“Fans in Toronto have an unhealthy history of building up their sport stars, praising them intensely during their peak, and then turning on them when disappointment over the seemingly inevitable failure to deliver a championship reaches a crescendo. When things go bad, they tend to eat their own. At the beginning of May 2013, Jose Bautista seemed headed for the same treatment that had chewed up some of the city’s other recent athletic icons – Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, Mats Sundin, and Chris Bosh.”
That quote, taken from Great Expectations by Shi Davidi and John Lott, gives a perfect description of what has taken place with Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista over the past year. Bautista has not lacked in his individual performance, as when healthy, he is still one of the best players in baseball, but the failure of the Blue Jays in 2013 led the media in Toronto to create a narrative regarding Bautista’s clubhouse leadership. Because the majority of Blue Jays fans are fair-weather fans that will take whatever they read or hear as gospel — even if it is from the likes of Damien Cox, Rosie Dimanno, or Bob McCown, media personnel that are known for being, for a lack of a better term, horrible – this narrative has stuck, without concrete evidence that it is true or not. Any online medium these Torontonians can voice their opinion on features countless comments demanding that Major League Baseball’s ISO leader since 2010 be traded, just because his presence in the clubhouse is not what you want from one of your team leaders according to some media members.
So, when some rumors started to surface a couple of weeks ago that gave more details into the Bautista “fiasco”, even going as far as to say Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had a trade lined up with the Brewers that would send the power hitting right fielder to Milwaukee last December, I decided I really wanted to do some digging and find out the truth in this whole Bautista case. Is he such a bad clubhouse presence that, as Bob McCown said on Prime Time Sports before the holiday season, John Gibbons believes “he is a major problem in the room”? Or is the whole thing a story that has simply been blown out of proportion by some members of the Toronto media.
In order to not cause any harm to anybody that gave me information, their names will remain anonymous, but I had the privilege of talking to a few players (current teammates, former teammates, prospects) as well as others in the industry with regards to the Jose Bautista situation.
Through talking to people I found mixed opinions on him. Both prospects I talked to who had the privilege of playing with Jose on a number of opportunities said he was “great in the clubhouse, and was very personable. One even said he treated the entire team to a steak dinner after one of his rehab games. This response wasn’t a surprise (if you assume Bautista is in fact detrimental to the clubhouse), as both players only had limited experience with him. As well, it’s entirely possible that as different players in a different setting, the prospects were given different treatment from Bautista than how he’s been rumored to act in the Blue Jays clubhouse.
One player, who had significant time in the Majors this season, opted not to comment on his leadership skills because he didn’t feel like he saw enough of him to judge. This player did say though that in their limited time together, he was very good to him.
Another major league source got a different impression entirely. One problem about Bautista that was brought up this past year was Jose’s constant and incessant arguing with umpires, something that many fans believed cost the Blue Jays in the eyes of the umps. According to this source, it wasn’t just the fans that believed this, as many Blue Jay players share this opinion as well.
“Many guys believe he complains so much to the umpires that the Jays get shafted on balls and strike calls and many don’t like him for this reason.”
Although his bickering might be justified, it appears as if some of Jose’s teammates do not appreciate the negative effects it has on their performance.
In 2013 (as well as in years past), the Blue Jays have had a strong Latin contingent on their roster. An industry source with direct knowledge of the goings on in the Blue Jays clubhouse said that Jose acted as a leader strictly for his Latino brethren, but when it came to all the other players on the roster, he couldn’t care less.
One veteran player, gone from the team now, even went as far to tell Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos that his team would never win if it featured a Latin clique like the one present over the past couple of years.
This clubhouse divide led by Bautista could stretch farther than just the Blue Jays clubhouse. One player, who was involved in an on field accident with an opposing Latino this past season that resulted in an injury for the other player, was shunned by his Latino Blue Jays teammates for many days after the play. The entire Dominican contingent would not talk to him for days because of this incident.
Toronto fans are hungry, and because of this, they’ll jump on any player if given an excuse to. The media conjured up this story about Bautista in 2013, but until now, I wasn’t sure whether I believed it, or even if I cared enough about the effects of the clubhouse on performance to believe it. But, after talking with so many players and sources, I am definitely leaning toward believing that Jose is not an angel in the clubhouse. Now I did mention some guys who thought he was very nice, so I don’t want to make any definitive conclusion. Do I want him traded even if it means the Blue Jays are on the losing side of the trade? NO! But, as one player who played with Bautista as he rose to stardom told me, “it wouldn’t be the first time money and fame got to a players head and caused their personality to change drastically.”