Jose Bautista goes up on the Level of Excellence in a ceremony before Saturday’s Blue Jays game. Bautista joined the Jays a few days after I started on the site. I’ve written more works about him than any other player. He never failed to give us content.
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.
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.
He didn’t set the world on fire right away. He was 0 for his first 12 at-bats (cue comparison to Paul DeJong). 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.
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 noticed 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, and 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. 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 disagreed. 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 it caused trouble 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.
For the next several years, he was one of the best players in the AL, making the All-Star team six straight seasons. In 2017 his numbers took a tumble, and the team let him leave as a free agent. He played with the Braves, Mets and Phillies over the next couple of seasons, then retired.
Over the years, there has been the odd bit of controversy:
- ·Hockey writer Damien Cox decided he should accuse Jose of using steroids solely because he was good, 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 don’t do that, go away. If Jose had put on a lot of muscle mass and suddenly developed acne, maybe I could understand the point, but accusing someone just because they are good 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 many ejections by umpires and little wars with opposing players. Jose has an excellent eye at the plate (sometimes much better than the umpires) and sometimes could not refrain from voicing his opinion. And he’s also had a flair for the dramatic, which didn’t endear 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 tried 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.’ People told 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. Several times, Josh has saved Josh Donaldson from being ejected by quietly inserting himself between Josh and an umpire. There was 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 dull 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 went off on him not being a leader and his bad leadership being the reason we weren’t winning. This is something that happens with bad franchises. Instead of pointing out the crappy replacement-level players surrounding him, they point at their best player as the reason for not winning. It is one of my least favourite ‘lazy analyses’ that we get handed. Good players take too much blame for bad teams, and average players get too much credit for good ones.
Congratulations on this much-deserved honour, Jose. When you came to the Jays, you gave the team a personality. In the years before you joined the team, we had Roy Halladay, who made the team watchable in one of five games. When you joined the club, we wanted to watch every game. I loved watching you throw out baserunners from the outfield, and, of course, I could watch the Bat Flip moment every day and never tire of it.
Bautista’s place among Blue Jays career leaders:
- bWAR: 1st, 38.3.
- OBP: 7th, .372.
- Slugging: 5th, .506.
- OPS: 4th, .878.
- Games Played: 5th, 1235.
- Runs Scored: 2nd, 790.
- Home Runs: 2nd, 288.
- RBI: 3rd, 766.
- Walks: 2nd, 803.
- bWAR: 1st, 8.3, 2011. 9th, 7.0 2010. 10th, 6.9, 2014.
- OBP: 3rd, .447, 2011.
- Slugging: 2nd, .617, 2010, 3rd, .608