Toronto Blue Jays: In Bautista We Trust?
When Jose Bautista indignantly walked out to a throng of cameras and curious reporters gathered outside the team’s spring training facility to begin the year and proudly proclaimed that he’d never consider a hometown discount ever again, the city nodded quietly and begrudgingly agreed with him. After all, this was their all-star right fielder who twice led the league in home runs and was considered to be a remarkable specimen of mental and physical fortitude capable of producing an iconic baseball feat which captured and held a city’s imagination throughout the off-season.
But there’s no possible way he could have foreseen this outcome.
On Monday afternoon in the Bronx, Bautista reminded us not once – but twice – that perhaps he should be the one considering the hometown discount for management to have him stay with this team. The numbers are there for all to see – .226/.345/.446, 17 home runs, 53 RBI in 90 games limited by two preventable injuries caused by a rare combination of irresponsible play and questionable conditioning.
While his teammate and countryman Edwin Encarnacion continues to let his bat speak louder than words, Bautista has done the exact opposite this year. And you can bet your bottom dollar that president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins came away unamused with what transpired on the field in New York.
On Monday afternoon in the Bronx, Bautista reminded us not once – but twice – that perhaps he should be the one considering the home town discount for management to have him stay with this team.
At a time when the margin for error in the battle for the American League East division crown is razor-thin at best, Jose demonstrated an astonishingly jaw-dropping proclivity for fundamentally unsound baseball which these parts haven’t witnessed in years…and in high-definition (and quite possibly 4k for those lucky few), no less, for all to appreciate in their living rooms across Canada – further reinforcing a disturbing trend which has plagued him for the entirety of the 2016 campaign.
With Boston hot on their heels and Baltimore clubbing the Rays relentlessly all afternoon, this was a glorious window of opportunity thrown asunder to start an absolutely crucial week for the team. As a struggling Masahiro Tanaka took to the mound – a clearly vulnerable Cy Young contender under the microscopic pressure of a must-win scenario from the Yanks’ perspective – the Toronto Blue Jays went from delivering the finishing blow to opening a sliver of hope for their opponent.
His first inning gaffe was precisely what happens when a player decides to stop running out the ball and instead reverts to a willfully prescribed ego-oriented approach of genuinely terrible assumptions. Fans were left gob smacked at the sheer indifference to a play that was wholly reliant on forcing the New York defence to, well…play defence. Bang-bang, as they say. And as the Yankees bobbled their way to infamy with a desperate throw to the plate, Jose was right there to save their bacon with his shocking indifference to the circumstances around him – he literally ran his team out of the inning.
But perhaps it was the play later in the game which thoroughly incensed the fans and set twitter ablaze with head-scratching aplomb. In his zeal for making things happen on the base paths, Bautista made the dubious decision of trying to take third base on a single with two outs after the Jays had rallied to bring the tying run to the plate. Not only did he make the final out of the inning – thus ignoring every fundamental caveat in the game when it comes to disciplined textbook base-running, but his actions bordered on epic momentum slaying with his team already down by four.
I frantically searched for a glimpse of Gibbons to register the full scope of contempt on his face, but anyone who actually watched the game didn’t need to appreciate his bitterness aesthetically in contrast to their own. It simply wasn’t necessary – the damage had been done, and the end result echoed straight down through the visitor dugout hallway as the Jays made their measly final outs against the mighty juggernaut Betances and collected their belongings. A game which featured a supposed veteran leader stepping up (Dickey) was effectively negated by a horrific combination of mediocre pitching and even more mediocre hitting and base running. One can only hope that Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman fare better in their efforts to salvage this crucial three game series.
In a game rife with expected levels of failure and adversity, players are taught from an early age to respect the true value of fundamental play and principled enthusiasm. Mistakes happen to the best of athletes and catch up to them when we usually least expect it. But when it comes down to a hotly contested pennant race – one with so much at stake where a single lost game in September could be the difference between a one-game playoff or an early tee time, it leaves you breathless when one of your vaunted and highly esteemed leaders in the clubhouse decides to swap out the value of wise decision-making with his own personal brand of inexplicably poor judgement.
A veritable lightning rod of controversy, Jose has endured the kind of forgettable season punctuated by his infamous showdown at big sky with Rougned Odor earlier in the season – you know, the punch heard around baseball which sent apologists scattering from both teams to shield their respective star-crossed egotistical athletes from the inevitable criticism which normally comes from watching grown men acting like little boys. And yet throughout it all, the Bautista mystique remained intact largely on the strength of a legendary bat flip still heard around the outskirts of the Urals and somewhere along the peaks of high Alaskan mountain ranges. There is simply no humility or concessions to be had when it comes to Joey Bats.
Some consider Bautista to be a “new-school baller” and part of a cosmic breed of baseball player that’s redefined this era of the sport for millennials: a high-octane and power-oriented approach to plate appearances which has less to do with situational hitting and more with thrilling the faithful over towering blasts of machismo mixed in with the occasionally tolerated base-running gaffe or defensive blunder.
Some consider Bautista to be a “new-school baller” and part of a cosmic breed of baseball player that’s redefined this era of the sport for millennials: a high-octane and power-oriented approach to plate appearances which has less to do with situational hitting and more with thrilling the faithful over towering blasts of machismo mixed in with the occasionally tolerated base-running gaffe or defensive blunder. We bite our collective lips because we know that during a 162-game season, one takes the good with the bad and copes with the indigestion of this changing era.
But 2016 has endeared itself to the dark side of the Bautista ideology – one rooted in feckless, reckless play where the blame is constantly mitigated by apologists in the broadcasting booth and across social media – usually from Rogers employees. It started early in April over his highly questionable interpretation of the slide rule. You know, the one where every registered MLB player spent countless hours during the off-season studying the new rule orientation only to suddenly forget it against a division rival. And on this day, it cost the Jays dearly and left their fans crestfallen. For this team to have any realistic hopes of ever bat-flipping their way to post-season success, these kinds of losses must be avoided at all cost.
Next: Throwback post: Examining the Dickey-Thole Effect
On a final note, I couldn’t help but notice during my recent appearance on Ricky Keeler’s excellent podcast, Yanks Go Yard, that my contempt for Bautista was subconsciously rising to the surface during our verbal exchanges. For the first time in all my years of supporting this mercurial figure, I found myself seriously questioning how much Jose truly means to the future of this franchise and if the current front office should make a dedicated effort towards bringing him back into the fold. And although the Blue Jays still have a number of key games left to play in this season, it’s beginning to feel very much like a relationship which is sadly and inevitably nearing an ignominious end.