Everyone wants Bautista to sign something for them, except maybe the Jays

By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Everyone wants Jose Bautista’s autograph.

Like the man from stadium operations at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

He arrived as Bautista reached his locker in the top of the seventh Sunday afternoon asking for autographs on a red Canada Day Blue Jays jersey with a black Sharpie, a program and a baseball which either went at silent auction or sold at a souvenir stand.

Everyone wants Bautista’s autograph.

Especially fans down the right field line as Bautista headed for the clubhouse.

A couple of Jays fans told Bautista to tell plate ump Phil Cuzzi he needed eye glasses after ringing up Bautista on strike three in the sixth against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Right-hander Jaime Schultz, who was at double-A Montgomery last year, threw a pitch down in the zone to the two-time home run champ and Cuzzi pumped his right arm strike three. 

All of which brings to mind that old spring saying -- you hear so often it should be printed on the back of tickets -- Come See Kid Prospects as We Expand the Strike Zone of the Established Stars.

Just kidding.

Everyone wants Bautista’s autograph.

This week for the Jays Care Foundation Bautista was spotted signing bats, blue and white game-worn Jays jerseys, baseballs and pictures.

Yep, everyone wants Bautista’s autograph.

Except the Blue Jays.

The Jays have his picture plastered around the stadium and on the board that advertises “Next Game” yet they don’t have his signature on his contract for 2017.

Bautista, 35, earns $14 million US this year and is ranked 

_ Tied for 70th as the highest-paid player in the majors in 2016.

_ The 37th highest paid outfielder.  

_ And he is third on the MLB Network’s Top 10 Right Fielders Right Now poll entering the season behind Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins.

Bautista told reporters he had given Rogers Communications his number on a new deal and there would not be any negotiations. TSN, which does not hold broadcasting rights, reported Bautista asked for a five-year deal worth $150 million.

While Bautista was angry the numbers were public, other reports claim that the numbers were light. Why be upset it the numbers are off?

In fairness Bautista has not turned this into a daily “I-want-this, and I-want-it-now,” circus like George Bell, Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez contract talks. And he has not stayed put on the tarp left field as the P.A. announcer said “now batting ... No. 11 George Bell,” which promoted manager Jimy Williams to bounce out of the dugout and another announcement two seconds later “pinch hitting for Bell ... No. 26 Willie Upshaw,” back in 1988.

The right fielder would not comment on contract talks Saturday. 

Ditto for Sunday. 

The six-time all-star, two-time major-league home run champ and record vote getter for the 2011 all-star game did collect his first hit against the Rays Sunday.

And it was the same kind he had against Sam Dyson of the Texas Rangers in Game 5 putting the Jays into their first the American League Championship Series since 1993.

Bautista was batting in the third with the bases loaded against right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, who was also at Montgomery last year. Guerrieri threw a pitch to the back stop and the pitcher was late covering home as Andy Burns scored.

Then, Bautista hit a 1-2 pitch to deep left for a three-run homer.

(Look out in the school yard!)

He didn’t flip the bat as he did that emotion-filled afternoon Oct. 14. Rather he dropped it and sprinted around the bases.

Everyone wants Bautista’s autograph. 

Except for maybe Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who fired on Bautista when the Jays visited Tampa on Wednesday.

“Bautista is a disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool. Yoenis Cespedes, same thing.”

Gossage had 310 career saves many of the three-inning variety and he has knocked today’s closers who only get three outs for one save.

Richie Hebner played 18 years in the majors. He shares the same clubhouse as Bautista until he resumes hitting coach duties at triple-A Buffalo. Hebner is old school like Gossage.

“The game has changed,” Hebner said before the Jays beat Tampa Bay. “I didn’t play that way. Big Papi (David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox) will hit one and look at it for half an hour before he runs.”

Hebner sees this Jays lineup -- the same as a year ago when it scored 891 runs (minus Dioner Navarro, Cliff Pennington with a healthy Michael Saunders -- as having the ability to score as often.

“They lost the first two at home to Texas and came back and won the next three, that’s not easy,” said Hebner, who was with the 1984 Chicago Cubs.

“We won the first two at home, lost the next two and were up 3-0 heading into the sixth with Rick Sutcliffe on the mound,” Hebner said. “We all thought we were going to the World Series to play the Detroit Tigers.

“We lost the deciding game and flew back to Chicago. Two days later I was digging graves.”

Hebner said the flashiest player in his day was Tito Fuentes, the infielder with the San Francisco Giants and the Padres.

“He was always flipping the ball, doing something different,” Hebner said. “Hey the bat flip happened. It will happen again.”

Everyone wants Jose Bautista’s autograph.

The question is, besides the paying public, will the Jays get Bautista’s signature on a contract before other teams have an opportunity?