September 23, 2010
The Toronto Blue Jays slugger hit No. 50 — the first player to do so since Prince Fielder(notes) and Alex Rodriguez(notes) in 2007 — by lifting a first-inning pitch to left field in front of a sparse, but still filing-in crowd at Rogers Centre. The achievement came on a weekday afternoon during a getaway day game against a last-place Seattle Mariners team. It also came off Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez(notes), who has been experiencing the same kind of quietly spectacular season away from the spotlight as Bautista.
For one, many Blue Jays fans weren't able to watch Bautista's blast at home because this game was one of a number of September games moved to Rogers' new Sportsnet One network, which isn't available to a lot of now-angry fans. (Rogers Sportsnet, the Jays' usual home, was showing English Premier League soccer highlights at the time of the homer.)
So Bautista is going to have to share headlines with Ichiro in most headlines outside of Canada.
And the most waves he'll probably make this season came a few weeks back when a Toronto Star columnist asked the steroid question out loud — or at least in a poorly conceived blog post. (Bautista subsequently denied whatever he was or was not being accused of.)
Of course, it's not hard to see why Bautista's run hasn't attracted the attention of, say, Cecil Fielder's 50 in 1990. The steroid era saw 14 other players top 50 homers between Fielder and Bautista and the novelty has completely worn away.
Also, Bautista is a 30-year-old veteran who only had 59 total homers for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the four seasons before this one and he plays for a Canadian team. Put Jason Heyward(notes) or Buster Posey(notes) in this storyline and we're talking a much different level of attention.
That shouldn't mean that we completely ignore Bautista's achievement. While he's reached 50 homers, no one else in baseball has hit 40. (Albert Pujols(notes) has hit 39, while Paul Konerko(notes) has 37.) And in a different city, on a different team, maybe Bautista's story is spun as the dedicated vet who worked hard, stuck to it during some tough times and is finally enjoying a breakout year.
But that's not the climate, era or situation he performs in. Bautista will go down in history as the least-recognized 50-homer hitter of all time. It is what it is, which is a shame for Bautista's spectacular year.