On the same day, the world lost a golf legend in Arnold Palmer, and ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was just beginning to forge his own myth. There’s little in common between both men besides dying on the same day, but the timing creates a morbid connection.
Palmer died two weeks after his 87th birthday. Fernandez was only 24.
Palmer was a 8-time major championship in golf. Fernandez, playing for the Marlins, was only in his fourth major league season.
Palmer grew up in Pennsylvania. Fernandez grew up in Cuba, tried leaving two times and got arrested once. On the third attempt he made it to the United States, not without getting shot at by the Cuban Coast guard and saving his mother from drowning. As the story goes, he didn’t even know who he was saving. It turned out to be his own mother.
Palmer was a trailblazer. Hiss humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the perception of golf as an elite, upper-class pastime to a more populist sport accessible to middle and working classes, becoming the first superstar of the sport in the television age which began in the 1950s. Fernandez was a rising star, who meant much more than just baseball to the Cuban community in Miami, and to the city in general.
Palmer wasn’t the best of the Big Three, Jack Nicklaus was. But Palmer was probably the more popular of the group (which included Gary Player as well). Fernandez was extremely popular too. Among players, staff, fans, reporters. One of the words thrown around the most in the last 36 hours has been fun. He was happy to play baseball for a living. He was having fun while hurling 90 mph fastballs at batters and striking them out at incredible rates.
Palmer’s net worth was in the hundreds of millions, mostly making it after retiring from the PGA Tour. Fernandez would have landed a $200 million deal pretty soon, with the Marlins or with some other team. He was that good, that special.
Palmer achieved greatness. There’s a famous line of someone seeing him playing golf with a president, and then his dad saying “that’s pretty special for the president”. Fernandez was going there. He was going to be a father.
There’s no reason to compare the volume of tragedy. Palmer’s death was going to happen sooner or later. Fernandez’ came out of nowhere. The impact Palmer had was enormous. Fernandez, even at such a young age, was making a huge impact too. Beyond sports, way beyond.
There’s a connection of greatness, and of sadness. Dying on the same day created it. Dying at the right age brings up memories, and people react with a bitter smile. With Fernandez, there were nothing but tears, for what was taken, and what could have been.