Jose Bautista on the Blue Jays, bat flips and his favourite players
In an exclusive interview with the Betway Insider, the six-time MLB All-Star discusses the 2022 season, his hopes for the Toronto Blue Jays, and his famous bat flip in the 2015 ALDS.
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What are your thoughts on the season so far?
I think there's more parity around the league. You can see that reflected in the standings, with the exception of the Astros, the Dodgers and the Yankees. Competition is a little bit more even around the league. That being said, there's been some great moments so far, some amazing seasons, like Aaron Judge, some exciting rookies, and some comeback veterans. Yadier Molina and Pujols doing it on the same team, which is not unusual, but great to see.
Which teams have you been surprised by?
Well, to me, the biggest surprises may not be the strongest teams. The most surprising thing to me has been a team like the Baltimore Orioles, where you expect them to be really, really far behind within that division. And if the Yankees were not having such a magical season, where would they be? So that's, in my opinion, been the biggest surprise on the positive side. There's been some surprises on the negative side as well. For the team that the Giants were last season, I expected them to be much better. The Angels, they've had to deal with a lot of stuff, injuries and some under-performances. The White Sox, they got off to a super slow start, they're kind of picking it back up. Also, Boston, with the team they've put together in the last 10 years, I didn't expect them to be this far down the standings.
Which players have you enjoyed watching on an individual level?
The one that I've enjoyed the most has been Julio Rodriguez. I got the pleasure of playing with him last year in the Olympics, and he's a phenomenal kid and an even better baseball player. To see him get the call up a little after the season had gotten underway, and knowing how much that team needed someone to step up, and having it be him as a rookie, make the All-Star team, be in the Home Run Derby and show his personality, how much positive energy he brings every day, and how exciting he makes the game with a combination of great defence, power, and speed has been really cool to see. He's been by far the most exciting guy for me this season.
What is Juan Soto going to bring to the Padres?
I just don't see how he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame already. He's had that good of a start to his career, and he's on the path, for sure, to accomplish at least that. He might end up in the top 20 players of all time if he keeps going the way he's going. Hopefully health stays in his corner and he can have a lengthy career where he can go in and out every year and do what he's capable of doing.
It was surprising to see the Nationals reboot that profoundly with all the trades they did last year, and all the ones that they've done this year. Being in that market, having deep enough pockets to just reset or reshuffle their deck, I didn't think they were doing it to such an extent where they would consider getting rid of a franchise icon and cornerstone like Soto. I would still love to see him finish his career as a National with a few championships there.
What have you thought of the Blue Jays season so far, and what are your hopes for the remainder of the season for Toronto?
I think that they're in a great spot, given everything that they've had to deal with. There's been some under performances when you look at what guys typically contribute, and some injuries, especially to the starting pitcher corps – [Hyun-jin] Ryu's been out, they haven't been able to count on him at all. And some guys that got off to slower starts like [Teoscar] Hernandez, but as a team, they’ve played together, they’ve stuck together, they’ve dealt with the adversity of having their manager swapped out in the middle of things, and they've put themselves in a situation where they're in a comfortable position.
It's a clubhouse that has now been around it a few times, and they can handle themselves. Maybe some guys come back from injury, which will be an injection of energy and contributions down the road. I like what I see from them, because they have not just sat back and said, we have a great team, we've been in the playoffs a few times, and we're just gonna come out here and coast and still win games.
What did you think of the decision to fire Charlie Montoyo?
I love Charlie, he's a great dude, and I was surprised when it happened. I thought it was a little bit strange. But that being said, I'm not in that clubhouse. I'm not part of that team or organisation, so I don't know what's happening on the inside. The only thing I can do is speculate, and I would have to assume it was just a lack of alignment and vision.
There's a lot of personalities in that clubhouse who know what they have to do to win games every single day. I never saw comments after he got relieved of his duties suggesting the players were too unhappy, so maybe there was something there too.
The most important thing for them is that they're now on the right track and they're starting to win again. I'm sure Charlie will fall on his feet somewhere and continue his great baseball career as a coach and a manager somewhere else. You hate to see it happen but from time-to-time organisations and managers just don't see things eye-to-eye anymore, and change is needed for the best of everyone. Hopefully it ends up working out for the Blue Jays and for Charlie at the same time.
What’s your experience with changing managers in the middle of a season? What effect can it have on the clubhouse?
It can go either way. It's all about the reasons why and the underlying aspects of what led to that decision being made. The early results seem to indicate that change was needed and wanted, but the seasons not over yet. I think the best time to analyse those things is when the season's over. The early signs suggest it was a positive one for the Jays and hopefully it continues to be that way, because I want to see them win.
I was part of teams where changing the manager mid-season had positive impact, and others had a negative impact. It all depends on what the feel is around that clubhouse, what the players are thinking, what’s brewing under the surface.
