Flashback Friday: Bill Madlock Takes Out Tony Fernandez

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.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

8 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Bill Madlock Takes Out Tony Fernandez

  • May 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Tony is and always has been my favourite player. I love him. The day you talk about here was the worst day of my childhood. An 8 year old kid in tears as Tony was lost for the season.

    Eff you Bill Madlock. Even 14 years later, eff you…

  • May 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    500 Level, I can only imagine how heartbreaking this was to witness unfold live. What a tough break (no pun intended) for the Blue Jays by losing Fernandez and THEN Whitt in the last week or so of the 1987 season.

    Why knows, maybe if they were healthy the Blue Jays would've made the playoffs?

  • May 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I don't think people realize how pivotal that injury was to that season and potentially to blue jays history, especially considering Kansas City's comeback in the playoffs in 85. That injury and the subsequent loss to the tigers 1-0 on the last game of the 87 season off of a George Bell defensively assisted home run off of Jimmy Key was like the baseball gods final damnation of the jays. Americans were saying a Canadian team could never win the World Series and I think many Jays started to believe it, at least the dominant group that had been pieced together since 82.

    If the Jays didn't pull out World Series wins in 92 and ultimately 93, then the 87 season and that bush play would have lived on in infamy (Matlock's slide was bush league but was indicative of a Tiger's team that was 'nails' tough with Morris as their horse and Matlock, Kirk Gibson, Trammel and Whittaker. Not a girl in the bunch.)

    When the Jays finally won in 92 there was only a few of them left (Henke, Key, Stieb (diminished role), and Ward. However, the fates smiled and Tony got to come back for one of them because, IMHO, when the jays went down in 87 with a 7 game lead over the tigers Tony was on a tear and was one of the few Jays playing well, until he got hurt. Justice was served because of that core group of offensive players in 87, Tony was the only one to get a ring I think.

  • May 9, 2011 at 3:03 am

    freethinkinged, that really was the turning point of the 1987 season for the Blue Jays. And like you said, had it not been for the 92/93 World Series wins, perhaps the Blue Jays would still have that "Blow Jays" moniker.

  • February 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    The Baseball Gods were merely giving payback for George Bell's inexplicable MVP selection over Alan Trammell in 1984…

  • October 7, 2015 at 2:54 am

    after that dirty play Detroit became a crap hole place to live in.The baseball gods are still punishing that hell hole today…

  • Pingback: The Legend of Tony Fernandez – Ari Shapiro

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