Jays' slugger Jose Bautista posed nude for ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue.The Toronto Blue Jays are the lone Canadian team in Major League Baseball since the relocation of the Montreal Expos, and some see that as a reason why they don't receive a lot of high-profile coverage from national American sports media outlets. If Jays' fans are complaining about a lack of coverage this week, though, they're not talking about media attention. The franchise is getting plenty of that thanks to ESPN The Magazine featuring Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista as one of the athletes posing nude in its annual Body Issue. That's pretty impressive, as while 27 athletes were chosen, including NHL player Brad Richards and plenty of Olympians, Bautista was the only MLB player selected. It's well-deserved, though, as Bautista has become a dominant player during his Jays' tenure. There's no dispute that his success is leading to more attention for both him and the Jays; the only question is if posing nude for ESPN's the right kind of attention. You can see a behind-the-scenes video of Bautista's photoshoot here:
It's been a meteoric rise for Bautista, who the Jays acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 2008 trade for a player to be named later (which turned out to be the forgettable Robinzon Diaz). Bautista started as a substitute, but picked up more playing time in late 2009 following the departures of Scott Rolen and Alex Rios, and he went on a home-run-hitting tear in September. That was just a sign of the greatness to come, as Bautista led the majors with 54 homers in 2010,won back-to-back Hank Aaron Awards and Silver Slugger Awards in 2010 and 2011 and finished eighth and third in league-wide wins above replacement (as calculated by FanGraphs) in those seasons. 2012 has been up-and-down for Bautista, particularly thanks to his abysmal luck on batted balls in play, but he's been hot lately and has solid stats for the year overall. He's getting noticed, too, earning an All-Star nod, making a run to the final of this year's Home Run Derby and quoting Ricky Bobby after his loss to Prince Fielder. The Body Issue appearance is just the latest star turn for Bautista, who has proven that playing north of the border doesn't have to make you obscure and has elevated the profile of the Jays in the process.
Is posing nude really the best way to get attention, though? Well, it certainly shows courage on Bautista's part, and his comments about the work he has to do to maintain his body are interesting (and could prove inspiring to some). He also managed to come away with a respectable-looking pose, unlike, say, New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski. In some ways, the Body Issue's problematic, as it contributes to the often-overwrought focus on appearance in sports, but that's less of an issue with Bautista than it is with some of the female athletes featured; there are plenty of places to find serious coverage of what Bautista's able to do on the diamond, so it's not like his appearance is dominating the conversation. While ESPN encouraging athletes to pose nude isn't necessarily completely positive, Bautista's selection for this is further proof that he's a legitimate star in the U.S. despite playing in Canada, and it shows the Jays can get American coverage when they have stars who are doing well. There's still a ways to go for this team to be a real playoff threat, as they're currently in the basement of the AL East, but they're at least being talked about. That's a start.