The other thing that I can say is that John Schneider has stepped up and provided some great leadership and guidance and it's led to early success. Everybody knows he's on a let's-see-what-you-can-do basis. If we finish this season strong, and he continues to lead those guys in the right direction, I'd be excited to see him get longer term opportunity with the club.
What do Toronto need to do to become a postseason force and win a World Series?
They have the team, it's just a matter of getting that combination. You've got to have the health, you've got to have the guys showing up every day and doing what they're capable of doing. It seems like every year they've had to deal with something, hopefully this year it's not the case.
And listen, you want to win the World Series, but a lot of things have to come together for a team to do that. That's why there's only one World Series winner every single year. For me, to play meaningful games in September and actually getting into October, that's a success in itself. Getting past the early rounds, that's even better. And these guys have done that already, so I just want them to do it again, and I think that they can accomplish it.
You look at that division, and if the Yankees aren't having the season they're having, which is an anomaly - they're having an unbelievable season and they deserve it - but that doesn't happen all the time, if you take that out of the equation, the standards look much different. The gap doesn't seem that big. Now, the season that the Jays are having seems like an amazing one. The Yankees record is skewing the rest of the league so much.
But they've had a great season dealing with a lot of stuff, they're in a great position to seal the deal, get into the playoffs and then go and battle. I'm excited to see what they can do down the road.
Your bat flip against Texas in the 2015 ALDS, was it something you had in your mind before or was it just a natural reaction?
I've talked about it 1,000 times before, but it doesn't get old. It was a great moment for the fan base and for our team. I was just trying to get the ball in the air, drive a run in. I was able to hit that ball well, and it went out. The bat flip was definitely not something I had in mind, but we had a great series against those guys, a great battle. We were down two games, and then we came back and tied it, and in that Game 7 there was a lot of back and forth.
The fans were going nuts. We hadn't been in the playoffs for 22 years, the energy in the stadium was contagious. It was just a combination of all that emotion at the same time. I definitely didn't plan it, I don't even remember doing it! I kind of came to a few minutes later on the bench as I was catching my breath. It was one of those moments where you kind of black out. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it to the World Series, but it was a great moment. I think the fans are gonna remember that for a while.
How do you look back on it now, with it having become such a famous moment?
I'm certainly not the first guy ever to bat flip. I grew up watching guys bat flip. I think the difference between this one and others was the moment. It was the defining moment in the series, the reaction of the fans, that connection with the fans, the fact that we hadn't been to the playoffs for 22 years, the back and forth in that series, the back and forth in that game. Even within that inning, the errors that the Rangers made to put us in that position where I had the chance to come in and hit the home run. The build-up is what made it stand out.
I'm certainly glad that the fact that I did that has now made it a little bit more acceptable to celebrate, to bat flip, because it's all about fan engagement and emotion. It's a game of emotion. It's about getting people excited, getting people looking forward to success, getting people to enjoy the celebration when their team and their favourite player does something great.
Now that some time has passed by, bat flipping has actually become a thing again, kind of like a touchdown celebration in football or a goal celebration in soccer. I'm glad that has happened. I'm glad that people don't see it as breaking that unwritten rule so much anymore. It's good for the game, it's good for the fans, it's good for the players. Why not?
On the same token, it's okay for pitchers to show emotion, too. It's about harnessing your emotions and your energy to take you to a level of performance that you thought you couldn't even reach. The more you feel limitations about how you can react, it limits what you can express with your physical ability and your sporting ability. I'm glad that has gone in that direction.
What do you think about the controversy that still surrounds bat flips?
I think both sides apply. It's justified because those guys with that type of attitude and mentality, they grew up with the game being like that. So, obviously they're going to feel that way. And that's acceptable, that's okay.
But at the same time, as the game evolves, and physical ability changes, and guys are playing the game differently, it's okay for other things to change too. We need to remember that we're a product and the fans are a consumer, and we want them to enjoy the experience as much as they can. If they think it's cool and they like it, why not?
Some of these changes, and some of those moments that lead to these changes may not have the best immediate reaction at times, but eventually they lead to true evolution of the game, to a point where both sides – the players and the fans – are enjoying it the most.
That being said, there are also moments where it may not be cool to bat flip, even in today's game - if the score is too lopsided, there are moments where it just doesn't apply. It's all about the context. It's all about the moment. If the moment warrants it, I don't think anybody sees it as so taboo anymore.
You became just the 26th member of the 50-homer club in 2010. Where does that rank in your career achievements?
It's up there. Making the playoffs, for me, was huge. I had been in the league for about 10, 11 seasons when we made it to the playoffs for the first time. So that was great. Hitting 30 was a huge milestone for me, even 40 was unbelievable. Fifty, I mean, I had to pinch myself. It was crazy.
