TORONTO - Blue Jays' star slugger Jose Bautista has posted the season's first bit of bulletin board material.
It's not a criticism of another team; he's not in a war of words with an opposing player. Bautista has taken aim at the umpires, most recently upset with Jeff Nelson's strike zone on opening night.
"Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else's mediocrity," Bautista told a group of reporters before the Blue Jays' 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Indians on Wednesday. "It's just the way that I am as a person. It's a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes."
Whether Bautista is right or wrong – in this writer's view he's correct – is irrelevant. Umpires read web and newspaper articles, they hear the chatter, they communicate with one another. It'll never be admitted publicly but Bautista's use of the word "mediocrity" will rankle.
Bautista's comments, too, will make some in the organization cringe. They were hoping a new season would foster a healthier relationship between the Blue Jays and the Men In Blue.
There was contention between the two sides in 2012, most notably last May 15 when, frustrated by a called third strike on a pitch well off the plate, Brett Lawrie spiked his helmet to the ground. The helmet bounced awkwardly, making contact with home plate umpire Bill Miller. Lawrie was ejected and subsequently suspended for four games.
One could argue Lawrie was wrung up because of his reaction to a strike call on the previous pitch, 3-1 count, when he began the charge toward first base thinking he'd been walked.
Bautista's displeasure with umpires through the years has been limited to words and body language although he's been demonstrative enough that a reputation has been made.
Whether that's affected the results of some of his at-bats Bautista isn't sure; but he has some questions of his own.
"Is that professional, just because one guy reacts more than the other that every time it's a close pitch, it's a strike? Or are you going to go by the parameters defined by major league baseball what's a strike or what's a ball?"
Those parameters seem simple. Pitch crosses any part of the plate above the knees and below the letters on the jersey, it's a strike. Otherwise, the pitch is a ball.
It's not that simple. Baseball's grey area is known as "the black," the edges on either side of home plate pitchers target. Each umpire has his own strike zone – some are larger than others. A pitcher's reputation is a factor. You'll recall Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine made careers living inches off the outside corner. Hitters stepped in to the batter's box knowing they'd have to expand their swing zones.
Manager John Gibbons addressed the matter with Bautista during spring training. Gibbons said his slugger was receptive to the conversation. He also acknowledged umpires don't like being shown up.
"What happens if it happens too often, I don't want to say they're out to get you but I mean it can cause some problems," said Gibbons. "It hasn't been an issue yet. But he's intense. He thrives off a lot of that stuff."
Bautista has a keen eye at the plate; his 125 home runs since 2010 are the most by any player, staggering considering he missed 70 games last season. He wants the respect star hitters typically get from umpires.
His comments don't help his cause.