Back in the day, the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers used to be heated division rivals. The proximity between the two cities made it the closest thing between crosstown competition for the Blue Jays.
Ever since the Tigers moved to the Central division 1998, that storied competition between Toronto and Detroit has died down significantly. That rivalry was at its peak in the late 80’s, and Bill Madlock helped take it to a whole new level down the stretch in 1987.
For this week’s Acid Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the play where Bill Madlock of the Detroit Tigers took out Tony Fernandez.
The incident in question happened on September 25th, 1987. The Blue Jays were in the midst of a four game series against the Detroit Tigers and held a 2.5 game lead with nine games remaining in the season.
Bill Madlock began the third inning with a single, and on the following play was forced to second on a grounder by Kirk Gibson. As you can clearly see by the photo below, Madlock went out of his way to take out Tony Fernandez.
It’s arguably one of the biggest bush league plays ever committed against the Blue Jays, and subsequently Tony Fernandez was injured on the play and had to have season-ending surgery that very night.
Here’s a bit of a replay of the event from the New York Times:
Replays appeared to show that Madlock went out of the basepath. No interference call was made, and the Exhibition Stadium crowd booed Madlock loudly.
The game was delayed for six minutes while Fernandez was examined on the field. Starkman said Fernandez had hit his elbow on a wood border separating the artificial turf from the dirt sliding area.
Fernandez was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and was to undergo surgery to wire his elbow together. A bone at the tip of the elbow, the olecranon, was fractured, Starkman said.
As one can imagine, the field at Exhibition Stadium was not that forgiving and Tony Fernandez happened to land on a wooden board underneath the turf when he came down on the play.
Despite losing Fernandez, the Blue Jays actually went on to win the game 4-3. While he teammates were celebrating the victory, Fernandez was under the knife and flew back home to the Dominican Republic a few days later.
I realize these guys were playing for their lives, but was just a blatant disregard for safety and sportsmanship. Bill Madlock was not reprimanded and was never called for interference.
With the injury to Tony Fernandez, the Blue Jays lost an integral piece of their roster (who was hitting .322) as they lost the division to the Detroit Tigers on the final day of the season.
Just to add a little bit of salt in the wounds, Bill Madlock did not seem remorseful in any way whatsoever in the interview above. Here’s his explanation for what he did to Tony Fernandez:
“This is the way I played all the time. It wasn’t the slide that hurt him, it was the wood around second base that did it when he came down on his elbow … and I had nothing to do with that.
Maybe it was because the game was vastly different back then, but if anybody attempted that take out now, he would be suspended in a heartbeat. Take outs at second base have led to injury before, and it just so happened the Blue Jays lost Ernie Whitt in a similar incident a few days later.
The rivalry between the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays may never be as heated as it was in 1987, but you can imagine how the Jays felt after Madlock wiped out their shortstop.
Not many plays warrant chin music, but that bush league display by Bill Madlock was definitely deserving of a fastball between the numbers.