DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
August 21, 2008
This was a good day for Blue Jays fans. The team destroyed the division rival New York Yankees 14-3. Roy Halladay was the winning pitcher, going seven strong innings, seven of the Blue Jays hitters recorded at least two hits and the team managed defeat the evil empire in a blowout in front of their home crowd. But in the end this did not matter. Both clubs failed to make the playoffs and fans of neither team would remember this day for the games importance, or remarkability. The Blue Jays won and the Yankees lost. Nothing else. Instead, this day was remembered for something else, something which would have a far greater impact on the Blue Jays and baseball as a whole. No one predicted the impact a swap of minor leaguers would have on the rest of baseball, and yet this became one of the most important days in Blue Jays history and quite possibly the most important day of the decade for the club.
On August 21, 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays traded minor league catcher Robinson Diaz for some minor league third baseman from the Dominican Republic. Optimists thought he could be a decent bench player, who might equal the production of Matt Stairs. Pessimists questioned whether he was even worthy of a spot on a big league roster. No one could have imagined the impact that the newest Blue Jay could have on the franchise, on the fans, and on baseball. He would go on to become a fan favorite, a franchise legend, a home run king. He would record massive hits in the biggest moments, make huge plays in the field, and of course, lead the Blue Jays to a long-awaited playoff birth. By now, most of you should know who I am talking about. If you don't, his name was Jose Bautista.
When he was first acquired, Bautista did little to impress his teammates, or the fans, or the front office. He did what he expected to do, play all over the diamond and put up decent at bats. But he didn't get results. He couldn't get in a rhythm, he couldn't figure it out, he wasn't confident in what he was doing. Then he got some advice from a teammate and he hasn't looked back since.
September 10, 2009
Everything changed on this day. It took a long time, but Bautista said this is the day he figured everything out. Up until this point, Bautista had performed more or less as expected. From August 22, 2008 to September 9, 2009, Bautista hit .221 with 7 home runs. These numbers are ordinary, unremarkable, poor, and not certainly reflective of what Bautista would become.
Bautista described September 10, 2009 as the day everything he clicked. Coach after coach had told him he was starting his swing too late but he did not understand. He did not know what to do. He insisted to coaches that he was starting his swing earlier, but the results were the same; Bautista was struggling. Before the Jays played the Minnesota Twins on September 10, 2009, Vernon Wells gave Bautista some help. Wells told Bautista to "think about starting as early as you could possibly imagine, so early that is seems ridiculous, and then start even earlier than that." Later that day, during the game, Bautista went up to bat against a big, strong right-handed pitcher named Scott Baker. Bautista started his swing, expecting to miss the ball by a couple of postal codes, trying to show Wells he was at least listening and trying to succeed. To the surprise of many including Bautista himself, he hit the ball hard. Really hard. The ball flew off his bat and into the left field corner. Bautista stood at second base in disbelief. He could not comprehend or understand what he has just done. Later in the game, Bautista came up, repeated his new swing, and promptly smoked the ball to left field and over the fence. He never looked back from this moment.
Bautista was never the same player again. From here on, he would go on to excite fans, dazzle teammates, and frustrate opponents. He would hit moon shots, make great plays, display confidence like he had never done before. Since the day Bautista listened to some advice from Vernon Wells, he has hit 258 home, slugged .544, and record an OBP of .386. But Bautsita's impact goes well beyond the numbers. His impact on his teammates, his front office, and his opponents cannot be measured. It's second to none. I have never seen a player impact their team in such a way. Not once. His current mojo started on September 10, 2009 and he hasn't changed since.
For the remainder of the 2009 season, Bautista hit 9 home runs. He slugged .627. He recorded a WRC+ of 146. He was great. We all thought it wouldn't last but what’s the harm? We got decent production from a player we didn't expect. It doesn't really mean anything. He'll regress back to career norms at some point. Everyone odes, he's just on a hot streak. Except it didn’t end, and Jose Bautista had proven me wrong. Just as he has proven all his haters wrong. Just as he has proven to all those teams that cut him, traded him, and sent him to the minors that they were wrong and he could be great. It just took a little help.
September 23, 2010
50. What does this number mean? Why is it important? After all, the difference between 49 and 50 home runs is not really that significant. But for some reasons, accomplishments are measured on round numbers. It's important to the fans to reach a round milestone. It's important to the players. It's important to the pundits, and executives, and teammates too. Especially the ones that didn't think he had what it took to be a major league star.
