Sorry Joe Carter: José Bautista’s bat flip is the biggest home run in Blue Jays history
Only two times in baseball history has the World Series ended on a walk-off home run – Bill Mazeroski for the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates and Joe Carter for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993.
So how could Carter’s home run not be the biggest in the history of the Blue Jays franchise? It might be the biggest home run in baseball history, so surely it is for a single team.
With all due respect, it’s not.
No, the biggest home run in Blue Jays franchise history belongs to José Bautista, a blast and a bat flip one October night in 2015 which exceeds even a World Series winner …
Between Joe Carter and José Bautista
Most fan bases in sports can, in their lowest moments, begin to feel like things are stacked against their team – that umpires and referees won’t give them a call, that the media is biased, that the league itself is pushing them aside. For Blue Jays fans in the late-90s and early-2000s, the feeling was perhaps more acute than elsewhere.
After the lockout in 1994, the financial structure of baseball changed, allowing division rivals in New York and Boston to spend unlimited amounts on the best teams money could buy. The result, in the years that followed, was that even as the Jays would occasionally field a decent team, they could never come close to a division title.
In 1998, they won 88 games … and finished an astonishing 26 games behind the Yankees. When they won 86 games in 2003, they finished 15 behind the Yankees; in 2006, they won 87 and finished 10 back.
Jays fans who began to feel during this time like the playing field was tilted against their team were, in at least one way, correct. Financially, it was. Such was life in the AL East.
Indeed, between 1998-2009, the AL East winner averaged 99 wins, while Boston and New York shared the runner-up position to the tune of eight Wild Cards, finishing one-two in the division ten out of twelve years. At the same time, Jays fans watched as no less than eight teams won another division with 88 or fewer wins – including the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series after clinching the NL Central with 82 wins.
By 2010, Jays fans faced with this reality had fallen into something between malaise and despondency. Their team was in the midst of the longest playoff drought in professional sports, and each spring, as hope sprung anew across baseball, Jays fans knew, somewhere in the back of their minds, that no matter how good their team was, it would not be good enough in the mighty AL East.
The rise of Joey Bats and the meaning of the bat flip
It is hard to describe to those who weren’t there what it felt like when José Bautista emerged out of this cauldron of despair, morphing from overlooked journeyman to superhero overnight. Every day, fans would tune into the game thinking, surely this is the day he will cool off. Spoiler alert: it never was.
‘Joey Bats,’ as Bautista became known, would finish the 2010 season with 54 home runs, breathing fresh air into the moribund franchise and instilling in the fan base a newfound belief. He would carry this performance forward to become arguably the team’s greatest ever player, making six consecutive All-Star game appearances and standing as baseball’s home run king from 2010-2015.
Of course, even Bautista’s greatness did not immediately make the Blue Jays a contender. That would not happen until 2015, when a little-known 38-year-old General Manager from Montreal finally built a team around Joey Bats which could overcome the division’s goliaths.
As the Jays went on an historic 43-18 run down the stretch that year, blowing past their rivals and winning the division for the first time in 22 years, it created a buzz not only in the city of Toronto, but across Canada – the boys of summer were back, after two decades, finally capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone.
What happened next, Jays fans will remember well – the roller coaster that is the MLB playoffs.
When they lost the first two games of their best-of-five series at home to the Texas Rangers, it began to feel to many like maybe the whole season had been for nothing. When they won the next two in Texas to force a deciding game five at home, it was difficult not to think that this might finally be their moment.
But then, as that winner-take-all game reached its crescendo, the unthinkable happened.
In the top of the seventh in an 2-2 game came a play which no one had ever seen before, least of all the game’s befuddled umpiring crew, whose historically questionable decision making put a stamp on one of the strangest sequences in baseball history.
For Jays fans who had been through over 20 years of hurt, a familiar feeling arose, hope lost, thoughts spiraling to the darkest depths of fandom – no matter how good the team was, they would not be good enough at the conclusive moment to overcome the odds stacked against them; they would not, could not, simply lose to a superior squad, but must ultimately slide backwards down a tilted playing field.
It was a moment no Blue Jays fan would ever forget.
Except, they did, thanks to what happened next.
When Jose Bautista hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh, nearly flipping his bat into Lake Ontario and effectively clinching the series for the Jays, it sent the Rogers Centre into raptures. It was the type of celebration which comes not merely from winning a game, but from the release of two decades of pent-up frustration and pain, a revelatory moment for those who cannot be blamed for forgetting what was possible.
It was a moment which inspired not only sports fandom but life, a message about perseverance when everything seems stacked against you, about the ability to return from the depths of despair.
Touch ‘em all Joe
With all due respect to Joe Carter, it was just different than in ‘93. That year, when Carter hit his World Series-winning home run, it was more of a cherry on top than the climax of a story arc.
The Jays had made the playoffs for the first time in 1985, before flaming out spectacularly in the ALCS, then again made the playoffs in ’89 and ’91, on each of these three occasions losing to the eventual champion. In 1992, they finally climbed the mountain, exorcising the demons of past failures and bringing the World Series championship to Canada for the first time.
If it was a movie, this is where the credits would roll, the hero’s journey complete.
When they won it all again in ’93, there was no catharsis, no great sense of climax fifteen years in the making. Instead, it was like a second piece of cake, the postscript playing beside the credits as they descend down the screen.
Obviously, a home run that wins the world series is monumental, and Joe Carter will forever be remembered as a legend of the Blue Jays franchise. But Jose Bautista’s bat flip home run in 2015 was something different, something which touched people on an emotional level that even a championship can’t reach.
It was, quite simply, the biggest home run in franchise history.
Which home run do you think was bigger? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.