Bautista is one classy guy

JOE WARMINGTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

TORONTO - Will Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista break the major league home-run record?

With 16 already he’s certainly on pace to match or surpass the record accomplished 50 years ago this fall.

And we are not talking about Barry Bonds’ 74 or Mark McGwire’s 70 or even Sammy Sosa’s 66.

No the record Bautista has a chance to eclipse is the real single season home-run record for 162 games and that belongs to the late great Roger Maris.

Maris’s 61 in 1961 is the legitimate benchmark.

The achievements of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa are tarnished with allegations of steroids and have ruined it for everybody else having a chance to beat the record honestly.

If not for that, the Jays classy Bautista in 2011 would be the toast of baseball.

Rabid Jays fan Mary Willard, of Burlington, who also recalls following Maris’s home runs with excitement 1961, says if Bautista were to hit 62 she’s confident it would be seen as the unofficial record by baseball fans.

And as I have told my pal Jerry Howarth before, baseball should also put the overlooked Maris into the hall of fame before they ever consider welcoming Bonds, McGwire, Sosa or even Alex Rodriguez or Roger Clemens.

“Bautista is a treat to watch,” says the Blue Jays team doctor Ron Taylor. “And he kind of has the same soft-spoken and humble personality of Roger.”

Dr. Taylor would know, too, since he not only knew Maris personally but also faced him in the 1964 world series. “I remember walking Mantle but I think I got Maris out,” teases Taylor.

One look to the baseball archives and you’ll find in Game 4 of the series on Oct. 11, 1964, Doc Taylor did get Maris to ground out and held a 4-3 lead against the Yankees for four innings earning a save.

It was a turning point for the St. Louis Cardinals to win the world series in seven games and in essence end the glory days of Mantle and Maris since the Yankees were not back in the series until 1976.

“I still can’t believe I was able to keep my composure in Yankee Stadium but I just focused on location of the ball,” he said of his four innings out not allowing the Yankees to score a run.

He was still in Triple A in 1961 but Taylor said his experience in 1964 gave him some feel of what it must have been like when Maris and Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth’s legendary 1927 record.

“That place was electric,” he said of old Yankee Stadium.

Taylor’s own story is the stuff of a movie, too. He was scouted out of Leaside and went on to pitch in almost 500 big league games including being on the 1969 Miracle Mets.

With two world series rings as a player and two as the Blue Jays team physician for 35 years, Dr. Taylor has a unique distinction in baseball.

But how he became a doctor is also a great part of the story.

“I had gone over to Vietnam as part of a USO tour and I got interested in how the doctors were saving people,” he said.

“I already had a degree but when I was done as a pitcher I went back to the University of Toronto for a year to upgrade and got the marks to get into medical school.”

His job with the Blue Jays is a labour of love because it combines both his passions.

Dr. Taylor didn’t have any comment on whether Maris holds the real home-run record but did make it very clear that he thinks the Bronx Bombers’ No. 9 should be in Cooperstown.

“There is no question,” he said. “Roger was a very good player and not just at the plate but in the outfield, too.”

In his career Maris hit 275 home runs plus six more in the world series, was a seven time all-star and appeared in seven world series but it was his achievement under death threats in 1961 which immortalized him forever.

If you are ever in Fargo, North Dakota there is a Roger Maris Museum in the West Acres Shopping Centre which at his insistance before his death at 51 in 1985 is free of charge. And if you want to see a great movie showing what he went through check out Billy Crystal’s outstanding 61*, starring Canadian acting talent Barry Pepper as Roger and Tom Jane doing an equally terrific job playing Mantle.

I hope they also make movies one day on both Bautista and Dr. Taylor, too.

But either way you can still go out to the Rogers Centre for yourself this weekend and catch the show because as far as I am concerned what Jose is doing in 2011 is chasing the legitimate Major League Baseball home-run record exactly 50 years after it was established.

Happy Victoria Day weekend everybody. Scrawler out!


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