October 19, 2018

The Illumination of Jose Bautista

July 18, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

I can’t say for certain what it was, but sometime in early September, 2009, something seemed to click for Jose Bautista that hadn’t before. Prior to that time Bautista was at best an average utility man who was rapidly approaching 30 years of age. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, he also never had a top prospect label dangling around his neck.  He was simply a nondescript Major League baseball player who made it with little fanfare. He never topped more than a .254 batting average or 16 home runs in any of his five Big League seasons with five different teams, leading up until his late 2009 illumination.

On September 9, 2009, Bautista came off the Toronto Blue Jay bench and hit a home run against Jeff Manship of the Minnesota Twins, in a 6-3 loss. In the 25 games after that to finish the season, Bautista hit .286 with 9 home runs and 19 RBI. Although it was the hottest stretch of his career, nobody gave much thought to the way he ended the season. Even though he played multiple positions, there was no guarantee that Bautista was going to be a Blue Jay in 2010, given his veteran salary and the cost conscious team. Luckily for Toronto, he was still on the roster when they broke camp the following season.

Bautista absolutely crushed the ball all season long in 2010. Shocking the baseball world, he led the American League with 54 home runs, and came in third with 124 RBI. He also contributed a personal best .260 batting average and 100 walks. It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest surprise season in the history of baseball.

Throughout 2010 baseball experts seemed to be at a loss to explain Bautista’s otherworldly success. There was a story that he had been instructed to put a little more loft in his swing by a hitting instructor. There was another that’s aid he tried to hit a home run every time he came to bat. Every effort seemed to be made to label Bautista as nothing better than a one year wonder. Then there were those, who despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever, whispered about possible performance enhancers. Fortunately that theory never gained any steam and quickly dissipated.

The Blue Jays made a long term commitment on Bautista before most others did, evidenced by the multi-year, big money contract they worked out with him prior to 2011. I have to admit that I was one of the people who thought that Bautista was going to come back to earth. Naturally, I was wrong. Not only has Bautista kept up his torrid pace, he has actually been even better in 2011. In 85 games thus far, he has hit .335 with 31 home runs and 65 RBI. If you project those numbers out over the rest of the season, he would end up with 53 home runs and 111 RBI. Oh, by the way, he is also on pace for 128 walks and 126 runs scored, showing he is not all about hitting homers.

Other than Roy Hobbs from The Natural, it is hard to come up with another player from the past, who compares to Bautista. The only person who pops into my head is Dave Stewart, who never won more than 10 games in a season during his first seven Major League seasons, before becoming an annual 20 game winner at age thirty for the Oakland Athletics in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Examples from other sports are sparse as well. There is Kurt Warner and Priest Holmes in football, and then after that I am at a loss to think of other comparable athletes.

We should all simply enjoy Jose Bautista, who has an excellent case for being the best player in baseball. He doesn’t demand the spotlight as much as he earns it. Yes, his late rise to super stardom defies baseball logic, but by all appearances, he is one of the hardest working and most well spoken players in the game. He is a refreshing change in a sports media culture dominated by negativity and scandal. It is impossible to not root for somebody like him.

Bautista also represents the first baseball player since the height of the steroid controversy to put up obscene numbers and not have his every at bat negatively scrutinized. Yes, when he first started his metamorphosis, there were some ugly doubters, but it was pleasantly surprising to see how quickly that negativity melted away. Now in year three of his unexpected rise, it remains unclear as to what new feats Bautista may achieve. What is clear is that in late 2009, a light bulb went on for Jose Bautista, and it has continued to shine brightly on him, and shows no signs of fading.

Andrew Martin is the founder of ‘The Baseball Historian‘ blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a daily basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com.

 

Comments

7 Responses to “The Illumination of Jose Bautista”
  1. Sully says:

    I don’t understand why it is outlandish to raise your hand and say “Can we at least CONSIDER the fact that PEDs are involved?”

    I am not saying I know he did or he should be thrown under the Giambi/Sheffield/Bonds/Pettitte/Clemens/Ramirez/Ortiz/A-Rod/Juan Gonzalez/Rick Ankiel/McGwire/Sosa bus. But isn’t this the exact same story that we’ve heard before?

    If a spouse has been cheated on a bunch of times and suddenly her new man starts doing the same thing her cheating spouse had done, they SHOULD be suspicious.

    A guy transforms from a part time player to Hank Greenberg with no change in venue (a la Curtis Granderson) and no drastic change in playing time and I’m out of line for saying “Um, haven’t we been here before?”

    The opposite of skeptical is gullible

  2. Hi Sully,

    Thank you for your comments. I don’t think that it is outlandish to raise doubt about PEDs, in light of what happened in baseball. However, in the absence of any proof (especially now that there is testing involved that wasn’t there before) is it fair to continue scrutinizing every player with a great season or an unexplained turnaround? Additionally, there is no solid proof on the impact of PEDs- though it seems certain that there are benefits.

    I will admit that I find Bautista’s surge to be refreshing because they whole steroid issue burned me out on baseball pretty bad. I may be naive, but I have much more confidence that his performance is natural than it being illegally produced. I may be proven wrong, but I hope not.

  3. The other thing I forgot to put in that last comment is that absent of proof, there does have to be a time where one has to move on- even if it cautiously. Baseball may be starting to get to that point now.

  4. The article states that “we should all simply enjoy” the abnormal, age-defying transformation of Jose Bautista. Aren’t we “bound to repeat history” if we ignore it? The only thing I find “refreshing” about Bautista’s performance is that he is refreshing our memories of the light bulb stories behind the transformations of McGwire (new stance), Sosa (better discipline), and others.

    I’m not saying to launch an investigation on the guy. Let’s just not flip it around compare him to Roy Hobbs. It’s an unfortunate, cynical viewpoint, but it reflects the fact that steroid testing does not mean the game is steroid-free. Just as digital hackers are constantly using new techniques to breach the security of computer systems, underground chemists are constantly trying to beat drug testing for athletes, and it’s been that way for decades.

  5. Thanks for reading and posting your thoughts, John. Your opinion is certainly understandable in this climate for baseball. I don’t want to ignore history, but I also want badly for there to be room in baseball for the good and the improbable to happen again without insinuation. Perhaps that is a Pollyanna way of looking at Bautista, but in writing this, it did occur to me that his performance has ultimately been about as under-scrutinized as anyone that I can recall in recent memory. Again, I may be proven horribly wrong, but hope not.

  6. Sully says:

    This isn’t a court of law. This is a comment board for a blog post. Of course I can be suspicious of someone who out of nowhere suddenly transformed from someone who got let go by a miserable Pirates team to becoming the second coming of Jimmie Foxx.

    Isn’t that EVERY SINGLE SCENARIO from the ‘roids era?

    Sorry. I am 100% indifferent to his miraculous turn around. It’s a “Been there done that… wake me when something special happens” scenario.

    We keep hearing how hard it is to test HGH and how the drugs are always one step ahead of the testers.

    After a whole decade of virtually every slugger on the stuff we’re suddenly supposed to act like “Well, everything is OK now”? This is the price of the ‘roids era.

    What am I supposed to do if he hits 62 homers?
    I’ll probably shrug

  7. Tom says:

    Great article. I read a smiliar story about Bautista. The writer said he ounced from team to team and ever really had that may at bats to get comfortable. Maybe the coaching he received ad the welcome the Blue Jays gave him helped his confidence. I’m also biased since Bautista has been on my fantasy league the past two years. :)

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