It’s been a couple of days since Rougned Odor and Jose Bautista went toe to toe on the diamond following a rough slide by Joey Bats into second base and since then suspensions have been handed out. Is one of them more wrong than the other? Has Bautista really done anything wrong? In the opinion of this blogger, no, no he hasn’t.
Just to set the facts straight before I plead my case in defense of Jose Bautista, I would like to point out that I am not a Blue Jays fan, I’m a Yankees fan. I am by-large a traditionalist, and would normally not support something like a bat-flip in baseball. I don’t want MLB to become the NBA or NFL. I don’t want dunks off the backboard for no other reason than you can, or some jackass breaking out a sharpie and signing a TV camera. However, the purity of the emotion that drove Joey Bats to toss his bat like he just conquered the world was totally authentic and a byproduct of momentary greatness, and in the context of sport, Joey Bats had just conquered the world and stood on top of it for about 20 seconds. The bat-flip was pure joy. We should all be so lucky as to experience that in our lifetimes.
It started with a flip
October 14, 2015, Game 5, American League Division Series. Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Texas Rangers. With a 2-2 tie in the top of the 7th, Shin-Soo Choo in the batters box and Rougned Odor only 90 feet away on third, Blue Jays catcher went to make a routine back to his pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, when the craziness of the 7th inning would ensue. While throwing the ball back to Sanchez, Martin threw the ball into the bat of Choo, deflecting it away from the pitcher. Odor noticed immediately and scampered home. Shortly thereafter the umpiring crew reviewed the play, and it was ultimately decided that the ball was in fact “live” and that the run did indeed count. Rangers up 3-2 and the Blue Jays season in jeopardy on an ill-timed and extremely uncommon mishap. The bomb was set.
Bottom of the 7th. First, an Elvis Andrus error allows Russell Martin to reach base. The Kevin Pillar followed by getting on base thanks to another error, and the bases were then loaded on yet another error. With an out soon after, Josh Donaldson, The Bringer of Rain, hit into a fielder’s choice to bring home the tying run. Tie ball game. If the bomb was set in the top of the 7th, the culmination of these events had lit the fuse.
With men on first and third and the pivotal 5th and final game of the series hanging in the balance, on the hells of a crazy deflected ball leading to a one run deficit and three errors making a tying run possible, Joey Bats got a 97mph fastball from Sam Dyson that be turned on and obliterated, sending it to the second deck of the outfield stands. The ball left his bat at 106mph at a 23 degree angle and he sent it 431ft in just 5.5 seconds. Roughly three seconds later the bat would leave his hand at roughly 65mph and a 72 degree angle and travel 43 feet* in what would become known simply as “The Bat Flip”.
*In case it is not obvious, I made the bat flip numbers up.
The benches would clear twice after that in what would eventually become a 53 minute inning and a trip to the ALCS for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bomb planted and lit, queue the explosion …
Then there was a slide
Fast forward to May 15th of this year. Blue Jays vs. Rangers, this time in Arlington, not Toronto, in their seventh meeting of the year, a series the Jays came into leading 4-2. The tensions had been high all series, but led to no acts of aggression… Until the 8th inning, when Matt Bush, non-member of the 2015 Rangers who got burned and butt-hurt by both Joey Bautista’s season ending 3 run jack and the infamous bat flip, the latter of which, while a bit of salt in the wound, is really just something to point at and say, “Joey’s making fun of me, boo hoo hoo”, when really the three errors, 3-run bomb, and 4 run inning is the real catalyst of their collective frustration and anger, decided to bean Bautista.
That’s when Bautista charged the mound, pounded Matt Bush in the face, knocked out one of his own players and was instantly ejected. Oh wait, that didn’t happen at all. Bautista took it like a pro, and walked to first base. The Rangers poked, but Jose didn’t bite.
Enter Justin Smoak, who is the real troublemaker here. How dare he hit a ground ball up the middle?!?!?! (I hope you feel the sarcasm). Obviously, Bautista took off for second, and in what is admittedly a late, rough, but ultimately clean slide in which he slid directly over second base … not within reach of, not cleats high, not with obvious intent to injure … in an effort to break up a potential double play, which led to the fight. A fight that the Rangers, and maybe Odor specifically, were looking to pick in the first place.
