Watching Wednesday’s game, I was hit with waves of sadness watching players who have been mainstays of my Blue Jays perform for the team for, maybe, the last time. So I figured I’d write about them.
We picked up Jose Bautista, from the Pirates, on August 21 (the day before my wife’s birthday) 2008, for borderline catching prospect Robinzon Diaz. Diaz was listed as our number 4 prospect by Achengy That was likely a little high, but we weren’t drowning in great prospects at the time. If he hadn’t been traded, it is likely that J.P. Arencibia would have moved past him on the list.
To show how excited we were by the trade, it didn’t even rate a post. A few days later we had a poll. 48% said it was a good trade, 52% bad.
2008 was also my first year on the site, so he’s been a part of my life on the site since almost the very beginning. I don’t have much experience in writing about a team that doesn’t have Jose.
He didn’t set the world on fire right away. He was 0 for his first 12 at bats. A Facebook group ‘Jose Bautista Sucks’ popped up (and linked to our site, which had me checking to see if I had written anything negative about him, which I hadn’t). In his 21 games with the Jays, he hit .214/.237/.411 in 21 games.
In 2009 Jose hit .235/.349/.408 with 13 home runs in 118 games. Not exactly something numbers that suggested he would be an All-Star soon.
He split time between left and right field and third base, but we started to notice that he had a terrific arm. I was at a game in Seattle and got to see Jose show off his arm live. We were sitting right at the wall almost even with third base, Kenji Johjima (not the fastest runner) was on second, Chris Woodard singled to left, I saw Johijima go by, and figured we were down 1-0, then I saw the ball going by, about 8 feet in the air, on a line, and Kenji was out. I think it is the best throw I’ve ever seen live.
He had most of us convinced that he should be a platoon player, playing against lefties only (he hit .293/.382/.537 against lefties in 2009). Fortunately, Cito Gaston didn’t agree. In 2010 Jose hit .260/.378/.617 with 54 home runs and 124 RBI. He was an All-Star for the first time and finished 4th in MVP voting (odds are it would have been higher in the vote if the Jays had finished better than 4th in the AL East. I saw games in Boston in September, that year, and saw him hit home runs 48 and 49 (I was hoping to get to see number 50.
It is worth mentioning that Cito Gaston, hitting coaches Gene Tenace and Dwayne Murphy deserve a ton of credit for helping Jose become the slugger he is. Cito was always a fan of pull hitters. He tried to get everyone to turn on the ball. Murphy helped him find the big leg kick. Murphy told me that ‘several players’ watched Jose’s big leg kick and tried to copy it, but that it causes troubles for most batters.
In 2011 Jose again led the league in home runs, with 43, but hit much better, .302/.447/.608. He was an All-Star again and finished 3rd in the MVP vote. He also set a career high with 132 walks.
Since then, his numbers have been down a bit from that two year high point. He’s had OPS numbers of .886, .856, .928, 913 and .817 last year. The seasons where he could stay away from the little nagging injuries and play more than 150 games, he had OPS numbers over .900. The other years he would miss a third of the season.
Over those years there has been the odd bit of controversy:
- ·Hockey writer Damien Cox decided that he should accuse Jose of using steroids, solely on the bases that he was good and so he must be cheating. He started on this idiot campaign that Jose should go with him to a Toronto area hospital and get himself tested, skipping over facts that MLB players do get tested and that, I’d imagine, if you wandered into a hospital and asked to be tested for steroids, they would just stare at you for a few minutes and tell you that they aren’t set up for testing for things like that and the hospital is for people with medical problems, go away. Now if Jose had put on a lot of muscle mass and had suddenly developed acne maybe I could understand the point, but accusing someone just because they are good, that seems childish. Ken Rosenthal said it best:
If Bautista tests positive, it's a story. If Bautista is linked to PEDs through a government investigation, it's a story. But if Bautista keeps hitting home runs without a hint of wrongdoing, it's a baseball story, nothing more.
