Jose Bautista earned a record 7.4 million votes for the All-Star Game, breaking a mark that had stood for 17 years -- and breaking it by a lot. Ken Griffey Jr. set the record in 1994 at 6.1 million votes. Bautista, as he tends to do, crushed it.
And I love what this says about you. About us, since I went online and gave Bautista one of those 7.4 million votes myself.
It says Barry Bonds didn't win. Mark McGwire didn't win. Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro? They didn't win. And because they didn't win, it means we didn't lose -- didn't lose our ability to believe in someone as bafflingly special as Jose Bautista.
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If we're naive, so be it. If we're stupid, hey, that's OK. Sometimes it's healthier to be stupid and naïve than to be cynical and smart. Cynical and smart people, their hearts corroded by all that negativity, tend to die early. Stupid and naive folks? Assuming they stay out of traffic, they do OK.
That's us on the Jose Bautista story. We're stupid, and we're naive. But we might also be right to believe in this guy. He's the same size now that he was from 2006-08, when he was averaging 15 home runs a year. He has passed more than a dozen steroid tests.
Still, there's no way of knowing for sure. Given that -- given that only Bautista knows how he became the most feared slugger since (gulp) Barry Bonds -- it probably is stupid to believe in Bautista. The percentages are against us, though I don't mean this story to be a dissertation on whether or not Jose Bautista is clean.
Suffice it to say, and then I'll move on, that in the 15 years since steroids (and HGH) hit epidemic levels in baseball, eight other men have done as Bautista did in 2010 and hit at least 54 home runs in a season: Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Griffey, Ryan Howard, Luis Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. Five of those eight -- all but Griffey, Howard and Gonzalez -- have been linked strongly to steroids.
So the odds are not in our favor if we believe in Jose Bautista. Yet record numbers of you did. So did I. We voted because we believe in him, or at least because we want to believe. Because that's where we are in the healing process.
We've healed, or something awfully close, after the devastating steroid era. Not to be all maudlin about it, but baseball matters to people in this country in a way other sports don't. It's not an excuse to drink or gamble or tailgate. It's not a chance to sit in the same air-conditioned arena with A-list stars and pretend, for one night, that we're part of their group. It's not the NFL or the NBA, is my point. Baseball is something we watch because we love it. It's steamy in the summer, but we insist on open-air stadiums. It's three or four hours of slow-moving action, and it happens 81 times a year, yet still we fill individual stadiums with 2 million, 3 million, sometimes 4 million people a year. Because this sport means something.
The steroid scandal was a betrayal, and I don't mean this to be a dissertation on that, either, but suffice it to say that Bonds and McGwire ruined the home run for lots of us. It shed a whole new light on a crazy season like Brady Anderson's in 1996, when the Orioles' leadoff hitter more than doubled his No. 2 season with 50 home runs. Years later, after learning the lessons taught by McGwire and Bonds, I wrote a veiled comment about Brady Anderson -- and Brady Anderson himself wrote me a long, pleading email assuring me he had hit those 50 home runs cleanly. He told me he was angry that his achievement, and his work ethic, was being called into question.
Fair enough. But then last year when Jose Bautista -- previous career-high: 16 home runs -- hit No. 40 on his 438th at-bat on Aug. 23, I cracked a combination Jose Bautista-Brady Anderson joke on twitter.
Slow learner, me? Maybe. Or maybe that was another step in the healing process. After the denial and shock and disgust came resignation, then humor. That was me. It was probably lots of you, too.
Only now, there is belief. And there's belief in Jose Bautista, of all people. Jose Bautista, who in 2004 was hitting so poorly that one of his coaches at Kansas City told CBSSports.com's Scott Miller that there was talk of moving him to catcher, just to get something out of him. Jose Bautista, who was traded from Pittsburgh to Toronto in August 2008 for Robinzon Diaz (career home runs: one). To that point, according to the stat-centric website baseball-reference.com, Bautista was on the same career path as Tuffy Rhodes, Carl Everett, Jim Hickman and Mack Jones. Ten bucks if you've heard of all four.
Two years later Bautista is putting up Hall of Fame numbers, yet people are lining up to believe in him. Matt Snyder here at CBSSports.com supported Bautista on June 10. Four days later baseball writer Jeff Passan of Yahoo! explained the physics behind Bautista's revamped swing -- complete with a leg kick straight out of beer-league softball -- in a way that blew my mind, winning me over to the Bautista-just-might-be-clean side.
A month later, Bautista finished the All-Star voting with 7,454,753 votes -- 1.5 million more than National League leader Ryan Braun.
That's not just an endorsement. That's a love letter, from you to Jose Bautista. You believe in him. You really do.
Gullible? Maybe you are. But let me tell you something: Gullibility never looked so good.