Jose Bautista heads list of most important Blue Jays since World Series years
List of players since 1994 that had most impact in making Blue Jays relevant again
There are two occasions that I can personally recall feeling a major-league stadium, physically, rock and roll. One occurred naturally, the other was man-made, by a player and a crowd eight years ago reaching towards the unbelievable and supernatural.
The first big shake I recall came on October 17, 1989 at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, just minutes prior to World Series Game 3 between the Giants and A’s. It was 5:03 p.m. Pacific time when the clocks stopped, as a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay Area, with the ballpark rolling in waves with light towers swaying dangerously. It postponed the series for 10 days.
The other time I felt a stadium actually rocked on its foundation was October 14, 2015, in the wake of Jose Bautista’s historic series winning home run and bat-flip that reversed Game 5 of the ALDS vs. the Rangers and sent 49,742 fans into paroxysms of unbridled foot-stomping joy, a video captured on multitudes of cellphones and held onto as forever memories. Fans and the building rocked in unison.
On Saturday afternoon, back at that same major-league building, that author of the unnatural, earth-shaking phenomenon of 2015, Jose Bautista stood by and emotionally watched as his name was unveiled on the Rogers Centre’s Level of Excellence, next to that of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Roy Halladay. Bautista became the eighth player and 12th person overall to be recognized with his name posted on the facing of the outfield wall just below the 400 Level.
On the field as part of the ceremony, joining the man known as Joey Bats, taking part in the understated 35-minute ceremony were an assortment of former teammates, coaches, scouts, family and support staff, as well as managers Cito Gaston and John Gibbons, each of whom received among the loudest ovations of the day.
Heading the list of prominent former teammates in attendance were Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, Justin Smoak, Ricky Romero, Melky Cabrera, Devon Travis, Adam Lind, Travis Snider, Ryan Goins and Marco Scutaro.
So, why is Bautista so beloved by Jays’ fans, by the city and the country? The explanation begins with the history of the Blue Jays franchise, wherein the bat-flip homer ranks, inarguably, as one of the three most impactful blasts in franchise history.
There’s Robbie Alomar’s game-tying homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 5 of the ’92 ALCS vs. the A’s, a game they won to stay alive and advance to their first World Series. Then there’s the touch-‘em-all-Joe ’93 World Series winning blast off Mitch Williams in Game 6. And finally there’s Bautista and the bat-flip.
It must be remembered that between Joe and Jose there was a gap of 22 seasons, a literal lifetime for many fans. Thus, Bautista’s bomb was likely the first iconic moment that belonged to this next generation of Jays fans, one that had grown up and had become ticket holders long after the back-to-back World Series wins, with little memory of the Alomar/Carter glory days. Part II of the Blue Jays’ history must begin in ’95 the season after the devastating strike. Let’s document the icons.
BLUE JAYS TOP 7 IMPACT ACQUISITIONS SINCE THE BACK-TO-BACK WORLD SERIES
1-Jose Bautista: After eight seasons under his belt in Toronto and a 54-homer campaign in 2010, Bautista had already been recognized as a star in Canada by the time the Jays went to the ALCS against the Rangers in 2015. But that iconic Series winning seventh-inning home run in Game 5 off Sam Dyson accompanied by the fabulous flourish of his monster bat-flip made him an international legend – hero or villain -- against whom all fan arguments of excess swagger and “play the game the right way” were measured. The game has changed and Jose, although he didn’t know it at the time, was a big part of it.
Devon Travis summarized Bautista’s game-wide impact the best: “Before Jose Bautista, I’m not sure bat flips were accepted. Now they are.”
Bautista was also a lightning-rod for different types of controversy, with his us-against-the-world attitude that seemed to take pressure off his teammates and place it squarely on his own shoulders. Like all good leaders he bridged the gap of clubhouse cultures and cliques and made them equal. He stood up for his teammates against opponents, umpires and even his own front office. That makes him the No. 1 influencer of the past 30 years.