Making it to the big leagues was probably one of my proudest moments, figuring out how to stick around was important, then being able to contribute on a daily basis to a winning franchise and making the playoffs. But hitting 50 as an individual, it's definitely right up there with the bat flip.
How big an impact do you think Latin American players are having on the evolution of baseball?
It's amazing. It's changing the game for the better. With the Latin guys comes the flavour, the personalities, the cultural traits, signs of where you grew up, and the type of personalities that are present in your culture. It gets us united as a human race even more.
You see it in soccer, you see it in other sports. Different regions of the world play sports differently, which is great for the overall wellbeing of the sport. A little more energy, a little bit more passion on your sleeve. It's not better or worse, it's not right or wrong, it's just different.
If you look at how baseball is played in Japan, it's very disciplined, it's a little bit more toned down, going for the one-run lead all the time, bunting in the third inning. In the Caribbean, you just play with a little more flair, a little more show, a little more emotion. In the States it's the highest level of the game where everything gets combined and it’s been built around the home run and the strikeout over the last few years.
I think baseball is headed in the right direction when it comes to the world stage. Hopefully things like this continue to happen where fans from around the world are more connected to our game. The impact of Latin American guys and their culture, and sharing that with the rest of the world is definitely helping out a lot.
What was the experience like of playing for your country in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics?
Playing in the World Baseball Classic was unbelievable. Those types of tournaments didn't exist back in the day. That was not something that I was able to grow up watching. It brings that top level competition from all over the world together.
Being able to play and represent my country was amazing, you get a sense of pride that's different. You always want to win for your professional team, you always have that connection with the fan base. I know I felt that when I was in Toronto. But your connection to your home country, where you were born, what you identify with as a person, it's just a different level of passion. And that didn't exist before in baseball.
Hopefully we can continue to grow the game in the places where it hasn't gotten to yet like India, the Middle East, Brazil. Places where people love sports, where there are great athletes already. That'll continue to expand the type of new player that can come into the game and start changing the game and helping the game overall.
What's your view on MLB expansion, and what would it mean to Canada if Montreal were to get an expansion franchise?
That would be huge. I know it's getting some consideration, and hopefully it gets more once the league move their focus from solving two situations at once with franchises like Tampa, to look at the expansion picture a little bit more. Hopefully, Montreal is one of those markets that gets that attention.
There's a few around the nation that definitely deserve their attention. Nashville is intriguing, and I know that there are others that are trying to get a franchise awarded. Montreal have been there before and done it before, and apparently have some of the finances and the stadium resources in place.
Canada loves their sports, and I think Montreal supported the Expos in a tremendous way. I would love to see them get it, it would be amazing, creating a new inter-Canadian rivalry with the Jays. That would be amazing to see.
Is a front office role something that you're keen to explore on a major league level in the future?
Yeah, for sure. I've had some time to reflect on my career, what I'd like to do, and I've considered a lot of options. I know my passion lies with the sport, I'd love to remain doing something with the game.
The opportunity with the winter ball team, Leones del Escogido, I'm just trying to be a resource to them, where they can pick my brain, get my point of view, and I can help them with ideas and things that they're looking to improve. Just getting a different point of view from somebody, and I think my profile, my track record, my experience helps, and I was humbled when they came to me with that opportunity.
I hope it will allow me to explore other opportunities, whether it's in MLB or in other places.
What do you feel like you can bring to a front office role?
I played a lot of games, and I played a lot of different places. From growing up in the Dominican Republic, to junior college baseball, to the minor leagues all over the states, to the big leagues, to the Olympics, to winter ball.
I was a starter, a bench guy, a prospect, somebody that got designated for assignment, got traded, got a lifeline with the Blue Jays and had a resurgence in my career after being on the bench for a year-and-a-half. I've played a lot of roles.
I'm bilingual, I can communicate with different guys, I identify with a lot of different relationships and personalities within the clubhouse and the front office. I've never been shy to talk to people and get to know them and pick their brains.
Hopefully that's valued within the game. I'm certainly not the only one that can do that, but I love fulfilling that role within an organisation so hopefully it leads to other things down the road.
Who do you think are the five best players in MLB right now?
That's tough because capability does not always leads to results. Obviously, Mike Trout is the anomaly here. This guy's an animal, he's probably the best player in the game. That's no surprise there. Based on capabilities and results, how complete those players are, you can add guys like Aaron Judge, Fernando Tatis, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Julio Rodriguez, and he's just getting started.
Which current player do you most enjoy watching and why?
Julio Rodriguez, because I played with him, and I know what kind of kid he is. I'm just really excited to see what kind of impact he can have in the future within the game, within his organisation and where they are in the winning cycle right now. I think he's gonna have a stage to really show off and he's off to a great start, and I hope that he continues to do what he's been doing and hopefully stay away from high-and-in fastballs!