2015 Torontonians of the Year: José Bautista
José Bautista, baseball player
He is the longest tenured Toronto Blue Jay on the current roster. No player in Major League Baseball has hit more home runs than him since 2010. He has been an All-Star for six straight seasons. He helped the city end the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports in 2015. And he threw the most epic bat flip to win the ALDS.
José Bautista was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008. At that point in his career he had 58 home runs in 1,418 big league at bats. Two seasons later he was the MLB home run champ. His career took off in Toronto. At times he was the only reason to watch a Blue Jays team, which never finished higher than third in the American League East between 2008 and 2014.
But 2015 was different. Toronto won their division. Bautista, in his seventh full season with the Blue Jays, was a big part in the team’s first post-season birth since 1993. The 35-year-old hit 40 home runs and drove in 114 runners while batting .250. The man from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was headed to the playoffs for the first time in his major league career. It wasn’t just his numbers that made the 2015 season memorable. Toronto fans will always remember game five of the American League division series against the Texas Rangers.
They’ll remember a wild top of the seventh inning, which saw Texas take the lead run on a bizarre misplay. They’ll remember the ugly scenes at the Rogers Centre that followed. They’ll remember the three errors by Rangers’ infielders in the bottom half of the same inning, which led to the Jays tying the game at three. But what they’ll remember most is Rangers’ relief pitcher Sam Dyson’s third pitch to Bautista.
With the pitch count sitting at one ball and one strike, “Joey Bats” crushed Dyson’s next offering to centre field with two men on base and bat flipped away 22 years of frustration for Blue Jays fans. Toronto won the game 6–3, and the series 3–2.
In a personal essay he described how he felt in that moment saying, “It’s the closest I have ever felt to being a superhero.” Bautista’s home run gave the city of Toronto its first post-season series victory since the Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in 2004. Unfortunately, the Jays fell to the Kansas City Royals in the next round.
Bautista finished the playoffs leading the team in home runs (four), hits (12, tied), and runs batted in (11, tied). The season didn’t end with a World Series banner, but it did end with the team extending Bautista’s stay in Toronto. The Blue Jays exercised their team option to keep their right fielder on Nov. 3.
Off the diamond, Bautista is known to love the fans as much as they love him and his humble attitude. After his game five win and ultimate bat flip, fans saw him riding his scooter home through the streets of the city. Even online, he connects with his public: he’s known to follow his Toronto fans back on Twitter.
Although 2016 could be Bautista’s final season with the team, this will always be the city where he became one of the best power hitters in baseball. He is one of the greatest players in the franchise’s history.