2-Hyun Jin Ryu: Signed by the Blue Jays right after Christmas 2019, Ryu served as an unexpected beacon to the rest of MLB signalling the Jays’ decision to try and contend from that moment on. The expected arrival date had been 2021. The veteran lefthander had led the NL in ERA with the Dodgers in 2019, finishing second in Cy Young balloting. He followed that up for the Jays in the shortened ’20 season by finishing third in Cy voting in the AL.
The fact that Ryu was a Scott Boras client that was able to reach a four-year, $80-million agreement with the Jays also demonstrated to the rest of baseball’s free agents that Toronto was a legitimate player. In three seasons, since,the Jays have been a wild-card twice.
3-R.A. Dickey: The knuckleballer’s true influence on the direction of the franchise back in 2013 has been underrated, in hindsight. The Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos was less than a month removed from a bold 12-player trade with the Marlins that arched some eyebrows, but when he flew to Nashville in December and convinced Dickey in his living room to accept a trade to the Jays, even Las Vegas could not resist the urge to install the Jays as World Series favourites. The fact the 2013 season was an abysmal disappointment can’t be placed on Dickey’s shoulders – or knuckles.
Dickey was the defending NL Cy Young Award winner and was a 200-inning-plus machine. He was considered a prized catch but came at a steep price, with a young Noah Syndergaard leading the haul going the other way. The 2013 season signalled a new era for the Jays wherein ownership valued the potential of winning above the colour of money. Even though Dickey’s tenure is viewed as disappointing, in his four seasons in Toronto, he averaged 12 wins and 206 innings in the uber-tough AL East. He was also part of the playoff years in 2015-16.
4-Roger Clemens: After four years of mediocrity, or worse, following the two World Series and the player strike in ’94, team president Paul Beeston convinced Roger Clemens to sign with the Blue Jays to try and revive his sagging career. The Rocket had been dismissed by the Red Sox as over the hill and he was determined to prove them wrong. Clemens won back-to-back Cy Youngs and pitching Triple Crowns in 1997-98 with the Jays and in ’98, GM Gord Ash put together a team that won 88 games, which remained a Jays high, until winning 93 in 2015.
5-George Springer: Similar to the “look-at-us-now” impact of the Ryu signing, a year earlier, when the Astros’ all-star outfielder and 2017 World Series MVP agreed to terms with the Blue Jays in January of 2021 -- even though they wouldn’t be playing home games at Rogers Centre until August, the baseball world took note. In addition to the internal career developments of Bo Bichette, Vlad Jr. and others, the front office group showed it was finally intent on the promise of identifying the holes towards a winning roster and filling them, via trade or free agency.
6-Josh Donaldson: The Jays already had the makings of a solid team in place heading into the 2015 season, returning the two-headed monster of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so when GM Anthopoulos traded for the emerging 29-year-old late-blooming Donaldson, who had played almost every day for the previous two years with the A’s and had finished MVP Top 10 in 2013-14, it became an acquisition that encouraged the Jays to continue on and be buyers at the deadline. When the team travelled to Anaheim in late August and Donaldson, head-to-head, vastly outplayed Mike Trout, the likelihood of the AL MVP became his and the Jays with momentum rushed into October and a date in the ALDS with the Rangers.
7-Russell Martin: The Montreal-born catcher, who attended the same Chipola College as Jose Bautista, was a free agent following 2014. He had been to the playoffs in six of the previous seven seasons -- with the Dodgers, Yankees and Pirates. When Martin surprisingly agreed to a multi-year contract with the Jays, it signalled that they felt this was a team built for the post-season.
As has been well documented, the Jays’ huge run differential as the trade deadline approached encouraged them to reach out and add Troy Tulowitzi, David Price, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins. That 2015 front-office faith in the pieces they had added has led to eight consecutive years of rollercoaster fan enthusiasm since that time. The organization’s attitude changed and payrolls have increased. That would not have happened without the additions of Martin and Donaldson.