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Remembering the GOAT – What is your best Jose memory?

How does one define a proper legend? I guess it really all depends on time and specific moments that happened and the ‘who’ that was apart of them– maybe, I dunno.  

It could be someone close to you who continues to inspire and be there for you, who will live in you forever even when they are gone, as you continue on in this brief spin of life we’re all somehow connected to together. In a way we are all our own legends, working hard to leave something behind once our time is up, and sharing what we can with the one’s we care for the most.

I’ve never really been one to believe that any human is in some way better than any other no matter how great one’s accomplishments may be, but I do believe in legendary moments and the people who delivered them. And Jose Bautista is a person who delivered many of these defining moments that, I believe, will live on in many of us.

I will never forget pacing back-and-forth behind my couch during the most emotional and possibly greatest inning of baseball I’d ever witnessed. It all started with Martin’s throw to Sanchez that went off the bat of Choo, leaving us so confused as Odor ran down the third base line and crossed the plate.

‘The ball was live, the ball was live …’– the famous words that sent Blue Jays fans into a wailing ruckus of roars from every seat in the Dome to every couch and bar stool across the nation. The Dome erupted. The energy in the stadium was raw, and it ran through us all. But, of course, a few moments later all that energy and anger was released with one swing of the bat — one swing that brought us all to one shared emotion, which I think is fair to say was never experienced before quite like that.

I screamed so loud in the little house that I was renting in the Beaches that my girlfriend, who was walking home from work, could hear me halfway up the street. I decided to take in that game by myself with a six-pack of Peroni, so that I could concentrate on every pitch and not be distracted by anything. As all of us through-it-all Blue Jays fans know, it was a long ride filled with years of bad jerseys, cussing, and disappointing season after disappointing season, bringing us to that incredible point in time. I wanted to watch it on my own, on my couch, and with some barley and hops.

I love my memory of that iconic moment, Jose Bautista giving birth to a common phrase that had rarely rolled off the tongues of so many of us Canadians until then, and that is, of course: ‘bat flip’. Before that moment, it felt like not a single Canadian had ever spoken those two iconic words. He literally brought this phrase to life in this country, and it will live forever. The story will be shared by all of us in the decades to come. 

It’s really hard for me to choose one specific best Jose Bautista moment because there are so many. He kept me company during my maudlin Friday nights where I would end up in line at the Queen St. West and McCaul Pizza Pizza, as I would stare at the cardboard-cut-out of him holding a slice of Hawaiian pizza – I think, I can’t really remember to be honest.

But I think my favourite Bautista memories are all of his stare downs at different pitchers, which, of course, he backed up with the swing of the bat. The first epic stare down may have come in August of 2010 off of David Robertson. I was bartending at the time in a dive bar on Queen St., and the Yankees and Jays were at each other all game. I forget all the minor details, and I’m not about to Google them since this is about sharing our memories. I remember Bautista homered off Nova early in the game, and then later Nova threw one at his head. I remember it was tied 2-2 and Bats stepped up to the plate in the late innings and hit a dinger off Robertson, stared him down, and slowly swaggered his way along the base paths. Reflecting on that specific moment today, I guess, it foreshadowing of the things to come. The attitude that Bautista brought to the batter’s box is something that I will never forget, along with every are-you-fucking-kidding-me-he-just-did-that hit to back it up.

Where were you during the ‘bat flip’, Cam? And what the hell is your favourite Bautista moment?

Oh boy, the flip. For a dude born in 1993 — sorry in advance for bringing my age up again as I always do — this was the World Series. Some dipshit on Twitter with a Cleveland Baseball Team profile photo will likely snort at that sentiment, suggesting the team I cheer for is so bad and my expectations are so low that I consider an ALDS win a World Series.

Well, it wasn’t the World Series, it was just an ALDS series win, but it was the esclamation point on two important things — a ridiculously stressful but fairy tale-esque rollercoaster ride many years in the making and the career of the dude who was destined to pull through for this generation of fans.

