Do you believe in miracles? Can you? This is the question for our blurry time. Do you believe that a man ravaged by cancer can return to win the Tour de France seven times? Can you? Do you believe that a 37-year-old man in the supposed twilight of a brilliant career can turn on fastballs and hit 73 home runs in a season? Do you believe that the best pitcher of our time, maybe the best pitcher of all time, can throw blazing fastballs and still be the best in the world at age 42?
Do you believe in miracles? Can you?
We live in a time of mirage, of Photoshop and special effects and undetectable designer drugs. We live in a time when truth and illusion tango unhappily, when reality television seems more unreal than cartoons, when identities are stolen and online personalities invented, when the President must show his birth certificate to an unbelieving portion of the nation, when baseball's record books have become choked by men who are admitted—or outed as—steroid users.
And so the questions grow cloudier and darker as time goes on. Do you believe in miracles? Can you? Take a hardworking and wiry 30-year-old man, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, so desperate for a major league contract as a teen that he sends out videotapes of himself to teams. He goes unsigned. "Could you imagine?" he asks, "all the scouts in the Dominican, and I'm sending out tapes of myself." He plays two seasons for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., grows two inches and puts on 30 pounds, and is taken in the 20th round of the amateur draft in 2000. He has now played for five major league teams in his relatively short career—six if you count the Mets, who traded him before he played a game. He has been left unprotected, released, purchased, benched, traded and traded again. When he turned 29, he was a journeyman, his value even as a utility player in dispute.
He is a year older now. And he is the best player in baseball.
Do you believe in Jose Bautista?
AMAZING TRUE SPORTS STORY: PITCHER DAZZY VANCE
Vance spent 10 years in the minors—half of those with a sore right elbow. He did not win his first major league game until he was 31 years old. The story goes that in 1920, when he was 29, he found himself in a particularly cranky poker game in New Orleans, and he banged his arm on a table in disgust. His sore arm raged with pain. He was taken to a doctor, and he begged for relief. Nobody knows exactly what the doctor did. But, then, the pain disappeared and Vance's pitches acquired a sudden fury. From 1922 through '28 he led the league in strikeouts in each season. He won an MVP award and probably would have won two or three Cy Young Awards, if those had existed then. Dazzy Vance was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.
A miracle can happen any day ... that is, if you believe in miracles. Take Sept. 10, 2009. Toronto and Minnesota were playing that afternoon in the Rogers Centre. If Jose Bautista woke up feeling as if this would be the day his lifelong dream came true, he does not remember that. The Blue Jays were out of contention. He wasn't hitting at all.