It is not Jose Bautista’s fault that the Toronto Blue Jays are not going to win the American League East Division title this season or qualify for the playoffs.
Of all the Blue Jays, he has been the most consistent top-level player throughout 2014, and, in fact, for the last five years or more.
Grown in stature
This year’s edition of Bautista slugging is in the usual range. After Wednesday night’s play he had 35 home runs, 103 runs batted in, was batting .290 and had surged to a league-leading on-base percentage of .409 in recent days. If the rest of the Blue Jays recorded production was like that we might be hearing "Oh, Canada" at the start of World Series games this fall along with the "Star Spangled Banner."
The 6-foot, 205-pound right fielder in his 11th season, has earned his salary. He is 33, hitting like he is 23. And that is ironic since Bautista’s earliest years in the majors were none too special. He arrived at the tail end of the steroids era when home runs were far cheaper to come by than they are now.
Yet during his first years in the big leagues Bautista’s season high for homers was 16. As baseball officials wrung their hands, developed tougher drug-testing policies in order to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs, Bautista only then emerged as a slugger.
The bizarre timing of his 54-homer outburst in 2010 provoked many cynical comments. 'Didn’t he get the message?' was one of those. It was widely assumed that Bautista was going to flunk a drug test. It was 'like so obvious, man', that he was cheating. Funny thing, however. No such evidence ever emerged. Bautista had simply ripened at that moment.
Sure it was strange timing. What till next year, many said. Well, Bautista, who also knocked in 124 runs during his breakthrough season, led the American League in homers in 2011, too, swatting 43, while driving in another 103 runs.
After that baseball fans concluded that he pretty much had to be for real. Now Bautista is a five-time All-Star. It’s a given that he is Toronto’s top hitter and one of the steadiest power hitters around. He has not approached that 54-homer season, but these days putting up 35 dingers in a season, as he has this campaign, is its near-equivalent.
No one is the slightest bit surprised that as this regular season comes to a close that Bautista is among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs. As peculiar as his mid-career ascension was, Bautista proved that he was not a one-year fluke. Many a player has produced extraordinary numbers for a single season and then slipped back to mediocrity. Not Bautista.
Performing under scrutiny
Few players have experienced such scrutiny and faced such skepticism during a season of emerging stardom. Bautista shrugged that off and has maintained an All-Star level of play every year since.
He has never received the amount of attention that he did during that splendid 2010 campaign, nor has Bautista received as much attention as other stars, probably because he is a headliner in Toronto.
But the guy keeps producing and five years worth of strong seasons, including a couple cut short by injury, do indicate that Jose Bautista is one of the steadiest stars in the sport.