Mourning the Loss of Fernandez and Palmer
The sports world lost two of its brightest stars on Sept. 25.
Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez passed away in a boating accident that killed two others. United States Coast Guard members found the boat off Miami Beach at 3 a.m. Later in the day, news broke that legendary golfer Arnold Palmer died from heart complications.
Fernandez was 24. Palmer was 87.
Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez defected to the United States in 2007 with his mother and his sister. The Marlins selected him 14th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft.
He made his Major League debut on April 7 against the New York Mets. Early on in his career, he pitched well enough to impress then-Rays manager Joe Maddon.
“Jose Fernandez might be the best young pitcher I’ve ever seen, at that age,” Maddon said in a tweet. “I believe he will go far.”
He later went on to represent Miami on the National League All-Star team and won NL Rookie of the Year after placing in the top-10 in a number of pitching statistics.
A torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow shelved him for the 2014 season. He underwent Tommy John surgery and returned midway through the Marlins’ 2015 campaign, pitching six innings and hitting a home run in his debut on July 2.
Fernandez made his second career All-Star Game appearance in 2016, setting the Marlins’ record with 253 strikeouts this season. He won a career-best 16 games and led MLB with 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
However, arguably his biggest impacts on the team and the sport were his passion for the game of baseball and the camaraderie he shared with his teammates. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton said his meaning to Miami, Cuba and everyone his enthusiasm touched were irreplaceable.
“He had his own level, one that was changing the game,” Stanton said via Instagram. “[He was] extraordinary, as a person before the player, [yet] still just a kid, [whose] joy lit up the stadium more than lights could.”
Upon hearing the news of Fernandez’ death, the Marlins cancelled their home game against the Atlanta Braves. The team won the rescheduled game 7-3, with every Miami player donning their teammate’s jersey before the retirement of his number 16.
Arnold Palmer was born in Latrobe, Penn. He took to the game of golf from his father, head professional and greens keeper at Latrobe Country Club. Palmer attended Wake Forest on a golf scholarship before serving three years in the Coast Guard.
He won the 1954 U.S. Amateur tournament and went on to play on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour in 1955. His first pro win occurred in that year when he won the Canadian Open.
Over the next few years, he would improve his game, which combined with his charisma, to bolster the popularity of golf on television. Earning the nickname “The King,” Palmer would soon enter a rivalry with fellow champion golfers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, collectively known as the Big Three. This rivalry would only add to Palmer’s and the sport’s mass appeal.
“Arnold popularized the game,” Nicklaus said in the New York Times. “He gave it a shot in the arm when the game needed it.”
That popularity would follow Palmer throughout his career, with his gallery known as “Arnie’s Army” following him through every hole and in every facet of his career.
By the end of his career, the King won seven major championships, including four green jackets at the Masters. He also helped boost the popularity of the Senior PGA Tour, now known as the Champions Tour. In his time on the circuit, Palmer won five senior majors and earned a sixth-place ranking in Golf Digest magazine’s greatest of all-time list.
He retired in 2006 but continued his role on the course as honorary starter for the Masters since 2007. He also expanded the game, helping negotiate the deal to build the first golf course in the People’s Republic of China.
These contributions, among others, led the U.S. Golf Association to refer to him as golf’s greatest representative.
“Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word,” a statement from the organization read. “He inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit, displaying sportsmanship, caring for golfers and golf fans and serving as a lifelong ambassador for the sport.
“The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same.”