As far as Jose Bautista is concerned, he retired with the Toronto Blue Jays years ago. It’s just official now.
Bautista and Blue Jays team president Mark Shapiro signed a one-day contract in front of media on Friday afternoon as the longtime Toronto slugger officially ended his playing career. Both of them acknowledged that Bautista’s retirement as a Blue Jay was overdue, but delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think everybody knew for a while that I had been retired but this is a way to make it official,” said Bautista, with his wife and daughters in the front row, at a news conference at Rogers Centre. “What better way to make it official than just coming back here to Toronto and signing this one-day contract and making it official-official.”
Bautista will be added to the Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre in a pre-game ceremony on Saturday afternoon that will be attended by his family and several former teammates. Starting pitcher Marcus Stroman is sure to be one of them. He’s now a member of the Chicago Cubs, who are playing the Blue Jays in a three-game interleague series this weekend.
“It’s taken too long for this to happen. It should have been done a couple years ago like much in our world but I’m incredibly excited to be here today,” said Shapiro before draping a powder blue Jays uniform on Bautista, a version of the team’s jersey that actually came after his tenure in Toronto.
“I really can’t think of a player that should retire a Blue Jay more than Jose Bautista.”
Bautista started his Major League Baseball career in 2004 where he played for a remarkable four teams — Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kansas City Rays, and Pittsburgh Pirates — in one season. He was traded to Toronto from the Pirates in August 2008 for Robinson Diaz.
He thrived in the Blue Jays organization, as then-manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy took an interest in him and made him a more effective hitter.
“Those two guys definitely worked with me behind the scenes a lot,” said Bautista. “It took almost a full year from when I got traded till I saw some regular playing time.
“It was a lot of work behind the scenes and I’m glad that I came to this organization at the time that I did because of everything that happened afterwards and they are a big part of that.”
Gaston and Murphy’s investment in Bautista paid dividends as he turned into a formidable slugger and the core of Toronto’s lineup. He was selected to six consecutive all-star teams between 2010 and 2015, earning three Silver Slugger Awards in 2010, 2011, and 2014.
Bautista led all of baseball with 54 home runs in 2010 and again in 2011 with 43, earning back-to-back Hank Aaron Awards as MLB’s top hitter. He finished his playing career with 1,496 hits, 344 home runs, a .247 batting average and 975 runs batted in.
Most famously, Bautista hit a dramatic three-run home run in the seventh inning of the fifth and final game of the 2015 American League Division Series as Toronto beat the Texas Rangers 6-3. Bautista’s celebratory bat flip is a treasured moment to Blue Jays fans, although it angered the Rangers and their supporters.
“Ten years is a long time, so there are a lot of memories,” said Bautista when asked about his favourite Blue Jays memory. “A lot of great memories, a lot of great relationships and connections made here. It’s hard to pick just one. There were plenty.
“Everybody seems to go back to obviously the playoff series and the bat flip and those games but for me it’s it’s hard to pick just one so I don’t know if I have a favourite.”
Bautista hasn’t played since 2018 when he spent time on the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. He earned a bronze medal with his native Dominican Republic at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Current Blue Jays manager John Schneider said that he expects his entire team to be in the dugout for Saturday afternoon’s ceremony.
“I think it’s always good to remind guys of the history of the organization,” said Schneider. “I think it can open your eyes a little bit to know how special a group can be and how you can be really remembered for a long time by doing some pretty cool things in big moments.”