13 things that had to happen for Jose Bautista to become a superstar
Only a very small percentage of high school baseball players reach the major leagues. Even fewer stick around long enough to enjoy a semi-successful career. Still fewer can be bestowed the title “superstar.”
If it’s a longshot for baseball players to develop into successful big-leaguers, Jose Bautista probably had one-in-a-million odds at becoming a superstar.
Sunday, Blue Jays fans bid farewell to the franchise icon in what was likely his final game in a Jays uniform after 10 seasons in Toronto. Bautista’s path to reach the majors may have been fairly orthodox, but everything that followed afterward was anything but.
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Bautista was the ultimate lottery ticket for the Blue Jays and in essence they won the $500 million Powerball jackpot by acquiring him and watching him blossom into one of baseball’s preeminent power hitters of the past decade.
Think about all the things that had to line up for Bautista to get to where he is today. He had to be in the right place at the right time on the right team and link up with the right people to give him the right advice and the right opportunity — and he had to come up big at the right time.
If that isn’t the definition of a million-to-one shot, I don’t know what is. It really is remarkable how many things had to go right for Bautista to blossom into a superstar with the Blue Jays.
1. 2004: He’s on five MLB rosters in one year
Bautista has the distinction of being the only MLB player in history to reside on five different rosters in one year. Back in 2004, he was a member of the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, Mets and the Pirates.
2. 2008: Jays Assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos sees something
Before being promoted to the helm as general manager of the Blue Jays in 2009, Alex Anthopoulos played assistant GM to J.P. Ricciardi. It was Anthopoulos who suggested to Ricciardi that the Blue Jays put in a waiver claim on the Pirates’ estranged infielder.
3. 2008: Scott Rolen gets hurt, Blue Jays need a third baseman
Had Scott Rolen not been injured in 2008, the Blue Jays likely don’t put in a waiver claim for Bautista. At the time, the club also needed some pop in their lineup as evidenced by their severe lack of home runs that season.
By the time the Blue Jays acquired Bautista on Aug. 21, 2008, his 12 home runs leapfrogged him to the top of the club’s leaderboard.
With their veteran third baseman on the disabled list, the Blue Jays desperately needed somebody to play the hot corner, which is why the Jays shifted their focus toward the journeyman in Pittsburgh.
4. 2008: Bautista works with Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy
Months after John Gibbons was fired as Blue Jays manager and Cito Gaston was re-hired, Bautista teamed up with the former two-time World Series champion. A former hitting coach himself, Gaston was revered for his ability to get the most out of hitters.
It also happened that Bautista started working with first base coach and soon-to-be hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The trio together helped fix Bautista’s timing issues at the plate and they introduced his now-famous leg kick.
5. 2009: Bautista gets to play every day
Bench players often get the opportunity to shine when players ahead of them on the depth chart either get injured, traded or switch positions. That was the case with Bautista as he saw his playing time significantly increased in 2009.
6. 2009: He ends 2009 with a bang
If ever there was a sign that Bautista was due for a breakout, it was his final 30 games of the 2009 season. Bautista’s coaches anticipated he was due for a power surge and they guessed correctly as he went deep 10 games in September and early October.
7. 2009: Bautista is a non-tender candidate
Although Bautista experienced that late boost at the end of 2009, Anthopoulos once again needed to vouch for bringing Bautista back in 2010. Approaching his first year of arbitration and at a salary of $2.4 million, Bautista was in serious jeopardy of being non-tendered.
However, Anthopoulos deemed it worthwhile to keep Bautista around and the club kept the utility infielder.
8. 2011: He proves his 2010 breakout wasn’t a fluke
Even after his breakout campaign in 2010 when he hit 54 home runs, Bautista still had plenty of detractors. Was he a one-hit wonder? Anthopoulos needed to convince Blue Jays ownership that Bautista’s 2010 season wasn’t a fluke and it was worth extending him to a five-year/$65 million-dollar contract extension.
9. 2011: Bautista has even better 2011 campaign
How did Jose Bautista follow up his franchise record 54 home run season in 2010? He came back and was even better in 2011. The Blue Jays’ outfielder finished third in American League MVP voting and posted the best numbers of his career.
10. 2011-2016: He lives up to his contract — and then some
Bautista needed to not only live up to his hefty contract extension, (after only one solid season), but actually surpass it. During that contact, he posted 27.5 WAR, which roughly translates to $207 million in value, via FanGraphs.
The Blue Jays also tacked on a modest club option for the 2016 season at $14 million, which the team gladly picked up after Bautista’s resurgent 2015.
11. 2012-2013: Bautista has season-ending injuries twice, returns better than ever
Despite suffering debilitating season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013, Bautista had to come back healthy and with a vengeance. Wrist injuries can often be the “kiss of death” for hitters, but Bautista rehabbed his injuries and returned to form in 2014 with no ill effects.
12. 2015: Bautista propels Jays to playoffs with Donaldson, Encarnacion
Throughout his Blue Jays career, Bautista truly lacked the supporting cast to help round out the team’s lineup. It wasn’t until the shocking acquisition of Josh Donaldson that Bautista helped form one of the Blue Jays’ most potent lineups in franchise history.
Along with Edwin Encarnacion, those three players drove the bus toward the Jays’ first playoff berth in 22 years.
13. 2015: The bat flip and everything that came after
The seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers will go down as one of the craziest innings in baseball history. That inning was punctuated by Bautista’s decisive three-run home run to carry the Blue Jays into the ALCS.
The Blue Jays were this close to being sent home on a weird, fluky play that might happen once in a million tries. Bautista did everything in his power to ensure that the Blue Jays weren’t remembered for being the team that quite literally threw away a playoff series. He also ensured the Jays supplied one of the most thrilling moments in postseason history.
The casual fan may not have known who Bautista was before the bat flip, but those fans certainly know who he is now. He may not be the high-level profile player he once was, but in October 2015, Bautista made himself into a household name no one would ever forget.