If I said the name “José Bautista” to you, would the first thing that comes to mind be, “Hey, he’s leading Major League Baseball in home runs”? I didn’t think so…but it should be.
With due credit to the great Rodney Dangerfield, Bautista is getting no respect. The 29-year old Toronto Blue Jays’ right fielder has 43 home runs this season. And the fact that nobody seems to know it, or care, is a bit of a headshaker.
Look for him on Wikipedia and you get two choices – José Bautista, the pitcher and José Bautista, the utility player. Utility player? The guy has 43 home runs. The Blue Jays’ team record is 47 – by George “Jimy-Williams-can-kiss-my-big-black-a–” Bell in 1987. The only Blue Jays’ player who’s ever led the major leagues in home runs was Jesse Barfield in 1986. Barfield’s 40 dingers that year were three more than Mike Schmidt; five more than Dave Kingman. People, it’s time to stand up and take notice of José Bautista.
I admit his chase for “50″ is not nearly as sexy as when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa traded homer-for-homer down the stretch in 1998. But 50 home runs is still 50 home runs. Just like 50 goals in the NHL – it’s a significant benchmark. Hank Aaron never hit 50. Willie Mays only did it once.
Part of his problem is his route to the majors. He played his first game for Baltimore in 2004, but also bounced to the Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates and Mets that season. He remains the only rookie to ever be on five ML rosters in that first year. No respect.
When he finally did solidify his spot as a major leaguer, it was, sadly, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs are currently playing their 18th consecutive season of sub-.500 baseball. That’s no way to get noticed. But then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi noticed. In August of 2008. He acquired José from the Pirates for catcher Robinzon Díaz.
Last year, in Toronto, Bautista hit 13 home runs. Ten of those came in September when he started earning regular playing time, after being stuck behind Scott Rolen at third base when the season began. This year, it’s been an entirely different story for Bautista.
Bautista started trying to turn some heads as soon as the 2010 season began. He pounded his 20th home run on June 21st. It was already his single-season career high. But, at this year’s All-Star Game in Anaheim, despite leading the majors in HRs at the break, Bautista was not selected to compete in the Home Run Derby. He played in the game…but as a pinch-runner. No respect.
In July, he hit .347, with 11 home runs, 29 RBI and an AL-best slugging percentage of .765. He was American League Player-of-the-Week twice in August. Finally, people are starting to take notice.
Today, José Bautista has 43 homers, including an inside-the-park job against Minnesota, at Rogers Centre, on July 7th. That projects to 53 on the year. That would be more than any Blue Jays’ player has ever hit. Bautista sits eight homers ahead of Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols and ten ahead of his nearest American League rival, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.
Pay attention, folks. Bautista is hitting a home run every 10.74 at-bats. He’s got exactly 30 games remaining. Watch him. Watch what he does. Watch him make September something to watch for Blue Jays’ fans – because we haven’t had one of those in about fifteen years. And give José Bautista some respect.