Jose Bautista returned to the Rogers Centre for the first time as a New York Met this week, putting him in the forefront of Blue Jays fans minds again, and reminding nearly everyone of just how great he was throughout his decade in Toronto.
In 2017 the Blue Jays celebrated their 40th anniversary as a franchise in Major League Baseball. While 40 (or 41) years is longer than many of you who are reading this have even been alive, it’s still relatively young in terms of a big league team. When you consider that we’re talking about since 1876, the Blue Jays are still young kids on the block.
That said, 40+ years is a lot of time to make some franchise history, and the Blue Jays have done just that. We’ll never forget the World Series championships of 1992 and 1993, and all the heroes that were on that team. For this writer, Joe Carter remains my hero to this day, likely because of that walk-off home run I witnessed as a nine year old. I was already a baseball fanatic as a young kid, and Carter was already my favourite player. But that moment, and those two seasons, forever cemented my love for the game as a Canadian baseball fan.
There were names like Roberto Alomar, John Olerud, Tony Fernandez, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, and countless others who make up the great names of Blue Jays’ lore. For those of us who have been following the team for a few decades, there are plenty of names to grab on to.
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At the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome), there is a special tribute to signature Blue Jays of the past called the ‘Level of Excellence’. While not every great Blue Jay has been included, the list includes Carter, Alomar, Fernandez, George Bell, Dave Stieb, Carlos Delgado, Tom Cheek, Cito Gaston, Paul Beeston, and Roy Halladay.
If I were to wager a guess on the next name to be included, I would put my money on Jose Bautista.
While the attendance for Bautista’s return to Toronto was a bit disappointing earlier this week, those in attendance definitely let him know how much he is still appreciated north of the border. The Jays also did a video tribute for on Tuesday, and the crowd gave him a hearty ovation before his first at bat. For the 37 year old, it was undoubtedly a bittersweet return to the place he called home for roughly a decade, but thankfully the fans let him know how much he was appreciated.
He likely won’t be “inducted” on to the Level of Excellence until his career is over, but there’s a good chance that’s not too far off in the future. He’s had a resurgent season since being picked up by the Mets, so it’s a decent bet he plays beyond the 2018 season as well. That said, Father Time never loses a battle, so the end will come sooner than later for the Blue Jay legend, even if he’s still producing this season.
When that time comes, there’s almost no doubt in my mind that Toronto will include him among the greatest names to ever put on a Blue Jays’ uniform, and add him to the Level of Excellence. There’s been plenty of debate about whether or not he’s the “greatest Blue Jay ever”, and considering the length of his tenure, there’s a solid case to be made.
He doesn’t need to be the greatest ever for this honour though, which is why his inclusion is a no brainer. For now, we can enjoy the fact that “Joey Bats” is back to terrorizing pitchers, even if he’s not doing so in a Blue Jays uniform anymore.