Editorial: A tribute to a Toronto Sports Icon

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Before Jose Bautista there was Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado. Before them, there was Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and many others from the 1992 and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays. If we branch out to the other sports franchises in Toronto the list of great athletes grows: there’s currently Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, there was Mats Sundin and Vince Carter and for the older generation, there were greats before. However, over the last 30 years-or-so the list has been exclusive.

Bautista doesn’t just make the list because of his 10 seasons with the Blue Jays. He doesn’t make the list just because of his 287 home runs as a Blue Jay (second in franchise history), his 1,229 games played as a Blue Jay (fifth in Blue Jays history), his over 1,000 hits as a Blue Jay (all stats coming prior to Monday night’s games).  Bautista’s WAR (wins above replacement) ranks third in franchise history at 35.9, his .880 on-base plus slugging ranks fourth, he’s scored 788 runs (ranks third), he has 763 runs batted in (third in franchise history) and he’s walked 802 times (second in franchise history).

All the above makes Bautista a franchise icon, but what really makes the third baseman turned right fielder a top three Blue Jay of all-time is the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Two playoff appearances for the Blue Jays, which don’t happen without Bautista – the franchise went 20 seasons prior to 2015 without October baseball.

Bautista was vocal in 2014, and later in 2015, urging then team general manager Alex Anthopoulos to make the win-now moves to get the roster to a postseason level. First came five time all-star Troy Tulowitzki in a trade with Colorado, followed by starting pitcher David Price and outfielder Ben Revere. Bautista’s leadership role was a key spotlight to the blockbuster moves.

One has to think if Bautista never became the big-bat he once was (with Edwin Encarnacion), do the Blue Jays make the trade with Oakland for Josh Donaldson? Do they give $82 million to Russell Martin?

Bautista turning his career around makes it easy to forget that he bounced from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to Tampa Bay to Kansas City to the New York Mets over the course of four years before landing back with Pittsburgh. Blue Jays would trade for the 20th round pick in the 2000 draft in late 2008 for Robinzon Diaz — a catcher who has played 44 MLB games and none since 2009.

In his first 21 games with Toronto, Bautista had three home runs and in the next 113, he had 13. Then 2010 happened with a new leg kick to his hitting approach — Bautista would become an all-star for six straight seasons. He would hit 54 home runs in 2010, another 43 in 2011, 27 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 35 in 2014 and 40 in the 2015 campaign.

Bautista brought swagger to the Blue Jays. He was a voice in the clubhouse and he had an attitude to him that you enjoyed having on your team, but hated playing against.

The earliest stage of Bautista’s swagger came in 2010. On August 23, the Blue Jays and Yankees saw benches clear after Ivan Nova threw up at Bautista’s head area. To respond, Bautista did what now is oh-so-common; he hit a home run followed by a stare down at the pitcher and a bat flip. Then came many more Bautista versus the MLB moments.

He had his battles between relief pitcher Darren O’Day and the Baltimore Orioles. He was never afraid to voice his opinion to umpires.

No one is ever going to forget game five of the ALDS in 2015. A long seventh inning, ended with the most memorable home run in franchise history (and a bat flip that’ll be remembered forever) since Joe Carter’s walk-off.

This season after teammate Kevin Pillar had some words for Atlanta’s Jason Motte, Bautista backed his teammate by hitting a home run, adding another stare down and bat flip.

This past Sunday, in what was probably his final game in Toronto as a Blue Jay, Bautista went out the only way we Blue Jay fans know he would. Between running onto the field alone to start the game (receiving a standing ovation from the crowd and his teammates) and coming out of the game in the ninth inning with one out (to yet another standing ovation), Bautista for a short moment got into a word exchange with New York Yankees catcher Andrew Romine, who bumped Bautista before the exchange.

Throw statistics out the window. Bautista created memories; he represented the Toronto Blue Jays franchise and its fans. More importantly, the icon was the heart of this franchise. Moving forward, the torch is being passed forward, but the name Jose Bautista will forever stand as a piece of Toronto.

 

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