After three years of slugging, Jose Bautista has demonstrated that unless he is privy to secret prescriptions Major League Baseball is unaware of, he is the genuine article as a home-run hitter.
Bautista burst upon the North American consciousness in 2010, a big bomber seemingly coming out of nowhere for the Toronto Blue Jays and just as MLB had come to terms with drug testing and the end of what has been termed the Steroids Era. Bautista’s power was so suspicious that many of us – me included – doubted that he could be for real and that soon enough we would see him fail a drug test.
Well, now that Bautista has been selected for his third straight American League All-Star team we all must eat our words. His performance has been counterintuitive, but he has shown nothing that indicates a betrayal of his numbers, his team, or his fans.
Bautista may be from theDominican Republic, but he has been dubbed with the very American-sounding nickname of Joey Bats. (Actually it sounds more like a nickname from “Goodfellas” than a clubhouse). By this year’s All-Star break Bautista had clubbed 27 homers.
Impressive, but totally in line with the stats Bautista has put up in recent seasons, once he emerged from the obscurity of bouncing around teams frustrated that he could not make contact. The simple fact that Bautista was a bust with the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, and Pittsburgh Pirates before joining Toronto in 2008 is what made sports writers and baseball fans look askance at the 6-foot, 190-pound hitter. The overriding question was, If he is so good, how come he never showed it before in all those other stops?
That is most definitely hard to say. There may be no single right answer to that question. Bautista is a late bloomer. Bautista was coached wrong. Toronto coaching found the key to a new stance. All of the above.
The fact is that Bautista went from a nobody to a somebody in a hurry and when he was already in his late twenties, an age where players’ talents have long been analyzed, dissected, and in theory pigeonholed.
It was not until 2009 that Bautista displayed the first hints that he would even be good enough to become an everyday player. He stroked 13 homers for the Blue Jays, with 10 of them booming off his bat in September alone. That was a hmmm moment for Toronto, though pretty much overlooked by the rest of baseball.
In 2010 Bautista went crazy and drove the rest of his crazy. Suddenly, he was the Big Bopper without the chantilly lace. He smashed 54 home runs, representing a personal increase of 41 in a single season, and a record for a one-year jump. Astounding. At the end of the season Bautista won the team MVP award and the most improved award. Never mind a team improved award, he was the most improved player in the galaxy. Joey Bats made such a startling improvement many of us found it hard to believe it was due to hard work without the aid of artificial stimulants.
Three seasons later Bautista is still doing it. I can’t believe that if he was ingesting any kind of banned substance to increase his strength or talent that baseball would have found it yet. He was a lightning rod for testing and there has never been a peep about Bautista doing anything wrong.
Bautista did not match his 2010 season in 2011, but he still swatted 43 home runs, more than anyone else in either league. Bautista’s 2012 pace puts him on target to smack somewhere between 43 and 54 homers this year.
At this point, three years into his slugging tear, all we can do is applaud Jose Bautista.