On September 23, 2010, Jose Bautista hit his 50th home run of the 2010 season and in doing so, he joined a small club of players to accomplish this feat. So small, only 27 players in the entire history of baseball have reached this milestone to date. This wasn't his first significant milestone, but it arguably his most significant. This is when he showed everyone he was legit. He showed everyone he was a force to be reckoned with, a player with a knack for crushing the ball well over 400 feet with a piece of wood. More importantly, it showed Bautista himself that he legit. Freakish. Incredible. By hitting 50, he showed himself that he could be good for more than a handful of games, that he had the potential to become an important major league star and a Blue Jays centerpiece for years to come.
Jose Bautista was the second player I remember watching. The first, Roy Halladay, is in my mind the greatest pitcher in Blue Jays history. The thing about Halladay was even though he was great, he only played every five days. Just over 30 times a season. Because of this, it was hard for me to enjoy baseball whenever Doc wasn't on the mound. It wasn't the same watching other starters like Dustin McGowan, or Jesse Litsch. But Bautista has played essentially every day for the last 6 seasons. His only time off has been for injuries, and there was always a chance that something incredible could happen whenever he was playing. Jose Bautista was the first player that I really loved. The first player that I looked forward to watching on the television. This first player I was excited to see get a chance to hit. The first Blue Jay my geeneration routed for.
July 27, 2011
Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made several good moves during his time with the Blue Jays. He made several decent trades, several decent signings, several good draft picks. But there is an argument to be made that his best move was giving Jose Bautista a 5 year 65 million dollar contract extension in the 2010-2011 offseason. Bautista proved to be worthy of a far greater sum over the next 5 years, hitting at least 20 home runs for every year of his contract despite all the haters saying he was nothing more than a one-season wonder.
It's July 27, 2011. The Blue Jays lost 4-2 to the Detroit Tigers. But it wasn't Bautista's fault, he went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI. This loss dropped the Jays to 39-40. But their sub .500 record isn't Bautista's fault. He's hit 31 home runs. He's recorded a WRC+ of 201, more than twice as good as the average hitter. But for some reason, he still has doubters. People who question his ability, and credit his skill to luck, or poor pitching, or PED's.
Around this time, the performance-enhancing drug question was more and more frequency raised. People didn't understand that what Bautista did at the end of 2009. People were crediting his success to some imaginary doctor supplying Bautista with some miracle drug that instantly raised his home run output from the low teens, to the low forties and sometimes higher. By now it's almost impossible for us to think Bautista wasn't clean. He made a swing change, and it worked. His success shouldn't be chalked up to PED's. But it was, and Bautista had a new wave of people to prove wrong. He did, as he used these doubters as motivation for what he was too accomplish.
The Jays were still losers. Even after another year of Bautista's incredible performance, the team still wasn't winning. Bautista was fed up, and like all good players, he did what he thought could help the team win. Whatever could make the team better, Bautista was willing to do it, cause he wanted to win. A lot.
July 9, 2012
Jose Bautista hates losing. So much so that at various points in his career, Bautista has questioned the Blue Jays front office, urging them to make the moves required to make the team more competitive. He called out teammates who didn't do their part. He called out others and took some blame himself, but he was always great, and he did whatever could help the team win.
During the All-Star weekend of the 2012 season, Bautista called out general manager Alex Anthopoulos, demanding that he trade for some starting pitching which could help the club win that season. The former GM didn't, and the Jays missed the playoffs, but that's not the point. The point is Bautista did whatever it took to win, and when his on the field performance isn't enough, he tried to get those around him to be better, to make the team better, to make everyone else willing to do whatever it takes to win. If that means calling out his employers, so be it. If that means calling out his teammates, so be it. If that means calling out his coaches, so be it. It doesn't matter to him. If it could help the team win, Bautista was willing to do it, and the teams he was on weren’t always good, so he often had to do far more than the average player looking for success. Yet, Bautista never faltered, never struggled, never had us questioning his ability to get results, only had us wondering what if everyone else was better.
In 2013 and 2014 the Jays were still losers. They may have improved their records over the 2012 team, but they couldn't make the playoffs. The team was struggling. So they picked up Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis, and the club was getting better. There were expectations of a playoff run. But there were no guarantees. There had been expectations before, especially in 2013, but there were no results. This would finally change in 2015. The club was competitive and Jose Bautista was front and center.
