Jose Bautista has had some incredible moments with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jose Bautista was the undisputed face of the Toronto Blue Jays during most of his tenure with the club. His name was found near the top of almost every major offensive category. And, for some time, he was an MVP nominee. The six-time All-Star became one of the most polarizing sports figures Toronto has ever seen.
Bautista left his mark, rightfully so, with moments that include his monumental bat-flip, to his many confrontations with one particular Baltimore Orioles reliever. Before all that, he made Blue Jays history that put himself in the spotlight about ten years ago. How did he go from replacement-level player to having one of the best seasons in Blue Jays history? It’s exciting, and we have to go back to the 2009 offseason.
The Blue Jays already had Bautista in 2009, but dramatic changes were happening behind the scenes. J.P. Riccardi’s inconsistency as the team’s general manager led to his being fired at season’s end. His replacement would be Alex Anthopolous. Then, Roy Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, known as “The Doc Trade.”
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Entering the 2010 season, the Blue Jays didn’t have a face of the franchise. With Halladay gone, there was no star on the roster. Unknowingly to Blue Jays fans, Bautista would slowly emerge into that role for years to come.
The 29-year old Bautista had hit just 54 home runs in over 2,000 plate appearances. Few noticed that he had gone deep ten times in September 2009, and the payoff of his work came from hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. Murphy helped Bautista harness his raw power by focusing on pulling the ball. Manager Cito Gaston urged his outfielder to relax at the plate.
The re-tooling of his offence was an immediate impact. Bautista would add his signature leg kick, but hit just .213 with four home runs in April. Then, things turned around as he had an eight-homer binge in 11 games in May, finishing with 24 dingers in the first half of the season.
From the second half onward, Bautista kept up a torrid pace, homering 28 times in 64 games. During that span, Bautista set the new Blue Jays single-season home run record with his 48th homer. That was enough to surpass George Bell’s franchise record of 47, set in his 1987 AL MVP season.
Bautista would then hit his 49th home run against the Boston Red Sox on September 19. The next day, he went 0-for-4, and then in the first two games against the Seattle Mariners, Bautista was 3-for-8 with two doubles.
Time was slowly running out for Bautista to join the elite 50 home run club. Then, the final game of the series came on September 23, a day that history was made for Canada’s lone baseball franchise.
When Bautista joined the 50 home run club, he became the first Blue Jay and 26th player. He joins the group that includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr.
What’s interesting to know is that the smash didn’t come off of a journeyman pitcher or a call-up. Instead, the homer came off Felix Hernandez, the eventual recipient of the 2010 AL Cy Young Award. The fact that Bautista managed to reach the milestone against an elite pitcher like Hernandez is an exciting story.
The following day, Bautista would hit his 51st and 52nd home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. His 52 home runs set a new MLB record for the largest single-season increase in home runs. Bautista eclipsed Davey Johnson’s 38 home run increase from 1972 to 1973.
Bautista finished the 2010 season with a slash line of .260/.378/.617., with an MLB-leading 54 home runs. He would finish fourth in AL MVP voting behind Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Hamilton. However, Bautista did win the AL Hank Aaron and Silver Slugger Awards for his offensive efforts.
The 54 home run season was followed by an incredible 2011 campaign. He ended up leading the major leagues in home runs for the second consecutive season, hitting 43 home runs. He became the first player to do so since Mark McGwire reached the mark in 1998 and 1999.
Bautista earned his second of six All-Star appearances and led the majors in slugging percentage and OPS, while placing second in OBP. He would finish third in AL MVP voting behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Justin Verlander.
The slugger certainly had one of the more unique career paths among many players. He played for five organizations in one season to become one of the best hitters in the league. Maybe that came from nobody wanting him in the Rule 5 draft or the Pittsburgh Pirates merely giving up on him. In the end, that helped him become a monster at the plate.