2015 was madness. Fucking madness. The team was good, but gut-wrenching. They would score a bunch of runs, then, like, Jeff Francis would allow four runs or Danny Valencia would make an error because he was playing second for some reason and they would lose. In the context of the catastrophic letdown that was 2013, the devastating tease that was 2014, and the never-ending purgatory that preceded it, the 2015 group seemed like just a brand new way to fuck with you.

But then the trade deadline happened, and Alex Anthopolous, bless his damn soul, managed to piece together the greatest team in Blue Jays history. The team clicked and became as good as it should have been. It wasn’t a tease like 2014, it wasn’t a letdown like 2013, and it made you forget about all of those shitty mid-2000s games you watched while flipping back and forth between an episode of King of the Hill.

Anyways, thinking that this was my one chance to watch playoff baseball in my life — because they literally hadn’t been close since I was five months old and Joe Carter touched ‘em all — me and a couple of friends flew down to go to Game 1 and 2. It intense, exciting, emotional, but a massive letdown. A major dip in the rollercoaster of 2015.

But then they came all the way back up with two wins in Texas. Then Game 5, which was the entire season packed into one game, and then one inning. Ups and downs, highs and lows, yelling in anger and tears of joy. To hell and back. Everything.

I lost my fucking mind when Odor scored on that weird error throw thing. Like, picked up a garbage can and threw it at the wall and went outside and yelled at the sky kind of lost my mind. Really normal, well-adjusted person stuff. After that, I came to terms with the reality that baseball was bad, like I said so many times before. Because I’m a Blue Jays fan. That’s what we do.

But then, slowly but surely, the rollercoaster started working its way back up again. Error. Error. Error. Tie game. Holy shit. Okay. I was sitting in my basement with a friend — a casual Jays fan who got into the team that summer because I followed so closely — and my entire family was upstairs watching at the same time. I was terrified to get back into a headspace where I could be dropped down again. It was tied, but no expectations. I keep telling myself it’s fine if they lose it’s been a good year” and “playoff baseball” over and over until Jose stepped into the plate.

Fucking Jose. That’s when it was, like, okay, how can you not believe here? He’s going to pull it off. This is destiny. There’s nobody else you would rather have up in this situation. Not Ben “your best contact hitter” Revere, not the 2015 MVP, not Chris “I sold my soul to increase my BABIP by 100 points” Colabello. Nobody.

And then it happened. The 1-1 from Dyson. Bautista with a drive. I literally collapsed to the ground and couldn’t even yell or cheer because the dopamine being released into my brain was like air coming out of a balloon. I see my friend and dad do an awkward hug/high five because I’m just noodled on the ground, then I pull it together and run halfway up the stairs and scream “of course he fucking did it!”, ran back down, yelled it again, then ran upstairs and yelled it a third time.

Of course he did it. Of course Jose Bautista knocked the lid off of all of the angst this fanbase has had for over two decades. Of course after dragging the team through the mud with MVP seasons with nothing to show for it he hit the biggest home run in franchise history. Of course he did. Because he’s Jose Bautista and he’s a goddamn legend.

So, what’s my favourite Jose moment? Geez. It’s pretty obvious based on that nonsense I just spewed what the best Jose memory I have is, but we’re going for something different here.

It isn’t really possible to pick one Jose moment and have it represent him better than the flip. To be honest, even that moment doesn’t do it all justice. To the casual observer, it was a good player making a big play. That’s cool and all, but it isn’t the essence of the whole thing.

There’s so many moments — the gun down of Billy Butler from the outfield, his 50th bomb off of King Felix, the who are you and why are you talking to me, him showing up all those dipshit Orioles pitchers, the single-handed win against the White Sox, photos rocking a denim tuxedo, and commercials smashing fruit for Booster Juice — but my favourite Jose memory is vigorously arguing his legend status with anyone who challenged it.

Not one in time in particular, but the general vibe of fans within in the fanbase who appreciate Jose Bautista. He represents this generation of Blue Jays fans, and for those who were around and battled in the trenches through the dog days of trash baseball, you just get it.