- Jose had a brief twitter back and forth with Steve Simmons, with Simmons tweeting something silly at him and Jose tweeting back “who are you and why are you talking to me”. When Simmons stated that Jose didn’t run his own Twitter account, Jose corrected him saying “I tweet myself and that was me last night just so YOU are sure of it”. (http://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2014/10/1/6877119/jose-bautista-has-no-time-for-steve-simmons) That might still be the best interaction between a player and a writer I’ve ever seen on twitter.
- There have been a number of ejections by umpires and little wars with opposing players. Jose has a very good eye at the plate (sometimes much better than the umpires) and sometimes has had the inability to refrain from voicing his opinion. And he’s also had a flair for the dramatic, which hasn’t endeared him to other teams. The Rangers crying over the bat flip is one example. I get that teams, when they get beat want to deflect the story from their losing to something else.
- Do you remember when the Phillies were trying to trade for Jose, offering Domonic Brown ‘plus’. Thankfully that never happened.
- ·And there has always been the odd person complaining that Jose ‘wasn’t a leader’. I remember people telling me that Munenori Kawasaki was a leader and Jose wasn’t. One of those things that you sad for the education system in this country. I’ve liked Jose as a leader because he doesn’t make a show of it. There have been a number of times of the past two years that Josh has saved Josh Donaldson from being ejected by quietly inserting himself between Josh and an umpire. There was the video of him working with Chris Colabello on how to play defense. Then there was his quiet boycott of doing Sportsnet interviews after Sportsnet had Devon Travis pay for a suit, when Hazel Mae took him clothes shopping, turning it into a rather boring reality show. And, of course, tons of times he’s shown talking to teammates about batting on the bench.
The team leader thing always bugged me. Jerry Howarth, once, went off on him not being a leader and his bad leadership being the reason we weren’t winning. This is something that always seems to happen with bad franchises, they point at their best player as the reason for them not winning, instead of pointing out the crappy replacement level players surrounding him. It is one of my least favorite of ‘lazy analysis’ that we get handed. Good players take too much of the blame for bad teams, and then average players get too much of the credit on good teams, which is why guys like David Eckstein get signed and call saviors.
An ancillary to this is the ‘there are too many Dominicans on this team’, which we heard way too much back when the team was lousy.
He was the face of the team for some disappointing seasons, and that puts him in the cross-hairs of people that don’t understand baseball but know his name. It is too bad that we couldn’t surround him with players that could help him get to the playoffs when he was at the top of his game, but I’m glad I got to see him in the playoffs this year.
Jose signed a long-term deal, back before the 2011 season, which turned out to be very team friendly, 5 years at an average of $13 million a year (with an option year at $14 million), basically making him incredibly underpaid for the past 6 seasons. At the time, it seemed like the Jays were taking a chance. That he’d only had one good season and who knew if he could continue to play at that level.
If Jose is done as a Blue Jay, he leaves with the franchise high in bWAR among position players. On the all-time Jays list he is:
· 6th in OBP
· 3rd in slugging
· 3rd in OPS
· 9th in Game Plated
· 5th in Runs Scored
· 9th in Hits
· 2nd in Home Runs (265, Delgado had 336 as a Jay)
· 5th in RBI.
· 2nd in Walks
And he also has the franchise mark for home runs in a season at 54.
On defense, well, various commentator tried to convince us that he was Gold Glove level at both third base (never anywhere close) and right field (no where close unless you over value his arm, he did keep players from taking extra bases). As he’s aged, his range has decreased, but then he always gives his best effort.
The important parts are the memories. I’ll remember (of course) the bat flip forever, but I’ll also remember his intensity. I’ll remember how he would answer back knock down pitches by hitting home runs. I’ll remember his throws from the outfield. And I’ll remember that he taught me not to judge players too quickly. Jose had something that many baseball people noticed (and Cito was able to bring out) but that most of us fans didn’t.
This past year his numbers were down, his defense in right was pretty terrible, and his baserunning wasn’t what it once was as well. A lot of that was because of the little nagging injuries he’s had to deal with. I think, if he was to play first base/DH, that would limit the injuries and he’d put up very good numbers again, at least for another couple of seasons. I’m not expecting the Jays to be the team that gives him that chance, though I’d like it if they would.
Share with us your favorite Jose Bautista memories.