Over the past few weeks, there has been spirited debate over who deserves the title of “The Greatest Blue Jay of All-Time.” Everybody’s top five consisted of a mix of players that captivated a country and rose to immortality like Roberto Alomar, Roy Halladay, Dave Stieb, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez, and maybe even George Bell or Roger Clemens if you argued enough. When you look at the men I listed, you see a bunch of stars. These players all broke into the league at a young age and stuck, establishing themselves as household names in their mid-twenties, most of them right here in Toronto. All of those players worked hard, but they all pretty much became what they were supposed to become.
Who would have thought back in 2008 that a newly acquired 27-year-old journeyman utility player arriving via a waiver-wire trade would also throw his hat into the ring as one of the best ever to suit up for the franchise? After bouncing around from franchise to franchise, Jose Bautista developed a leg kick and became the mashing, bat-flipping, defiant-to-the-traditional-rules saviour that a new wave of baseball fans wanted to see.
We know how the Bautista story goes; he helped plug a few holes in his first season and a half, playing respectable baseball, and then in 2010…bang. A bearded hero and the new face of the franchise was born. Bautista clubbed 54 home runs after combining to hit just 43 in the three seasons prior. Not only that, he did it his way, dripping with confidence after becoming one of the best players in the league. Less than three years after joining his fifth team in five seasons, the former journeyman finally found stability and inked a five-year deal with the Blue Jays.
But this isn’t about Jose Bautista. As the 2017 season – and what looks like Jose’s time in Toronto – winds down in heartbreaking fashion, we’ll begin to look back on the past nine seasons and, over the coming weeks, tributes will begin to pour in. Undoubtedly, everything the player who was once traded straight up for Robinson Diaz has done will be immortalized with his name on the Level of Excellence whenever he decides to call it a career.
Jose Bautista and the rest of the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays are proof that you really can’t predict baseball. And that’s why the sport is so beautiful.
Anything can happen at any given time. Fans spent all winter telling each other that this team could get back to the ALCS for a third straight year if everything just went according to plan. And they were right. The team that the Blue Jays fielded in April certainly wasn’t supposed to end up in the American League East basement all year.
But if everything went according to plan, the Blue Jays probably don’t go from being 53-51 at the trade deadline to chasing down the Yankees in 2015 to capture their first division title in 22 years. If everything went according to plan, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish probably don’t drop both Games 1 and 2 of the 2016 ALDS and we’re robbed of getting to see Josh Donaldson’s mad dash to complete the sweep in Game 3.
“What if they just stayed healthy?”
“What if they got better luck on balls in play?”
“What if they didn’t blow so many games in the ninth?”
We’ve all spent this season watching in agony as the Blue Jays not only stumbled right out of the gate, but constantly came up short over and over again. Frustration turned to anger, which turned to delusion as fans wondered if a team that couldn’t even get back to .500 could will themselves into a playoff race.
But without these trying times, do the highs feel as good? Do we feel the rush in those finally meaningful September games in 2015 where we could literally feel our heart beating in our chest in the late innings and wonder how we’d ever survive the thrill of October baseball?
The unpredictable nature of this game is exhilarating. Ask any Jays fan where they were when they were blindsided with the Josh Donaldson trade news.
The story of the 2017 Blue Jays isn’t just one thing or another. Instead, it was a comedy of errors. As quick as the flame was lit somewhere in the middle of the 2015 season, it went out as this team just forgot how to play baseball. After being just four wins away from the World Series in back-to-back years, the Blue Jays became bad again.
But like our friend Jose Bautista – and hopefully another late-blooming Jays star in Justin Smoak – taught us, the beauty in this game is when preseason predictions and ideas of what what should happen are thrown out the window and the ones that are overlooked and second guessed triumph. Just when you think you completely understand this game, it hits you like a bat-flipped three-run home run in a winner-take-all elimination game.
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