I’m not one to shame bandwagoners because everyone falls in love with baseball at a different time for a different reason, but that bat flip was truly the exclamation point for all of us who grinded through hopeless seasons in the one Wild Card American League East, Jp-Jo Reyes starts, Vernon Wells’ decline, waiting for Travis Snider, the disappointment of 2013 and 2014, and everything in between.

From 2010 onwards, Jose Bautista went from being a bench scrub to a superstar just like that. He grinded through the system and finally pulled it together here, putting together ridiculous seasons and making the team watchable on a night-to-night basis.

Those who inexplicably watched terrible baseball in which Jose was largely the only bright spot for those years have a special appreciation for Jose Bautista — the unexpected superstar who everyone thought was on steroids and was disrespected at every turn. The love this group has for Jose Bautista is what brings a tight-knit part of the fanbase together. We say GOAT whenever he does anything where it’s objective or not. We shit on idiot Yankee fans who roll in and question his legendary status. We flood the comments sections whenever a member of the media dares to slander him. We write 3000 word think pieces about our best memories of him as a player and ramble on endlessly.

Of course we do, because it’s Jose Bautista. He’s a goddamn legend. And if you don’t understand why, you’ve missed out on something.

What about you, Stoeten?

Like just about every American League pitcher over the last decade, both of my best Bautista memories are actually kinda shitty ones for me. The bat flip is, of course, an indelible, unforgettable Blue Jays moment. Judging by what I heard from Bob McCown and Dave Perkins on the radio this week, those of a certain vintage will find this idea very strange, but for me it’s absolutely right there with Joe Carter, Robbie Alomar, and the criminally underappreciated Ed Sprague blast off Jeff Reardon.

My reflex is to say here that of course it could never equal Touch ‘Em All Joe (and that even being remotely close alone makes it an all-timer), but I don’t even know! Partly I’d guess that’s because of how young I was for Carter’s shot, which casts it in a youthful haze in my memory. But also, though I hate to hold this against Joe, the Jays had already won once already. I know that shouldn’t diminish how utterly monumental the home run was (speaking of which, give us a fucking monument of it already, Rogers!), but I think a lot of fans with better memories than I will do that themselves by arguing that Alomar’s blast off Dennis Eckersley in 1992 was the more important of that era’s two iconic home runs anyway. It was the one that got them over the hump. By the time Carter stepped in to face Mitch Williams, the Blue Jays being successful was hardly “old hat,” but it wasn’t exactly fresh, either. It wasn’t absolutely fucking stunning. And that’s what Bautista’s moment was — an exclamation point on not just an incredible series comeback, but the entire run of that juggernaut of a club — the best in baseball — which would sadly get tripped up by, of all teams, the shitty, stupid Kansas City fucking Royals.

The other thing about that team was that they were ours and they were hated and it was fucking great. I’m not saying that the ‘92 or ‘93 Jays were beloved throughout the game — hardly — but it wasn’t quite like this. With the proliferation of fan culture online it feels like baseball tribalism deeply hardened over the twenty two years between the two home runs. I imagine that anybody who ever wore the wrong colours to a game in the Bronx in the 80s might disagree, but internet blew the scale of the adversarial bullshit between fan bases all out of proportion, and brought it into our minute-by-minute lives. In those intervening years the economics of the game had changed a massive amount, too, with the Yankees and Red Sox for so long making a trip back to the postseason for the Blue Jays feel impossible, Sisyphean. And then here comes this team, stomping opponents with swagger, seemingly invincible, exploding out of almost nothing. It was like a supernova, whereas ‘92 and ‘93 were more like the great whistling of a kettle that had started to rattle and boil around 1984 or ‘85.

