Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
OK, I’ve been debating this topic in my head for a few weeks. I am going to suspend my cynicism and just jump into the discussion. The Major League Baseball Network is currently in the second round of its glorified popularity contest #FaceofMLB. Fans vote on Twitter for the face of each franchise and then they pit franchise players up against each other to eventually whittle it down to the player who will be the “Face of Major League Baseball”. Last year’s winner is none other than Canada’s own Cincinnati Reds first baseman, Joey Votto. This proved a bit of a surprise to me for reasons I will mention later. But first, let’s talk about what this has to do with the Toronto Blue Jays.
This year, for the fun of it, I thought I’d play along. Heck, I’m a fan! So (from my couch) I took the task seriously in the first round and thought about who I think best represents the Toronto Blue Jays. We can’t just throw that label on anyone. It also shouldn’t resemble junior and senior high school student council shams. I pretended it was an actual consideration of who will best represent their clubs and eventually the league. So, I began mentally sifting through each player and what they bring to the table. There are several candidates to consider, each with his own pros and cons. Ultimately, I settled on Brett Lawrie.
Since his debut on August 5, 2011, Brett has been an absolute beast. His defense is just plain fun to watch, if not jaw dropping on occasion. Watch this if you like beauty.
His bat continues to be a work in progress and a little inconsistent. With a full season of ‘regular’ at bats, Lawrie is a third baseman who could provide 15 HRs and a .275 avg. Based on the erratic gains he made this past summer, it is conceivable that he could top these numbers. Regardless of your opinion of him, it would be hard to question his passion. For me, this is a refreshing change from the laid back, not running out ground balls, almost pampered approach that others(see Bautista below) have shown. Like him or not, Lawrie plays HARD! Perhaps it is his passion that is his downfall. Throwing a helmet, yelling at a base coach and other tantrums obviously do not endear you to anyone, particularly Canadians. However, as Brett matures, he is learning how to be a professional. Remember, that the big stage can be a whole new, foreign level of expectations. It could take some a while to adjust. Some never do. Brett is starting to. Granted, it took the Blue Jays to hire an aging veteran like Mark DeRosa just to
babysit “work with” Brett for this maturation to take hold. Now, it looks as though he may be on his own.
I lost in the first round as my vote did not prove to be equal to what the huddled masses on Twitter thought. Jose Bautista was voted the Face of the Toronto Blue Jays. It is easy to see why. In recent years, Bautista has been called one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Since 2010, he’s hit 152 HRs, which works out to an average of 38 per season. Yes, pitchers should fear him. Any mistake and you’ll end up looking bad…really bad. For evidence, watch the reactions from pitchers at the 1:37 mark of this.
There is no doubt that Bautista’s bat deserves the recognition it has been getting. His defense is also a treat. He has a cannon from right field and is not afraid to use it. It has made many a runner and his third base coach think twice. I’m not so sure his range is among the league best, but he more than makes up for it with his arm.
Where I’m not convinced is the area of him representing the club as an example of how a player should carry himself. When I look to someone to represent an entire team or franchise, I want them to be a spokesperson, a leader. I’d like to have someone mentor the young players, not say “I lead by example” and take a hands off policy. This is especially troublesome when the leading by example provides argument after argument with umpires that may actually end up costing your team. That is not a leader. I also don’t see (from my couch) hustle as being taken as a given. Running out grounders does not seem to be something that is important. In fact, it would appear flipping your bat in frustration is the preferred treatment of a ground ball or a pop up. I have also had people mention to me that “my boy” seems to milk small injuries ad blow them up. These comments usually come from arrogant Red Sox fans, so I ignore them. Regardless, fans may get the sense that Bautista himself is buying into the hype around his bat. But, it is one thing to BE special and another to ACT special. If you ARE special, you don’t need to ACT it.
Of course, it isn’t really fair of me to dismiss Brett Lawrie for his immaturity by saying it is just misguided passion and then criticize Bautista for pretty much the same behavior. Having said that, it is easier when you consider that Bautista has “travelled” more in professional baseball and should have learned the things Lawrie is still learning. Perhaps the rumours of cultural divide in the Blue Jays clubhouse are the final straw for me. It is difficult to represent an entire team, when you are part of a clubhouse divided. However, it would imprudent and irresponsible of me to base an opinion and a vote for or against a player in such a prestigious campaign as the Face of MLB based on rumors and guesswork. So, perhaps Bautista’s bat is enough. Or, is it?
Edwin Encarnacion may actually be Toronto’s best hitter right now. In the same 4 season time frame as Bautista, EE has totaled 116 HRs with fewer Ks than Bautista (293 vs 459) and a better average. Yet, Encarnacion flies under the radar. Which is probably OK with him considering how fans treated him with such rage when he was playing third and booting the ball seemingly every time he touched it. That aside, now that they’ve found a spot for him, he may actually have a better impact than Bautista offensively speaking. But, the attention doesn’t seem to follow him.
Jose Reyes smile alone is enough to get me to agree to put him on every facade of Rogers Centre as the Face of the Blue Jays. He is a good representative. Colby Rasmus and his defense are fun to watch. Give him a billboard. Just tell him he has to shave. Please Colby, no beard, goatee, or whatever that is.
Alas, the Twitterverse has anointed Jose Bautista the Face of the Toronto Blue Jays. If I’m being honest, I can’t disagree. He is a beast. By all accounts he’s a very generous person doing charity work and cajoling fans. I’ve heard it said that he embraces the social media side of sports more than most athletes. That is clear since he is pushing the Face of MLB thing quite hard:
(guess who’s fangirling because Bautista is following him on Twitter now?)
It’s just…if you have to push that hard, is it really justified? Although, it might not be a bad idea. If he makes it through this round (as of the time of writing this he is up on Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves 61%-39%), he’ll have to go up against the soon to be retired Derek Jeter. In my mind, NO ONE stands a chance against Jeter. That is especially true now that he has announced his retirement. *Update- Bautista won 59%-41%
Regardless, Brett Lawrie broke through with the Toronto Blue Jays (although they didn’t draft him). He is a Canadian playing on the only MLB team in Canada and he is performing at a high level and will continue to grow. He should be the Face of the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ll admit though, I’ve tweeted and retweeted #JOSEBAUTISTA several times because it IS a popularity contest and I have to help Canada’s team. It’s my duty as a Canadian. The odds are stacked against any player being truly appreciated as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. A player on THE Canadian team probably does not get the recognition he deserves unless he mashes over a long period of time, like Bautista. Which is why it was surprising that Joey Votto was chosen last year. Who knows, maybe Jose Bautista does have a chance.
I fear I’m being way too hard on Jose Bautista. The bottom line is Bautista’s is the name everyone thinks of when they discuss the Toronto Blue Jays…when they discuss the Toronto Blue Jays. Maybe I’m taking this whole thing way too seriously. What do you think? Who is the Face of the Toronto Blue Jays? Who is the Face of Major League Baseball?