When Chris Tillman takes the mound in tonight’s game at Rogers Centre, he’ll be facing a distinct first …..
That’s right, in his brief professional career, he’s never faced a hitter with 50 homeruns pegged to his season resume’.
Tonight that will change …..
In yesterday’s matinee against the Seattle Mariners, Jose Bautista stroked his 50th homer of the season. In nailing Felix Hernandez’s 96 mph fastball into the Blue Jays bullpen, Bautista joined a very distinct group of players.
He is officially the 26th player to hit 50 homers in a single season.
And, he’s unofficially just the latest in a line of players we will gauge with a discerning eye.
Is it fair? I don’t know. Is it justified? Absolutely.
We’re still living in the era of mistrust and suspicion, as it relates to gaudy statistical accomplishments by Major League Baseball players. As much as we would love to rave about a player reaching a previously heralded plateau, things have simply changed in relation to our comprehension of the game.
When you hear about a player hitting his 50th homerun of the season, what is the first impression that crosses your mind?
Better yet, when you hear of a player swatting his 50th homer, and he’s never hit more than 16 homers in a single season during his 7 year career, what is your immediate thought?
Yet, Jose Bautista doesn’t want to hear it. In fact, he’s suggesting he hasn’t heard any flak regarding performance enhancing drug usage. “Nobody’s said anything to me, and I don’t see why they should. Baseball has a strict policy against those performance-enhancing whatever you want to call them,” Bautista said during a recent interview.
Jose Bautista is not the typical meathead, strapping muscle bound figure we encountered on the big league stage during the height of the steroid phase. He weighs a little less than 200 pounds and his body frame is reminiscent of our favorite players of the 1970’s.
And, for Cito Gaston, the physical appearance is resounding proof of innocence. He has defended his star player during every pointed opportunity. I don’t blame him, that’s what he’s supposed to do.
Jose Bautista’s accomplishment should be pretty extraordinary. But, it’s not. If he’s clean, and nobody will ever really know, he has reason to feel pretty proud of his season. If he’s not, we’re likely to eventually find out.
But, as we sit here on a Friday morning, with more than a week remaining in Major League Baseball’s regular season, Jose Bautista is not being celebrated. He’s not being villified, either. His feat is a non-story.
Homer #50 is not the lead story on Major League Baseball’s website. It’s not the lead story on ESPN.com. It’s not even the lead story on the Toronto Sun’s page. How’s that for lack of coverage?
I distinctly recall the day George Foster hit his 50th homerun of the 1977 season. I thought it was a HUGE deal. I was 10 years old and living the game of baseball. It was also the first time a big leaguer hit 50 homers in my lifetime.
And, it would be another 13 years until it happened again.
Yet, since 1990, the threshhold of 50 homeruns has been reached 24 times. You got that? It’s happened 24 times over the course of the last 20 years. This is why we’re suspicious of Jose Bautista’s season total.
To his credit, Bautista has handled the steroids-related questions in stride. In my opinion, he’s been somewhat evasive – especially when he displays ignorance toward the topic of “performance enhancing whatever you call them.” Please ….
I suppose Jose Bautista is doing the only reasonable thing, possible. He’s just doing his job and letting his career season develop naturally. He’s not fighting the suspicions or rendering a contentious denial. And, he’s not getting angry at those who suspect or ask questions.
That’s a good thing.
If he does end up harboring some eventual anger, I would hope he’ll direct it at the responsible individuals. Blame Mark McGwire. Blame Sammy Sosa. Blame Barry Bonds, Blame Roger Clemens. Blame Rafael Palmeiro. Blame Alex Rodriguez.
After all, they’re the reason we don’t care about Jose Bautista’s accomplishment.