Surely that’s unfair to the greatest teams and the greatest era in Toronto Blue Jays history, and again I’m guessing that my affinity for the successes of the Bautista era Blue Jays has a lot to do with — apologies for the war metaphor — having been, much more so than when I was really young in the late 80s, in the trenches through so many of the bitter years that preceded 2015. It was just so fucking rewarding on a level that Carter’s blast, epic as it was, for me, maybe can’t even quite compete with.

Also: it fucking sucked!

I had tickets to that game! But I’d gone home to Peterborough to visit my parents for Thanksgiving the weekend before Game Five, and while I was there I’d taken ill. Just couldn’t get off the damn basement couch. Not on the holiday Monday, when the Jays kicked the shit out of Derek Holland, and then weirdly used David Price in relief of R.A. Dickey, and not even by the Wednesday of Game Five. I was in no shape to get myself to Toronto in time for the 3:37 start, and then to sit in public for four miserable hours, so I told my buddy Beau do what he pleased with my ticket. And while there was some kind of magic to the fact that I was on the very same couch for the bat flip as I was for Carter’s home run — which… uh… might be time for a new couch, mom and dad — GAHHHHHHHH. REGRET!

As for my favourite Bautista moment, there are just so many to choose from — so many staredowns, blow-ups, slights he popped off about, massive home runs, cannon throws from right, battles with dipshit reporters, and everything in between. But I think, though I was only half joking when I said on Twitter this week that it was José’s entire 2011 season and all the shit Parkes had to eat for disapproving of his contract extension so vociferously, that really might be it!

Of course, I was hardly innocent in all that myself.

“Holy shit, that’s way too much,” were the first words of my long deleted (and excluded from the Wayback Machine — thanks, former employers!) DJF post when Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes first broke the news that Bautista was about to agree to a five year, $65 million contract. “If that’s for real,” I wrote, “I’m not enthused. Not anything close to enthused.”

Yeesh.

It was bad.

Maybe not quite as impossibly bad as it now feels — (I mean, I wasn’t Parkes, who apparently (in another deleted/excluded post) compared Bautista to Carlos Peña. And there was some validity in the worries us complete fucking morons had — in 2011, the year they would have had him anyway, Bautista put up a career high 8.1 WAR, then  posted “just” 19.4 WAR over the five free agent years bought out by the contract) — but don’t let me sugar coat this shit. We were wrong. I was wrong. Gloriously, stupendously, amazingly, totally and completely fucking wrong.

Bautista was a fucking gift to this franchise and its fans. And it’s still hard, even after this awful season, to think that this really is probably it.

The 2011 season was the one where Bautista cemented himself as an icon, as the face of the franchise — going so far as homering off the great Roy Halladay on the Saturday after Canada Day, in Doc’s return to the Rogers Centre with the Phillies. As incredible and out of nowhere as his his breakout 54 home run season was the year before, and as fun as it was to watch him chase 50, to not only repeat that performance in 2011, but to exceed it — Bautista slashed .260/.378/.617 in his breakout, and an astounding .302/.447/.608 in the year that followed — was badass as all fuck. He hit .300! He had a fucking .447 on-base! What an absolute beast!

And it was in that season that Bautista went from guy the Blue Jays wanted to take a $65 million gamble on to guy they felt they could build a championship team around. Ultimately, they damn well nearly did.

  • The Humungus

    Two things I noticed about The Inning now that I never noticed before:

    1. Bautista puts his head down and runs the bases like any other home run after the bat flip. If ever there was a more clear indicator that the flip was just a moment and he wasn’t “disrespecting the game” (as so many braying idiots outside of Toronto have suggested), that’s it right there.

    2. Chris Giminez really gets in there like an asshole when Edwin is telling Dyson that he’s trying to quiet the crowd. If that had escalated beyond just cleared benches, it would be totally on him for that. Side note: over the weekend, when Giminez was batting for the Twins with his jersey half-open, my wife said “who the fuck does that guy think he is?”

    As far as favourite Bautista moment? I mean, it’s so hard to choose, but, as a player, it has to be the flip, and as a personality, it’s definitely him destroying Steve Simmons on Twitter.

