Beyond impact for Blue Jays, Bautista home run helped shift MLB culture


Jose Bautista celebrates after hitting a three-run home run against the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Jose Bautista will headline Friday night’s Blue Jays Watch Party to re-live Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers. Join Bautista, hosts Hazel Mae, Arash Madani and Shi Davidi, and other special guests at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.

Any home run in an elimination game has a good chance of being pretty memorable. If the big swing comes at home, in front of 49,742 long-suffering fans, in the midst of an emotionally charged inning, you can be sure no one will forget it.

So, the instant Jose Bautista homered in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2015 American Division Series, he had earned a spot in Blue Jays playoff lore. The emphatic bat flip that followed made the moment unforgettable for everyone watching.

The stadium literally shook in the moments after Bautista’s home run, and the Blue Jays burst out of the home dugout as though their teammate had just walked off the visiting Rangers. As Ryan Goins said of the bat flip later that evening, "On a 1-10 that’s a 27. Unbelievable.”


But even though the significance of the home run was immediately evident to Blue Jays players and fans, it wasn’t yet apparent that Bautista’s bat flip would become the focal point for a far broader discussion about baseball.

Now that nearly five years have passed, it’s clear that Bautista’s display of emotion helped nudge baseball out of the dark ages toward a more free-flowing version of the game in which player personality is something to embrace, not hide. In that sense, his home run represented a turning point not only for Blue Jays history but for baseball culture as a whole.

Of course, that’s not how the Texas Rangers saw it at the time.

"Jose needs to calm that down," said reliever Sam Dyson, who allowed the home run. "Just kind of respect the game a little more."

Others in the Rangers clubhouse implied that Bautista had violated baseball’s unwritten rules by flipping his bat – playoff elimination game or not.

"You want to be able to play the game the right way," starter Cole Hamels said. "You’ve got a lot of kids who are watching. You just want to be a ballplayer, and I think there’s a certain amount of respect that you’ve got to have."

"My perspective on that is we play the game the right way, hard, all 27 outs," manager Jeff Banister added. "We respect everybody."

(Well, nearly everybody. The Rangers would throw at Bautista the following May in his final at-bat of the series. Chaos ensued when Bautista slid into second base and Rougned Odor punched him.)

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The Rangers weren’t the only ones aggrieved by Bautista’s bat flip. Baseball traditionalists bristled at the idea of showing emotion on the field and Bautista’s reaction became a talking point league-wide. The following spring, Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage expressed his personal disapproval in conversation with ESPN.

“Bautista is a (expletive) disgrace to the game,” Gossage said. “Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto.”

Though Gossage’s comments were sensational, they didn’t reflect the thoughts of the game’s younger generation. Bryce Harper, then the reigning NL MVP, told ESPN that he’d like to see baseball embrace the personality of its young stars the way the NBA and NFL do.

"Baseball’s tired," Harper said. "It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do."

“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time,’" he added. "That’s what makes the game fun."

The day after Gossage ripped into Bautista, Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman met the media while wearing a “Joey Flippin Bats” T-shirt. Like Harper, he urged MLB to embrace the personality of its biggest stars and allow them to express themselves on and off the field.

"We have a young wave of guys in the big leagues and the game’s getting really exciting," he said. "It’s fun."

"Everyone’s not the same," Stroman continued. "Everyone’s not cookie cutter. People go about their business differently. Some guys are emotional. Some guys aren’t, but it’s not a bad thing if guys are emotional. If they show a little emotion that’s not bad. We put in a ton of work, so we are allowed to show emotion out there on the field."

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Four years later, that viewpoint hardly seems controversial. Following the comments of players like Harper and Stroman, MLB wisely started marketing its young stars more than ever. Soon enough, the league introduced its “Let the Kids Play” promotional campaign. Now, the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Francisco Lindor are encouraged to show their personalities instead of muting them in the name of “respect” for the game.

At some point, that shift was coming regardless of what happened in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. But Bautista’s home run is arguably the defining moment of the entire 2015 season for a couple reasons. From a Blue Jays standpoint, it set up the franchise’s first playoff series win in 22 years. That much was instantly apparent to anyone watching.

And in the months and years that followed, Bautista’s home run had repercussions around the league, setting in motion a long-overdue conversation about personality and emotion that ultimately moved baseball’s traditionalist culture forward.

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