Jose Bautista did what he does best: he came out swinging against the sentiment that the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse had too much of a country club atmosphere as the team struggled to perform on the field.
And while the injured slugger said he could in no way condone the homophobic slur that landed teammate Yunel Escobar in trouble a couple of weeks ago, he believes the matter was “blown way out of proportion.”
Bautista was on hand Wednesday for the curtain call of a disappointing 2012 season for the Blue Jays, who played their final game of the year against the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre.
Apart from 45-year-old future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel starting at shortstop for Toronto in the final game of a brilliant 24-year career, the contest between non-playoff teams was of little consequence.
Most of the intrigue took place off the field as Blue Jays players and coaches tried to dissect a season that went horribly wrong. While a rash of injuries played a major role, more players have been coming forward and suggesting there might be more to the story.
Last week, it was Vizquel saying there was a lack of accountability in the clubhouse, where the continued mistakes of players would go overlooked by the coaching staff – a charge vehemently denied by manager John Farrell.
This week, players such as reliever Jason Frasor and closer Casey Janssen suggested the team was hurt by a lack of veteran leadership.
Bautista, who missed the last 2 1/2 months of the season after injuring his left wrist, did not agree. The power-hitting right fielder and undisputed team leader said he has the utmost respect for Vizquel.
“That being said, I can’t say that I agree with what he said,” Bautista said. “When it came to addressing mistakes and stuff like that, I’d see it every day. And I saw it everyday when I was playing and I see it on TV when I’m watching games. So maybe he didn’t use the correct words.”
As far as a lack of veteran leadership, Bautista waved that off.
“I really don’t understand why everybody’s making again, in my eyes, a big deal out of that subject,” he said. “It’s not something that I feel needs to be addressed in our clubhouse.
“I think we have plenty of leadership on the players’ side, on the management side, on the ownership side and with the manager. We don’t need anything extra.”
Not all his teammates agree.
“I don’t want to say ‘lacking,’” Janssen said of the leadership question. “I’d say there could be more. There could be better policing throughout the team as a unit.
“I don’t want to get into specifics as far which person should or shouldn’t. But with certain mistakes, there either needs to be a learning curve and then some improvement – or there’s got to be a way for people to stop making mistakes.”
Bautista also weighed in on the Escobar debacle, for which the Cuban-born shortstop was suspended three games, and was the object of widespread ridicule, after he played a game with a slur printed in Spanish on his eye-black.
His teammate obviously made a big mistake, “but, at the same time, I feel like I have to defend him,” Bautista said.
“I know Yunel personally. I’ve been to his house in Miami, I’ve seen his friends. It doesn’t correspond writing something that people thought was derogatory with his lifestyle and people that he knows.”
Bautista blamed it on “mistranslation” and “cultural differences,” which led to it being “blown out of proportion.”
All of this has made for some uncomfortable moments of late for Farrell, the second-year manager who has had to spend time not only trying to put a positive spin on the team’s shoddy record but also what has goes on in his clubhouse.
Farrell enters the final year of his contract in 2013, and so far, the Blue Jays have remained silent on any thoughts of extending it.
“I’ve never been a [lame] duck” Farrell retorted, when the subject was brought up. “My contract doesn’t change the way I do my job. That’s as short and sweet as I can say it.”