For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
It was the bat flip heard round the world.
In the bottom of the seventh inning of game five of the American League Division Series, Jose Bautista stood in facing a one ball, one strike count with runners on the corners and two out.
Sam Dyson delivered a 97 mile-per-hour fastball that turned out to be not long for this world. Bautista hammered the pitch off the second deck facing in left-center field and gave the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead they would never relinquish.
The notable part of this home run came in the batters’ box as the pitch was en route to testing the structural integrity of the Rogers Centre. Bautista stood straight up, admired his shot, looked out across the field and then flung his bat away. But he didn’t simply toss it aside, or give it a normal home run dismount. He threw it away with vigor and aggression. It was a release of adrenaline in one of the tensest moments of the 2015 MLB postseason. It was a bat flip that not only matched the gravity of the moment, but enhanced it. It wasn’t just A bat flip. It was THE bat flip.
The Jose Bautista bat flip became a national phenomenon. Even the staunchest supporters of the “baseball is boring” crowd couldn’t help but take notice. Bautista made baseball fun for everybody. He expressed that adrenaline packed emotion that combines the pent up rage and joy that makes sports so much fun. The swagger and bravado that can be so captivating about elite athletes was captured in one left-handed toss of the bat. Fans felt that emotion, and for a split second when watching the replay, felt what Joey Bats felt in that moment.
What became one of 2015’s most iconic sports moments was naturally met with pushback from baseball’s old guard- the “play the game the right way” crowd. But Jose Bautista has never gone with that crowd. He defies convention in every way.
Bautista stands six-feet tall and weighs in at 205 pounds – not exactly in the mold of a typical 40 home run guy. He also bounced around a lot in the early part of his career with stops in Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh before catching on with Toronto in 2008. Through his first couple years, he was just an ordinary fourth outfielder type. But then he turned 29, and in classic Joey Bats fashion, he went against the grain.
Heading into the 2010 season Bautista had hit 59 career home runs. In that season, he slugged a league-leading 54. Since then he’s been one of the league’s premier power hitters. Some people clamored for steroid tests and refused to believe this journeyman outfielder was suddenly a perennial all-star. Every time someone doubted the legitimacy of Bautista's late-blooming power stroke, he'd just park another home run.
Joey Bats is just different and he embraces it. The Blue Jays have followed suit. Conventional wisdom says that good pitching beats good hitting and that pitching wins championships. Toronto is putting that to the test. They posted nearly 900 runs last season and are likely to eclipse that mark this season. Chances are, much like last season, they are going to talk shit and bat flip their way right through the season and into the playoffs.
The bat flip was a microcosm of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays and the bat flip are both so fun to watch for many of the same reasons. They represent a fundamental change in baseball’s culture. No longer is baseball the "gentleman's game." The steadfast ways of small ball, pitching and defense are starting to crumble, and the Blue Jays are at the forefront of all of it.
In a time where kids are abandoning baseball in droves because it bores them, the Blue Jays are exhibiting an exciting brand of the sport that has long been admonished. While Josh Donaldson is the reigning MVP, Joey Bats is driving this train. His bat flip resulted in a shift in the baseball universe that is being spearheaded by these Blue Jays.
This Toronto team is going to continue beating baseballs to a pulp and having a kick ass time doing it with Jose Bautista as the face of their franchise. They are going to score at will, pimp their home runs and win a ton of games in 2016. Sure, a World Series is the ultimate prize for the Blue Jays, but they have a chance to accomplish something much bigger than this season. They just might make baseball fun again.
Experiment 626. Coffee drinker and cat enthusiast. Pro-avocado. Anti-sac bunt. Habitual bat flipper. Alex Smith apologist. Yoenis Cespedes fanboy.