    • Cam Lewis

      My favourite thing about the celebration is how Russ high fives Jose immediately at the bench, the camera follows Jose celebrating in there with everyone, and then Russ randomly appears on the other side for another high five. I don’t think I’ve watched that video enough times.

  • Barry

    My favourite Jose Bautista moment was when he followed me on Twitter. Clearly, he found my commentary compelling.

    Now, I know people are going to say, “But Jose follows EVERYONE on Twitter.” Well, sure, but, at the time, he was only following about half a million people, and I was part of that elite group. You have to admit, that’s a pretty ritzy group.

  • fred2

    “Where were you during the ‘bat flip’? And what the hell is your favourite Bautista moment?”

    A) 200 Level Right Field Outfield. High-fiving a million angels.
    B) What do you think?

    • Kristen Sprague

      A) 100 Level Outfield
      B) Screaming at the the top of my lungs,”It’s coming at me! It’s coming at! Holy Shit! It’s way over my head!” Only I couldn’t hear myself because the Rogers Centre blew up (figuratively). So yeah…I’ll never forget it.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    I’ll be a contrarian…I love the bat flip, but it was that home run off of Halladay that will be my favourite Jose moment. It was a perfect day at the ballpark, and the last face of the franchise vs the current face of the franchise while both were still in their prime. I can still remember how that home run sounded.

    A recent favourite Jose moment…during Wednesday’s game, there was a group of fans that were each wearing a single letter that spelled out BAUTISTA on their t-shirts. At one point later in the game, four of them stood up to order a beer, and their t-shirts at that point spelled out TITS.

  • ErnieWhitt

    The Bat Flip was so much a release of our collective jubilation, so tied to the injustice of years without meaningful baseball, tied to the injustice of the half inning which preceded it, tied to the incredibly harrowing moment in that series (facing elimination), that I can’t think any other moment can surpass it.

    Still – my OTHER favorite moment also came in 2015. Late April when the Orioles try once again to throw at Bautista. Bautista responds by going yard, watches the ball leave, flips the bat, tells Ryan Flaharety to go fuck himself rounding second, slaps Josh Donaldson’s hand at the plate and stares directly at Buck Showalter for a long moment before heading back to the dugout.. All the while me and Danny Valencia are laughing hysterically about this beautiful bastard-legend who always laughs last. I will never forget the man and his impact on the Blue Jays. May the cavernous Skydome rafters long ring with chants of José, José, José, José! José! José!

  • rgriffinstar

    One of my fave J-Bats moments was Yankee Stadium no Luis Rivera available for some reason and Bautista gladly translated post-game for Yunel Escobar in the clubhouse as the most expensive translator in history — gladly and fabulously.

  • GrumblePup

    I mean, obviously it’s the bat flip. How could it ever not be the bat flip?

    But to give a less obvious answer, I was at a game in what must have been 2010 where José hit a ball out of the stadium. Sure it was a foul ball, but holy hell, that is a monster of a hit.
    I say that it must have been 2010 because it was when we were still kind of in disbelief of what he was doing that season.

    I remember, as soon as the ball flew out getting a text from my buddy who was watching at home “DID YOU FUCKING SEE THAT?! HE HIT IT OUT OF THE GOD DAMN DOME!”

    Watching that season unfold for him was astounding and that moment sums up all the giddy disbelief of watching a man turn into a legend that season encompassed.

    So glad I had the ballpark pass for all the Bautista years.

    • ErnieWhitt

      Yes! The ballpark pass that season was the greatest asset. Going down every night for a couple bucks then relocating to the 100s to cheer basically for Bautista alone.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    I still remember when we traded for him…I thought: “Nice pickup. He’ll be a solid fourth outfielder.” I also remember in 2009 he was installed as our leadoff hitter, and I thought: “We’re screwed if this guy is at the top of our order.” I suppose I was right, but for the wrong reasons…

    • The Humungus

      When the Jays were in Pittsburgh last (2014), we were sitting in the bleachers in right and got to talking with a few Yinzers. They were all bummed when the Bucs traded Bats, one guy even showed us a pic on his phone of meeting him at a meet and greet event.

