Bautista's Flippin' Performance Versus Texas May Be Too Late To Save His Blue Jay Career
In baseball, revenge is a dish best served high and tight. That’s what Toronto Blue Jays slugger José Bautista discovered Sunday in Texas. After his elaborate home-run bat flip in the 2015 ALDS against the Rangers (http://goo.gl/NU8Zyy), you knew that Texas would exact its revenge. (Bautista had to know it was coming, too.) The brooding Texans went old school when Bautista took a pitch in the ribs from Rangers reliever Matt Bush.
Under the rules of baseball the plunking should have evened things up. But Bautista decided to double down on his bat flip by going hard on a slide into Rougned Odor at second base. Odor took umbrage, and before you knew it a hockey game broke out. (Or what hockey games used to look like.) Odor caught Bautista on the button, removing his sun glasses and gum in rude fashion. Bautista staggered like Mike Tyson on the receiving end of Buster Douglas.
Enter the two benches for some rolling around and scuffling. Baseball 101. Very entertaining in a juvenile way. That was followed by more silliness as Jesse Chavez of the Blue Jays got revenge by plunking Texas slugger Prince Fielder. More Baseball 101. Which was all a refreshing change for Jays fans. As the 19-20 Jays have staggered like the town drunk from one light post to the next in search of support, this seismic flare was a refreshing flashback.
The successful team of the last half of the 2015 team was defined in the public mind by Bautista’s fiery leadership. But that has faded this year. In the euphoria of the 2015 excitement the seismic shifts in the dressing room were hinted at this past winter when neither Bautista nor Edwin Encarnacion was signed to a contract extension.
There is still time in Encarnacion’s case, but it seems that Battlin’ Bautista will likely test the free-agent market next summer at age 36. In Bautista’s defence, his hitting stats have not reflected any less commitment to the Jays. His Deadpool imitation Sunday spoke well to that too. But he’s not long for Trudeaupia.
The new profile of the Blue Jays will likely be a combination of Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. While Tulowitzki has struggled mightily to hit since coming to Toronto his no-nonsense work approach has sobered up some of the worst of the double-secret handshake culture that characterized the team the last few seasons.
Begging the question, what will Toronto do with the money it doesn’t expend on Bautista and/ or Encarnacion? Before the 2015 season the Rogers bosses were criticized by Jays fans for allegedly not spending up to the level required to win. That perception was not helped when they passed on re-signing pitcher David Price this past winter.
However this season ends, the owners will need to be seen to invest the Bautista/ Encarnacion money in someone else. As the Detroit Tigers have shown this season, chasing shiny baubles in free agency is no guarantee of success. But refusing to satisfy the fan base in the aftermath of the 2015 euphoria will be a very risky game for Rogers.
For those who follow the issue of doping in sports, every day is Groundhog Day. This week there were new allegations that the Russian Olympic sports program was fuelled by performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This follows previous stories about tennis star Maria Sharapova failing drug tests and the Russian track & field team being kicked out of the Olympics for its PED use.
The principal reason Russia’s sports program is melting down is not because of testing but because a disaffected member of that program spilled the beans on how the Russians are cheating. While the headlines are mostly about Russian athletes, no one doubts that they are unique. Remember the experience of the BALCO investigation in the late ‘90s when an American sports technician ratted out how the stars of the U.S. Olympic team were drug cheating? It was not a onetime occurrence, say experts.
Recently, Canada’s Richard Pound— who led the World Anti Doping Agency from 1999-2007— suggested that some of the world’s top golfers might be choosing to pass on the Rio Olympics because of concerns about the drug testing. Athletes in MLB, the NFL and the NHL are still being suspended for use of banned substances.
So is this progress? As the news rolls in of drug cheating in sports on the eve of the Rio Olympics, the public hears I Got You Babe, not the national anthem. Bill Murray wakes up to the same doping nightmare. For all the sterling work done by people such Pound it seems like the cheaters still prosper.
As such there is fatigue in the public over the pursuit of the cheats. There is also an evolution in the public’s perception of drugs that once scared them. Steroids that created women with beards and men with yellow eyeballs are no longer the profile of the drug cheat. Many in the public use the very drugs in their own lives that they once feared.
The concept that the average citizen can use certain rehab drugs that are denied to superstar athletes has less support than it did 20 years ago. While the public supports legitimizing the use of some recreational drugs to bring their use out of the shadows, many would support the same about supervised use of certain PEDs in athletes. They want to see their stars on the field or the court.
What happens when stem-cell therapy becomes mainstream in the treatment of the public? Will sports czars continue to deny it to star athletes? The hard liners in sports still control the PED agenda with a standard that made sense a generation ago. On the eve of the Summer Olympics the time is ripe for a discussion of new standards for medical treatment of athletes.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).