Some players take a little longer to find their footing in the sporting world. Former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was one of them. He was far from a wunderkind, but he would come to be a dominant hitter in the world of Major League Baseball.
It has been an exciting journey for Joey Bats, but what happened to him and is he still playing?
Early Life & MLB Career
Jose Bautista grew up in the Dominican Republic and, like many foreign players, fielded offers from MLB clubs to sign him as a free agent. However, things got complicated after the Cincinnati Reds rescinded an offer after a change in ownership. Bautista took advantage of a fund designed to help baseball players from Spanish-speaking countries and played college baseball in the United States.
The future star ended up at Chipola College in Florida. In the 2000 MLB Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the 20th round. Usually, a player drafted that late never cracks the majors, and when he was in the minors, it seemed like Bautista might be one of them. In fact, in 2003, the Pirates left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Baltimore Orioles took him.
Bautista made his big league debut in 2004 with the Orioles but only lasted 16 games before ending up on waivers. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays then took him off waivers, but he only lasted 12 games before moving to the Kansas City Royals. He was then traded to the New York Mets, who then immediately dealt him back to the Pirates before he ever played a game in the Big Apple. That means that Bautista was on five different rosters in 2004 alone.
In 2006, Bautista finally became a full-time major leaguer, and in 2007 he was named the starting third baseman for the Pirates. That would not last long, though, as, during the 2008 season, he was effectively dumped to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. He spent 2008 and 2009 as a backup third baseman and outfielder. Then, the 2010 season happened.
Bautista spent the season starting in the outfield, and something got into his bat. He led the majors with 54 home runs, nearly double his career total, to go with 124 RBIs. That broke the single-season record for home runs for the Blue Jays, and he represented the American League for the first time in the MLB All-Star Game. Bautista also took home his first Silver Slugger.
The following season Joey Bats saw his home run total drop to 43, but that led the big leagues again. He also led the MLB in walks, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. That helped earn him a record number of votes for the All-Star Game, although being a member of the only team in Canada may have helped. Bautista also took home another Silver Slugger and finished third in American League MVP voting.
The slugger made the All-Star Game in 2012, 2013 and 2014, including winning a third Silver Slugger in 2014. He was an All-Star in 2015, but the 2015 playoffs are where Bautista put on a show.
The Blue Jays hosted the Texas Rangers for Game 5 of the ALDS. In the seventh inning, Bautista crushed a ball thrown by Sam Dyson for a three-run homer that gave the Jays a 6-3 lead. He followed it with perhaps the all-time iconic bat flip, one that led to a bench-clearing scuffle. The fans in the Rogers Centre loved it, and the folks at ESPN (and Sportsnet, for the Canadians) got plenty of fodder out of the bat flip as well.
This was the last hurrah for Joey Bats. Bautista was on the receiving end of the Rangers’ revenge the following season when Rougned Odor socked him in the mouth. The next couple of years in Toronto were mediocre, and the Blue Jays declined his option after the 2017 season. That year, Bautista represented the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and used that as a springboard to the National League. After spring training was over, he signed a minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves.
Bautista only lasted a few games once getting called up by Atlanta, and after being released, he was signed by the Mets. He didn’t do a ton with the Mets before being sent to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline. Bautista had a .404 OBP with Philly, but that was admittedly in only 27 games.
Jose Bautista Now
The 2018 season was the last time that Bautista has played in MLB, but it must be noted he did not officially retire. In fact, after the 2019 season, he said he planned to return to the majors.
Then, in early 2020 he doubled down and said he wanted to return as a two-way player like Shohei Ohtani. This was despite the fact he was a 39-year-old veteran who had never pitched at the professional level.
The 40-year-old Bautista has stayed active, though. Around the time he talked about being a two-way player, the slugger was named to the Dominican Republic’s team for the Olympic qualifiers. The COVID-19 pandemic postponed those qualifiers, but when they finally happened in 2021, Bautista made the squad as an outfielder. He helped his home country qualify for Tokyo, meaning the D.R. will be playing Olympic baseball.
Even though he was pushing 30 when he broke out, Bautista still managed to make six All-Star Games and led the majors in home runs twice. He was arguably a better hitter than anybody on either team in a division with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. And, of course, he had a plate appearance that was trending all over social media and creating perhaps the most incredible image in Blue Jays history.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may someday break Joey Bats’ franchise record for home runs in Toronto. Still, he’ll never have a bat flip as awesome as Bautista’s.