Well, the story is never as simple as we want it to be.
We wanted to believe that Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez’s boating death last month was tragedy in its purest form, the case of an innocent hero killed by cruel circumstance. If Fernandez had a fatal flaw, we said, it was the youthful feeling of invincibility that deluded him into thinking it was a sensible idea to grab two friends and hop on a boat in the pitch black early morning.
But on Saturday, Fernandez’s toxicology report became public, and we learned that the truth wasn’t so pure. It turns out, per the Miami Herald, that Fernandez had a blood alcohol level of 0.147, well above the legal limit of .08. He also had cocaine his system. Neither of Fernandez’s friends, who also died in the crash, were legally drunk, though both had alcohol in their blood and one of them had also used cocaine.
There are still question marks regarding Fernandez’s death. We don’t know whether he was high at the time of the crash and, pivotally, we don’t know who was driving the boat. But the revelation that Fernandez was far from sober necessarily clouds our perception of the accident that killed him. Though we don’t know for sure, it’s very possible that the pitcher recklessly filled his body with mind-altering substances then caused the death of not only himself but also two of his friends by operating a vehicle he shouldn’t have been within five miles of.
Of course, it’s also possible that one of Fernandez’s comparably sober friends was driving and that Fernandez is exactly the victim we have assumed him to be.
And that uncertainty makes Saturday’s news so unsettling. We want this situation to be cut-and-dried, a case of a beloved sports hero lost long before his time. Instead, we now have to face the fact that, had Fernandez survived the crash, he might currently be under indictment for his role in the death of his friends.
To be clear: Fernandez’s death is horribly sad regardless of his toxicology report and regardless of whether he was driving the boat. There has never been a 24-year-old whose death did not represent some kind of tragedy. That kind of loss of life and loss of potential is worth shedding a tear for regardless of the circumstances.
Fernandez’s toxicology report does not take away from the profound sadness felt by his teammates, family and all others who knew him. It does not take away from the heartbreak felt by Marlins supporters and baseball all fans who watched him. It does not take away from the emotion that surged through Miami and across the Western Hemisphere in the days after Fenandez’s death. It does not take away from the heartfelt eulogies delivered in print, at memorial services and at Fernandez’s funeral. And it does not take away from the incredible scene at Marlins Park days after the accident, when Fernandez’s friend Dee Gordon homered to lead off the game and cried his way around the bases.
In that sense, we shouldn’t care a whit about what substances flowed through Fernandez’s blood on the night his boat hit a jetty and he died alongside two friends. His death is awful. Period.
But then we consider the families of Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Jesus Macias, men only slightly older than Fernandez who had just as much a right to live as the star pitcher they accompanied to sea. And we have to wonder, reluctantly and a bit guiltily, whether Fernandez was responsible for their deaths.
Fernandez leaves a legacy as a tremendous pitcher with an effervescent personality, who passed away far too soon. But, as much as we hate to acknowledge it, Saturday’s news clouds our perception just a bit. We may never know whether Fernandez was innocent victim or, well, less-innocent victim. The truth can be awfully complicated.