      I just thought it was neat that this guy who was a 27 year old bench guy when he got dealt still had fans in Pittsburgh.

      Then when the Brewers were in town this year and Robinson Diaz was their bullpen catcher, it really hit home how good of a trade that was.

      People can say all they want about Riccardi. He still brought in EE and Bats, and he’ll always be awesome for that.

  • FunBoy

    First off, great article. I enjoy sharing content like this with my friends, it’s among my favorite ways to “connect” “online”.

    My one major qualm comes with Cam’s section of the article. As the friend he mentions, there are a few things he got wrong about the situation.

    First off, please don’t call me casual unless you’re describing how I look in a new pair of blue jeans. If you’re going to describe my fandom, call me a “number-crunching, analytics, too smart for his own good smart ass”-fan. I will check back here later to see if that has been corrected

    And secondly, and this is really the thing the stuck out the most, but your recollection of that evening is completely wrong. When that home run occurred your Dad and I were upstairs in the computer room discussing the differences between CIV 4 and CIV 5 strategy. I clearly remember this because your Dad was in the middle of telling me the advantages of pre-civil war cannons in CIV 5 when we heard you screaming in the basement like a lunatic. We got worried, and your Dad decided to move a filing cabinet in front of the door so you couldn’t get upstairs and bother us.

    Other than that I really enjoyed reading this good content and think that you are a good writer. Maybe just stick with the “facts” next time okay thanks.

  • Pat1929

    Great article, and really enjoyed the three perspectives.

    Do have one kinda grievance, as not picky as it may be, but victories do tend to whitewash some of the journey’s important details.

    “(2015) was like a supernova, whereas ‘92 and ‘93 were more like the great whistling of a kettle that had started to rattle and boil around 1984 or ‘85.”

    1992 and 1993 was not quite like a giant whistling kettle at all. It was:
    1 – the culmination of a different time when an expansion team had to go through a seeming eternity before establishing themselves as a .500 team or even anything close to resembling that, let alone the contender. There were a lot of lousy Jays’ teams (look at their rosters and records) that made the frustrating mid to late 90’s and 2000’s seem (relatively) glorious at the time.

    2 – Then there were the Blow Jay years: be it simple heart break (Jim Sundberg in 1985), the collapse vs Detroit, the insurmountable and insufferable Oakland A’s and Dennis Eckersley (foreshadowing from the baseball gods), and legitimately wondering if time will run out on this band of chokers)

    3 – Toronto sports fans not having anything to celebrate since 1967 (though still the case in 2015 … And, arguably, today)

    4 – And for us geezers, Canadian baseball fans who started with the Expos in 1969, went through a longer, more painful expansion period (the Jays were relatively an overnight success by comparison), their more intensive heartbreak (1979 through to the 1980’s, not the least being Blue Monday and seeing the Bryant Gumbel (?) wearing winter apparel to open the series on an otherwise better-than-seasonal day that insulted many Canadian viewers)

    So 1992 – 93 was no linear, guaranteed outcome of a journey because the road had many, many jolting bumps that many, many doubters thought would not have a happy ending so the Alomar homerun was the break point and the Carter dinger allowed history to be erased. Kind of like Jarome Iginla’s 2002 goal exorcised Canadian Olympic demons.

    That said, the Bautista shot was awesome and ranks, in my view, third place, albeit, for a younger generation, its’ moment (like being unable to fully appreciate Paul Henderson’s goal and the 1972 comeback for little more than charming, grainy video from someone else’s era).

    Now to the matter at hand: My favourite Bautista moment was his battle with Darren O’Dea and then with all the tension of that moment, he gets knocked down, got up again, and Chumbawhumba’ed the ball out of Baltimore. I think he pulled that same stunt days later. But that first time, I actually wondered, is that man human?

    Not bad for an at-the-time unremarkable pickup.