April 21, 2015
It was on this day that Jose Bautista hit his 250th career home run. An incredible milestone for a player who was once cast off to the minors by a last placed team. But that is the second most important thing that happened to Bautista on this day. The first - he started to decline.
After a series which had involved being thrown behind, hitting massive home runs, and shouting explitive language at players of the Baltimore Orioles, Jose Bautista was fed up. In response, he did what he does best; he attempted to get revenge by embarrassing the Orioles on the field. So when Delmon Young hit a ball in front of Bautista in right field, Bautista attempted to throw him out at first base. This would go on to be the last inning where I was comfortable playing Bautista in the outfield. Why? On this throw, Bautista destroyed his shoulder. Ruined it. He was never the same player in the field again. In previous seasons, Bautista had been able to make up for his declining range by using a crazy strong arm. Not anymore. His arm was gone, and so his decline started. It began an unfortunate process which led to the decline of his popularity in Toronto, so much so, that the fans turned on him in the 2016 ALCS. We didn't know this was the beginning of the end for Bautista. We couldn't imagine it, our hero, our talent, our legend, was disappearing. He wouldn't play the field well ever again. His decline had started.
With Bautista's time as a Blue Jay slowly decreasing, Alex Anthopoulos had to make some moves. Despite the good offseason acquisitions the pitching was still a mess. At first, he seemed to forget this by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki. But he didn't. He traded for one of the games best starters. David Price. The team was competitive, and Bautista was ready to lead them. The Jays went on one of the best runs in baseball history, coming back from a significant number of games to pass the AL East leading Yankees, a lead which the Jays would never relinquish. Marcus Stroman returned out of the ashes to start. Everything was in place for an insane playoff run.
But something went wrong.
October 14, 2015
What happened in the seventh inning on ALCS game 5 was something which could only be imagined. It was impossible, but it was inevitable. It was destined, but it was miraculas. With the game tied at 2 in the seventh, Rougned Odor scored in the most unlikely way imaginable. It happens thousands of times a season. Millions of times. It happens almost every single pitch. But this one was different. Catcher Russell Martin hit the batters bat throwing the ball back to the pitcher, and Odor opportunistically sprinted home. This impossible moment seemed to be the end for the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista. This tradgedy would cause the Toronto Blue Jays to fall into the footsteps of so many previous teams. They would be losers. Bautista would be a loser, again. They would fail.
Except when you doubt Bautista, he is at his best, and when he came up to bat with a pair of runners on and 2 outs, he did what Bautista does best. We've all seen it hundreds of times. There is a picture of it on this blog. It was the biggest, badbest, greatest hit from anyone on this club since Joe Carter won the world series. It was destiny. Bautista awoke the crowd, awoke the city, awoke the country from over 2 decades of miserable teams and losers. The Jays were winners once again. Bautista was a winner. Finally.
We enjoyed it. The swing. The shot. The bat flip. We relished the moment. It was a home run shot for the ages. It made us proud to be Blue Jays fans again. Bautista had brought us back. The dark ages were over. The team was a winner, for the first time in over 2 decades. When the team lost in the next round, we didn't feel like losers. 29 teams lose every year, and the Jays were one of them. But it didn't feel like it. Bautista had awaken a storm of baseball fans, Blue Jays fans. He had announced that the team was back. Bautista had done it; he was a hero. A proud loser. Not proud to lose, but proud to accomplish as much as he did. He felt like a winner. The fans, players, everyone thought the Jays were winners even if they weren’t. He gave our country baseball again, and I can't think of any other player that has awaken such a mass of baseball fans from the ashes with just a single moment.
December 2, 2016
The Jays lost again in 2016. Just as they have every year since 1993. Bautista struggled in the playoffs, without any significant, signature moments. But for the first time in his career, Bautista was a free agent.
He hasn't made a decision yet, but he's more than likely gone. Simply, he can't play the field anymore, and the Jays already signed a DH. There is no room for him. But you can't take away what he did for this team. He has annoyed me plenty of times, but he hasn't let me down. He's our player, and we should be proud of him. When Jays fans announced that they would rather the team sign Edwin Encarnacion, it wasn't a surprise. It was only sad.
Our hero may yet return, but he may not. Regardless of his decision we have to be appreciative of the fact that Bautista was the Blue Jays for 6 years, was the best for 6 years despite all the struggles and the losing. You can't take this away from him. You can question or admire his impact on the Blue Jays, but one thing is simple; he made the Jays winners again, and in baseball, I can't think of much more to ask of a player.
Thank you Jose.