MLB, Jose Bautista and Questions

As a media member, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about questions. I think about good questions, bad questions, appropriate (and inappropriate) questions, the structure of questions, the timing of questions, the specific purpose behind questions. After all, questions are what we do for work. We ask, explore, and then report. We focus our attention on the questionee.

Which seems funny to me because, at least half of the time, I catch myself thinking about the questioner instead. In my mind, asking a question is like voluntarily holding a mirror in front of my face and inviting the world to critique the reflection. What do I see? What do others see? Is that what I WANT them to see?

Fortunately, I enjoy this tortuous routine of introspection. But for some, it’s like putting their esophagus in a vice and clamping down. They choke at the idea of opening themselves up for criticism. The aroma of vulnerability nauseates them. But the truth of the matter never fades — our questions say something about us. They say something about how we treat people. They say something about our lives, the good and the bad. It’s like an ironic little trick. We think a question places the spotlight on our subject without recognizing that each inquiry unveils another cavity of our soul.

I thought about all of these things this week when I read Joe Posnanski’s brilliant profile of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista in Sports Illustrated. I picked up the newest edition in my living room, handling it with care as the spine had been battered from the gauntlet of mail delivery. I took a few seconds to examine the cover, the photo of Rory McIlroy hitting his tee shot on the par-3 10th hole at Congressional on Sunday at the U.S. Open as seemingly all patrons on the course that day huddled around these 200-plus yards of pure majesty. What a thing of beauty (McIlroy’s tee shot and the magazine cover). Then I saw Posnanski’s name in the top-right corner, knew he had been working on a Bautista story, and turned immediately to page 38.

I’m not going to recap the story. You need to take 15 minutes and read it. (Like now. Trust me.) The part of the story that made me think about questions was, well, a question. But more so, it was the grace, the humility, the understanding with which Jose Bautista continually answers THE question. You know which one, because you know part of his story, and you know the levels of cynicism that infiltrate our society.

Bautista is a man from the Dominican Republic, a ballplayer who spent six years bouncing around different teams, failing to find an opportunity that would allow him to develop. He had four consecutive seasons of double-digit homeruns (06-09), but he never hit more than 16. And then in 2010 with the Blue Jays, Bautista hits 54 homers with an OPS of .995. Because the past decade of baseball has been one infamously known for the lies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, et al, more than anything that happened on the field, some people immediately concluded Jose Bautista must be taking steroids. For those who didn’t want to recklessly convict a player of juicing without evidence, they took a more logical approach and concluded that Bautista’s 2010 season was an outlier. He won’t do that again. The Blue Jays gave Bautista a five-year, $65 million deal before the 2011 season, and people laughed. What fools, those Blue Jays.

Except through 67 games this season, Jose Bautista is hitting .325 with a .470 OBP, a 1.124 OPS, 22 homers, and more walks than strikeouts. Those people who claimed Bautista was juicing last year are now wondering how the man has tricked baseball’s drug testing system, and the people who thought last season was simply an outlier are now forced to examine this thing a little more closely. What’s REALLY happening here? Of course, the story isn’t that simple. Of course, there is more to it.

This isn’t fair to Jose Bautista. It can’t be, right? There are no signs that he has succeeded on anything other than buckets of sweat and barrels of belief. There was no physical metamorphosis that would raise suspicion. A guy has one historic season, is working on his second, and suddenly his integrity and character are assaulted like minced meat? No, that’s not right. It’s not fair. Yet, you can at least SEE where the doubts come from. This past generation of baseball has been so sullied that criticism and questions are simply byproducts of the era. You can at least understand why some would choose the cynical, I-believe-nobody path. It’s their choice.

On an individual basis, it’s terrible. Jose Bautista doesn’t deserve to be the collateral in the “Steroid Era’s” game of moral bankruptcy. But it is what it is. They say life’s not fair. When my cousins and I were young, my aunt would choose a different answer. When we would say something isn’t fair, she would respond, “Fair comes around once a year.” I think of that now because, no, fair never comes around for Jose Bautista. And somehow, amazingly, he understands this.

“I know why people ask,” Bautista says in the SI piece, “and I will answer the question as many times as people ask it. What I’ve done is a product of dedication, being given a chance to succeed and the change to my approach. I have never taken steroids or anything like that. I know what kind of person I am.”

I read that and I wonder, what more can Jose Bautista say? What more do you want the man to do? Stop hitting home runs? Would that make you feel better? Posnanski has a good line in the piece where he writes, “Turn 25 of last year’s home runs into doubles and Bautista’s rise might be universally admired.” Funny thing, is that it’s true. The home runs scare people. They bring out the doubters. And Bautista answers all of the doubts with aplomb and humility. By all accounts, he’s a good person. By all accounts, he’s respectful and accommodating to the media. By all accounts, he’s a superior teammate. By all accounts, he continues to calmly answer the steroid questions without snapping. What more do you want the man to do?

And that’s the part of this story that brings me back to the questioner. The purpose of the question… what is it? Bautista has openly denied ever taking steroids, so what are we hoping to pry out of him by continuing to hammer at a nail that may just not be there? At some point, it becomes a dishonest question. It becomes empty, and slightly offensive, words from a mouth whose mind has already been made up.

“I know why people ask the questions, but I wonder when they are going to stop asking,” Bautista says in SI. That’s the big question now, and it is not about Jose Bautista. It’s about us.

There’s this leap of faith we must take as sports fans. Is it POSSIBLE Jose Bautista took, or is taking, some sort of steroid? Sure. We can say that for ANYONE. Anything is possible in life in a vacuum. My best guess is that hurdle is a little too big for some people to get over. They don’t want to believe in a player who turns out to be a fraud again. They don’t want to believe in magic only to find out it was manufactured and not entirely organic. They don’t want to spend their free time dealing with the dishonesty that encompasses much of the real world. They don’t want to feel like their own eyes are deceiving them. They don’t want to feel like they are being lied to. They don’t want to play the fool.

But it’s part of the game. At what point do we accept that sports is representative of life, a place where there will always be honest people and dishonest people? At what point do we stop acting surprised and come to understand that temptations and egos don’t halt at the clubhouse door? At what point do we allow ourselves to enjoy something spectacular without having to know what it all means? At what point do we allow good people to rise out of the murkiness of our own skepticism and insecurities? At what point do we decide we won’t miss out on true magic because of our own agendas? At what point do we see that our doubts might say more about us than Jose Bautista?

These are just questions.

Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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