Jays' Bautista one for the ages

Blue Jays' Jose Bautista watches his two-run homerun off Twins pitcher Jim Hoey during the eleventh...

Blue Jays' Jose Bautista watches his two-run homerun off Twins pitcher Jim Hoey during the eleventh inning of their game at Target Field in Minneapolis. It was Bautista's third dinger of the afternoon and 16th this season. (REUTERS/Eric Miller)

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:11 AM ET

It is hard to explain and quantify what has become more and more difficult to believe or even understand:

The story of Jose Bautista — from kicked around part-time player, to last year’s opening day leadoff hitter, to modern day Babe Ruth — is a Toronto tale unlike anything we’ve seen or known before. 

And it just keeps on getting better. 

“I can’t imagine that there is anything that compares to this,” said Alex Anthopoulos, who pushed to acquire Bautista when he was assistant general manager of the Blue Jays. And now, Anthopoulos, as club general manager, watches and admires like an executive and fan.

“I thought I was done being amazed after last season,” he said. “And now with what he’s doing this season, words probably don’t to it justice. He’s becoming a source of pride for all Canadians, because he’s someone who loves being part of the country and the city. Combine that with an elite ability and even better character and we’re witnessing something truly special.”

We’re witnessing history in the making. Exactly what kind of history will be determined over the next four months and maybe the next four years.

This is Year 35 for the Toronto Blue Jays, and for all the victories, the great players, the Jays have never had a single player they could call the best in baseball. For two seasons and a few needles in the backside, Rogers Clemens won back-to- -back Cy Young Awards.

“For all Roger did, he pitched every five days,” said Jays president Paul Beeston. “This guy is playing every day. And before our eyes, we’re watching a player who is doing it all. He’s hitting for power. He’s hitting for average. He’s running the bases. He’s doing it with his arm. He’s doing it defensively. He hit the home run in the 11th inning Saturday to win the game but did you see what he did in the ninth when he went right to the wall in foul territory to get that ball? That’s what I’m talking about. He’s doing everything.”

Everything starts with the home run for Bautista. Going into Monday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers, he led all of baseball with 16 home runs, and all of American League history with the most home runs per at bat. When Mark McGwire set the dubious mark of 70 home runs in the steroid era, he did so by hitting a homer every 7.5 at bats. Bautista has hit a home run every 7.1 at bats this season.

The best season in history —  Barry Bonds’ should-be-asterisked 73-homer season — came with hitting a long ball every 6.5 at bats.

This is the company Bautista now keeps, minus any evidence of performance enhancing drugs. Bautista has become the face of the first post-steroid era in baseball, the slugger who came from nowhere and refuses to leave. Almost every major home run hitter in baseball came with some kind of notice of pedigree along the way. Just not him. He was drafted twice, waived once, sold once, and traded three times before he landed in Toronto as a part-time player. There was no indication he would ever hit 54 home runs in a season, and then no real belief he would follow up that season heading for possibly more.

Babe Ruth was born to hit home runs. The same with the early home run champions like Hank Greenberg and Jimmy Foxx and Ralph Kiner and Hack Wilson. That’s what they did. It’s the same with Ken Griffey Jr. or Ryan Howard or even Roger Maris, whose 61 home run season was an anomaly but he had been a home run hitter of some consequence before that.

There just isn’t a simple category or place to put what Bautista has done in any historical context except to say it’s something completely new. The greatest single season home run hitters — Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa — all ahead of Ruth and Maris, all put up their marks in a tainted performance enhancing way. The rest of the Top 10, Ruth, Maris, Foxx, Greenberg and Howard, all hit for power when they began in the big leagues.

“That’s why this so different,” said the baseball historian, William Humber. “You almost have to go back, in terms of how Babe Ruth was — how far ahead of the pack he was to make sense of Bautista. When Ruth first came up, he was at one level and everyone else was at another level. He set the trend and established the numbers. Maybe Bautista, in his own way, is setting a trend. He is the post-steroid era guy. It doesn’t just go back to last season but the previous season. Since then, no one is close to him. I know it may be considered a stretch, but Ruth was out of the ordinary and now Bautista is.

“When Maris did what he did, he had Mantle hitting behind him. You can say Bautista is doing this without anybody really hitting behind him. And how many of his home runs have been with no one on base? Imagine how many RBIs he would have if the Jays could get on base.”

This year, 11 of his 16 homers have been solo shots. Last year, 25 of 54 were hit with no men on base. The question Humber and others wonder about is: Why are teams still pitching to Bautista? Humber figures the season is still young, teams are trying to find a way to get him out, and he’s impressed by Bautista’s discipline at the plate.

“It’s still too early in the season to call this a trend but you have to take notice,” said Humber. “It’s parts of three seasons, one full season, one month the year before and these two months. It may be too early to be absolute about this. He may just be on a great streak. But it is exciting. The very fact that it’s no longer an anomaly and it’s real and you’re seeing it every night, that’s the fun of it. 

“It’s almost like the Jays themselves are surprised by it. They knew he was good. They didn’t know he was this good. Right now, he’s better than (Albert) Pujols. And he’s going to get, what, $30-35 million a year next year? Bautista’s not just a home run hitter. He’s a real threat to compete for the Triple Crown.”

Jose Bautista is 30 years old and no one is enjoying his success more than he is. It’s now starting to get attention. It’s probably getting a lot of attention in other cities. It’s almost as though he knew this was possible long before anyone else knew.

“How long before the Sports Illustrated cover?” asked Humber.

“It’s not a fluke,” said Beeston. “There’s been too much consistency. What impresses me is how he’s dealing with all this. He’s still the same guy. He’s not gotten too big to know we have a challenge here to get people to the ballpark — and he says, ‘How can I help?’

“I just admire the way he goes about his job and the way he answers questions with his play. Some big contracts put pressure on players and they can’t handle it. For others, it gives them the security to go forward. I think he’s taken it to another level. Everybody is still waiting for him to fail and he’s not failing. He’s enjoying it. You can tell when you see him sitting in the dugout. He’s having fun. 

“We think it’s great. He’s become ‘much-watch TV’. Even his outs are hard outs. And how can you not love this?” 

CATEGORIZING THE HOME RUN HITTERS

(Players who hit more than 54 in a season) 

The All-Timers 

Babe Ruth (60) 

Jimmy Foxx (58) 

Hank Greenberg (58) 

Ken Griffey Jr (56) 

Hack Wilson (56) 

Mickey Mantle (54) 

Ralph Kiner (54) 

 

The Post-steroid Sluggers 

Ryan Howard (58) 

Jose Bautista (54) 

 

The Tainted Sluggers 

Barry Bonds (73) 

Mark McGwire (70) 

Sammy Sosa (66) 

Alex Rodriguez (57) 

David Ortiz (54) 

 

The One Year Wonders 

Roger Maris (61) 

Luis Gonzalez (57) 

(Number in brackets represents the highest single-season home run tally of their career)


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