyday at the office my friend and telling you what a stud you are. My deepest condolences to your entire family.”
We, the fans of Major League Baseball, find ourselves in two conflicting narratives. On the one hand, you have the young man who personified the future of baseball. Someone who had overcome and accomplished so much in life and on the mound. On the other hand, you have a young man who recklessly drove a speedboat into a jetty while well above the legal limit for alcohol and with traces of cocaine in his system, killing two people besides himself. We don’t have to look very far to know what would have happened to Jose Fernandez had he survived.
Over in the AL West is a pitcher by the name of Matt Bush. Bush was convicted of hitting and nearly killing Tony Tufano with a car while driving drunk on an expired license in a borrowed car. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison. At the time, he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, after previously being released by the Padres for alcohol problems. His return to baseball has involved a scouting trip from the Rangers in the parking lot of a Golden Corral, a minor league stint, forced 12 step meetings with a sponsor, and he has to live with his Dad. Tony Tufano is alive, if not entirely well, and says that he hopes that Bush straightens his life out.
Now of course there are major differences in their two situations. Jose Fernandez was a universally beloved player with an incredible backstory. Matt Bush was something of a Major League pariah on his first attempt at redemption. Fernandez achieved much greater heights, and committed a much worse crime. But the facts of the situation remain this:
Bush nearly killed one person in a drunk driving accident, Fernandez actually killed two. The Rays said that Bush would never play for them again. The Marlins are going to build Jose Fernandez a 10 foot statue.
In that same ESPN interview Loria said,
“I know Jose to be a different kind of person. I know a kid who was fun-loving. I didn’t know a kid who was involved with anything bad. The only thing bad he was involved with was trying to beat your ass right off the plate. That’s the only thing I ever saw.”
That collection of 54 words is a major part of why I have a serious moral quandary with this statue. Because the thought is inherently false, and we have the toxicology report and three dead bodies as proof. If the Marlins are going to put on their blinders and pretend like they had the ultimate boy scout then they are doing a horrible disservice to Macias and Rivero, neither of whom are mentioned once in Loria’s interview. Should their memories not be enshrined in Fernandez’s legacy because they weren’t famous?
If Jose Fernandez had survived that fatal night, he would not be playing baseball, I’m sure of that. The Marlins would have released a statement condemning his actions and suspending or cutting him from the team. He would have been charged, and almost certainly convicted of many things, including two counts of vessel homicide – a charge he would have had a hard time getting out of since the prosecutors seem to have concrete evidence that he was behind the wheel of the boat. Following the playbook of celebrities caught in horrible situations, he’d have started a storyline of redemption, disappearing from the public eye and just focusing on his soon-to-be-born child, and on baseball. A couple years after ESPN would have interviewed him about his road back from the edge. It would probably make a great 30/30 – hell, the current story already will.
Instead we have what we have: the future of baseball dead and two people gone with him. Two deaths the Marlins are willfully ignoring.
And it’s not just the Marlins. The Miami New Times wrote on April 19th, “Jose Fernandez Deserves a Statue at Marlins Park“. Their reasoning for why seems relatively sound on the surface:
“No one should be judged forever on his worst night …. a statue at Marlins Park can remind fans of the pitcher they adored, not the terrible way his life ended off the mount.”
But what about the friends and families of Emilio Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero? Were they Marlins fans? Can they be to this day? If they walk into Marlins Park, should they be subjected to a 10 foot tall statue of the man who took away their beloved son, brother, boyfriend, grandson, friend, etc?
For the family of one Jose Fernandez fan, the statue would stand as a slap in the face.
Kevin Boos was a Jose Fernandez fanatic. In 2015, he went to “Jose Day”, which is what they called it whenever Jose pitched for the Marlins. It was the final baseball game he’d attend. On September 6th, 2015, Boos was killed along with two of his close friends in a car accident where both drivers were intoxicated. The driver of the car with Kevin had a .099 BAC and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. The driver of the other car, Stanley Jaboin, had a .237 BAC and faces three charges of vehicular manslaughter and multiple counts of leaving the scene of an accident. Kevin was almost buried in a Jose Fernandez jersey. His father, Robert Boos, wrote Jeffrey Loria a letter after the announcement of the statue, voicing his concerns and disappointment at the erecting of a statue glorifying a drunk driver. It concludes:
Again, please accept my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of all three men, including all of Jose’s teammates and friends in your organization. Above all, my family and friends and I certainly understand this and know EXACTLY how this pain feels. Please do not make this worst by glorifying someone that needs to be left to rest in peace.
Eduardo Rivero was afraid of the ocean. Emilio Macias was afraid of high speeds. So why were they even on that boat? They, like the rest of Miami, loved Jose. That night Eduardo texted with Maria Arias (Fernandez’s girlfriend) and Will Bernal (a friend). In those messages it was suggested that Jose was in no state to be driving, that something was wrong, and that friends and teammates were worried about him. Maria wrote, “Take care of him please. He’s been drinking and he’s not in the best state of mind”, And Will? he had the following exchange with Eduardo less than 3 hours before the crash:
Will: Yo please be careful bro
Eduardo: I will bro
Will: Try to keep him close to shore if you go out
Eduardo: Trust me it’s not my time yet.
Eduardo had a tattoo that said, “Life is short. Heaven is forever.“
Look. It looks like the Marlins are going to put up this statue no matter what. Loria said it was already being made, the city of Miami has editorials in its defense, and fans are clamoring for something to hold on to from their beloved pitcher. If this piece must be made, then it must incorporate Rivero and Macias as well, and a portion of the profits from Jose Fernandez gear sales needs to be donated to a charity dealing with substance abuse. In my mind? It should be in the name of Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Jesus Macias.
This story is unbelievably tragic, but let’s not be blinded by hero worship. It is insane to suggest that we should remember Fernandez for only positive reasons simply because he did not survive the crash that took his and his friends’ lives. He was drunk, high, piloting a boat at dangerous speeds, and killed himself and his two passengers. He also happened to be a lovable man who was insanely good at baseball. Do not let the latter outweigh the former. We can love the memory of someone and also recognize the wrong they’ve done. Two men are dead. Two good men, who were trying to help a friend out a dark place.
To me, Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Jesus Macias are heroes.
Heroes deserve statues.
Many thanks to those who helped me with this piece, including but not limited to Justin Colombo, Kerry O’Malley, Megan Tan, Debba Curtis, Sarah Kennedy, Kristen Gehling Schario, and Juliet Greenblatt
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