Last night, Jose Bautista became the first player in the Majors to hit 50 home runs this season, and, with only a week remaining in the regular season, he may be the last as well.

Wait…what? Who? Huh?

That would be the standard reaction from most baseball fans, spanning from the casual observer to the most diligent follower.

The first question to consider, of course, is, who in the world is Jose Bautista?

Before his breakout performance this season, Bautista was most notable for being the first and only player to be on five different Major League rosters in a single season–the Orioles, the Devil Rays, the Royals, the Pirates, and the Mets.

To be fair, he only ever played for four of those teams that year, as he was traded to Pittsburgh by New York before he ever set foot in Shea Stadium after being acquired by way of Kansas City.

Complicated, perplexing, but impressive nonetheless.

Such goes for his play in 2010 as well.

After hitting only 59 homers in six previous seasons, Bautista is now far and away the Major League leader in round-trippers this season.

Some would say they could see it coming, if not to this extent.


Bautista had long been a highly-regarded prospect among professional baseball scouts, many of whom predicted he could be something of a power hitter if he ever learned to make contact more consistently.

The 29-year-old from the Dominican Republic showed glimpses of his true potential toward the end of last season, when he was given a spot in the starting line-up following the departures of Scott Rolen to Cincinnati and Alex Rios to Chicago. Bautista finished the season with a modest 13 home runs, but 10 of those came in September, while he was playing every day.

Carry that performance over to this season, and perhaps Bautista‘s breakout shouldn’t be quite the surprise it has turned out to be.

Such a surprise, in fact, that it’s difficult for anyone who has followed baseball in the so-called “Steroid Era” not to wonder whether Bautista‘s spike in performance can or should be attributed to performance-enhancing drugs.

His statistically meteoric rise resembles that seen in the career of Luis Gonzalez.

Before joining the Arizona Diamondbacks and becoming one of the most popular players in the short history of the club, Gonzo spent eight years with three different teams, establishing himself as a solid hitter (a batting average of .300) who lacked the power needed to man a corner outfield spot (15 home runs in those eight seasons).


Like Bautista, Gonzalez started to show glimpses of power in the years leading up to his breakout season, smacking 31 homers while hitting .336 in 1999, a performance which he closely replicated in 2000.

Gonzo had his big year in 2001, when he hit 57 dingers, which fell far short of Barry Bonds’ 73 that year but still ranks as the ninth most ever by a National League player.

Though Gonzalez has never been directly accused of or admitted to steroid use, he’s still been linked to the cause, thanks to the inclusion of former teammate Jason Grimsley in the Mitchell Report and his alleged inclusion on the infamous “secret list” of positive tests from 2003.

Even without any actual evidence of PED use by Gonzo, it’s difficult to ignore the uptick in his performance, especially in an era of baseball tarnished by rampant steroid use and abuse.

Which brings Jose Bautista back into the discussion. He, like Gonzo, is a journeyman ballplayer who showed glimpses of potential for years before busting out with a 50-homer season that far outpaces any of his previous performances.

Of course, Gonzo had been a line-up regular before his 2001 anomaly while Bautista had never starting consistently over an entire season until this year.

Add to that the fact that Bautista is just now in the prime of his athletic life and that he’s not the only Blue Jay who’s mashing this season (Vernon Wells, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind) and perhaps the potential for tarnish begins to wear off.

But even so, in this day and age of seeming calm following the storm that sprung from MLB‘s Steroid Era, it’s difficult, perhaps even irresponsible, to ignore the possibility that Jose Bautista‘s landmark 2010 season just another one among a mountain of potentially fraudulent performances.

For the sake of Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the entire sport of baseball, one can only hope that’s not the case.

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