Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jose Bautista and the Question of Leadership

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Jose Bautista has had quite the journey over the past 11 years. He was once a man who was shoveled off to five different organizations in one year; a fledgling journeyman, and here he is now as one of the biggest names in all of baseball.

But the narrative this year has not been about whether or not Jose Bautista is an elite player; it's whether he's evolved into a true leader on a team that has arguably had a lack of leadership these past few years.

For whatever reason, some say they've seen a noticeable difference in Jose Bautista this year. Others say he's the same Joey Bats he's always been. Whether it's a small change or a big change, there seems to be something different about Jose Bautista this year.

For one, his ongoing war with the umpires has seemingly ended. To the best of my knowledge, Bautista hasn't argued very many calls this season, if any. If he's been called out on a borderline pitch this season, Jose just bites his lip and heads back to the dugout.

Let's not forget, Jose Bautista quite famously said last year that he has trouble "being affected by other people's mediocrity" in relation to the umpires. Although he may have been warranted, raging a war on the umpires is admittedly a battle that cannot be won.

This was also a man who's been accused of "playing for himself" in the past, guilty of slamming his bat in anger after popping out during a game which the Blue Jays had a sizable lead. Once again, none of that has been on display in 2014.

But it's not just the things Jose Bautista hasn't said that have made an impact, but it's the things he has said; most notably to younger players in need of guidance like Drew Hutchison and Kevin Pillar.


The Sportsnet cameras have caught Jose Bautista on multiple occasions bestowing some words of wisdom upon the Blue Jays young starter, Drew Hutchison. It's not exactly known what was said, but Bautista has gone out of his way to mentor some of his teammates.


The Kevin Seitzer Effect



Another noticeable difference in Jose Bautista's game this year has been his tendency to go opposite field. That may just be the Kevin Seitzer effect, but it also hints to Jose Bautista doing something for the greater good of the team.

It may not be that he's swinging for the fences this season, it may just be that with the assistance of Kevin Seitzer, Jose Bautista has become a more complete hitter at the plate.

By all indications, it seems to be working as Bautista is enjoying one of the best first halves of his career. It may not be in prototypical Joey Bats style, but Bautista has become a feared hitter because he's showing the ability to beat the shift and hit to all fields.

One other indicator was Bautista laying down a bunt during the game on June 22nd against the Reds with two runners on base. This is one of the most prolific modern day home run hitters, and here's Jose Bautista playing small ball.

Prior to that game, Bautista hadn't even attempted to bunt in the past five years, and further to that he hadn't bunt for a base hit in the past seven years. So if there's a definition of an unselfish hitter in 2014, Jose Bautista has become the poster boy for it.


Making a Case for MVP



When healthy, Jose Bautista has always been a perennial MVP candidate. The only flaw in his game? The fact that he hasn't played on a contending team. However, this year is quite a different story.

Joey Bats is perhaps the best player on the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays, and if the Blue Jays do end up making their way into the playoffs, Jose Bautista suddenly enters the discussion of American League MVP.

Aside from the injuries and the overall play of the Blue Jays themselves, if there's another knock against Bautista's MVP case, it's been his so-called "attitude".

I personally don't see it as an issue, but as we well know, select members of the BBWAA can be quite fickle and will use any reason not to vote for a particular player when it comes to MVP and Hall of Fame voting.

In speaking to a friend about this very topic last week, she discerned that maybe Jose Bautista looks up to his friend David Ortiz and how Big Papi is lauded around the league and can seemingly do no wrong.

While Bautista may have reached that stratosphere within the confines of Toronto, I wouldn't say he's garnered that status around Major League Baseball. So in order to remedy that reputation, I wonder if that's where this "attitude adjustment" has stemmed from.


Not the Leader They Deserved, But the One They Needed



Judging by the way the past two seasons concluded for the Toronto Blue Jays both on and off the field, one doesn't expect there to be too much leadership on an injury-riddled and underperforming roster.

It just doesn't seem like the type of environment that would breed initiative and ambition. The goal of a team like that suddenly shifts from contending to merely surviving the season.

So in watching the rudderless ship at the end of 2012 and 2013, perhaps Jose Bautista finally took it upon himself to be the leader this team so desperately needed.

It may have been born out of necessity, but judging by his actions this year, I'd say that Jose has stepped up and is becoming more of a positive role model for his teammates.

That's the thing about leaders; there's no clear-cut definition of what makes somebody a true leader. They can earn that distinction with leading by example, or leading by providing advice and encouragement to fellow teammates.

This year, it appears as though Jose Bautista is doing both.

Images courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images/Toronto Star/CTV News

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