Upon an initial view of the play, you may argue that Bautista popped up from his hard slide and looked ready to fight. I don’t think you would be wrong to make such an argument. However, if you put that move of perceived aggression into context, you may think differently. You see, only moments before, while hitting the dirt, Rougned Odor threw the ball directly at his face. Fortunately for everyone involved and Major League Baseball, Odor’s point blank aim is not very good. He threw the ball as hard as he could, side-armed, low, and the ball wound up 30 feet wide of first base. The only conclusion, since he went largely untouched during the attempted break-up, although having made no effort to get out of the way, is that he is either the least accurate person to step foot on a big league field since 50 Cent threw out the first pitch prior to a Mets game a few years back, or it was totally intended to take out Bautista. Being that 50 Cent is a rapper (arguably), and Odor is a major league second baseman on a playoff contending team, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was the latter. The throw was intended for the face of Joey Bats.
Let’s get ready to rumble….
Getting back to the rumble that was about to begin, Bautista pops up, Odor instantly turns around upon having missed shattering his face with a throw from 2 feet away at maximum velocity, and steps to Jose. Clearly a fight was about to start, but Odor had already made his mind up. Before Bautista could even make a fist, Odor landed a hard clean punch across Bautista’s jaw, sending his helmet and sunglasses flying off. The punch looked like something Ali would be proud of, but the result was more like something Mayweather would land. Nevertheless, Odor was the aggressor, and puts him in the wrong.
What started 7 months ago with a homerun and bat flip, ended with a right-cross to the jaw of he who flipped the bat. What would follow would be an 8 game suspension for Odor (who isn’t new to the world of fighting on a baseball field) and only 1 game for Joey Bats. Clearly, MLB sees things more like I do than those who feel Odor’s suspension was too harsh, or that Bautista’s was too light. I would have given Odor 12 games, and Bautista none. Zero. Not a single missed plate appearance.
MLB agreeing with me isn’t what makes me right though. What makes me right are the facts.
- Jose Bautista’s bat-flip, while undesirable in the minds of many, was not intended to be taunting or show boating or another adjective you want to assign to it. It wasn’t a homer in the 4th inning of a game that had a six run differential in mid-June. This was the late innings of the final game of an ALDS, with the game tied. Anyone who has ever played sports at any level would surely understand that if you do something great in any sport in a moment of pressure you will experience true and honest excitement. That bat flip was just that. Yes, it appears on the surface to be one of those moments that was made for SportsCenter, but in fact, the man just did something great, and he was ecstatic. He lived the dream and in that moment, was completely ensconced in it. I applaud the passion.
- The Rangers waited for the last at-bat in the last meeting of the season to hit Jose Bautista. This is just plain cowardice, and evidence of instigating a fight. With Bautista keeping his cool and shrugging it off, the Rangers likely just became that much more infuriated.
- The slide was clean. Rough, but clean. No intent to injure Odor can be ascertained from any angle of any video of that play. Odor was basically untouched. Retaliation was not what was witnessed. It was an excuse to fight a fight that the team had been waiting for ever since they walked off the field in Toronto last October as post-season losers.
- The punch was premeditated by Odor. Whether or not Bautista would have thrown the first punch, will never be known. What we do know is that Odor DID throw the first punch, and that Jose didn’t even have a fist made at the time. The fight was both instigated and executed by Odor.
So where is the fault in anything Jose Bautista has done on any of these occasions? There simply isn’t any evidence of any wrong doing. In the legal world, the DA wouldn’t even bother issuing an indictment, because the case would be a loser and there is hardly any circumstantial evidence, let alone hard evidence.
Odor is a punk. The Rangers are sore losers who instigated the entire incident. That’s pretty much the sum of it.
Verdict on Bautista: Innocent of all charges.
Jason Greco, @thatbaseballer1