Why the Blue Jays brought back the home run jacket

TORONTO – The newest version of the Toronto Blue Jays’ home-run jacket has been hanging in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s locker stall since opening day, but it wasn’t until this week that the club’s hitters felt the time had come to break it out.

Earlier this month, they decided to roll out a red carpet for batters to walk upon their return to the dugout following a home run, yet the all-star first baseman said it felt like, “Oh, we’re missing something, we need the jacket.” So Tuesday, the celebratory strut trademarked by the offensive juggernauts of the 2021 and ’22 seasons and shelved last year was reinstated, with Bo Bichette taking the first turn after his homer in Wednesday’s 9-3 pounding of the Chicago White Sox.

“It made me feel happy, we waited for that for a long time,” Guerrero said in an interview. “We all pulled together and we said, let’s bring the jacket back. Everybody is on board with that.”

There was a symbolism to the moment that runs deeper than the simple act of collectively expressing joy over a home run.

In the wake of the Game 2 collapse to the Seattle Mariners in the 2022 wild-card series, cracks in the Blue Jays’ defence and attention to detail all around the field were rightly identified as flaws in need of fixing. Along the way, the home-run jacket became something of a flashpoint, nothing more than good fun to some, a needless sideshow to others, reflecting the hidebound sport’s wider debate about personal expression on the field.

Fairly or not the jacket disappeared in 2023, as did two hitters key to the Blue Jays’ successes the two years previous – Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The team dropped from second in the American League in runs to eighth. An endless stream of tight, high-leverage games made the season a constant grind. Though a new celebration emerged, players huddling together and raising a fist in the air, it didn’t capture the imagination in quite the same way.

This year, with runs even harder to come by for the Blue Jays during a 22-26 start, small moments of joy have been even more fleeting. The jacket isn’t the root cause of any of that, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with a harmless outlet for a group of players working relentlessly to perform at their best.

“I don’t know about last year if we missed it or not,” said Guerrero. “But I think something like that can make you pull all together and have more fun.”

To that end, Bichette wore a big grin as he returned to the dugout and found Jose Berrios waiting to put the jacket on him Wednesday night. The shortstop then walked the red carpet between two lines of high-fiving teammates, smiles all around.

Good times amid a trying period in a game of failure.

“It just felt like something we should do and we did it,” Bichette told reporters after the game. “I don’t think it has anything to do with if we play good or not, but that’s why we brought it back, because I think it could help in a way.”

Berrios, who’s grown into a larger leadership role since another Game 2 wild-card debacle, this one his pre-determined removal last year in Minnesota, said the hitters asked him Tuesday to put the jacket on the next batter to go deep.

“They wanted to change the atmosphere,” Berrios said, and he was totally on board. “Hey, we have to find a way. We still have a lot of games to go. We have to figure out a way to still have fun, but also play better. So, I think that’s a good move to do it, bring the blue jacket back, still have fun and still do your thing.”

That was Guerrero’s mindset, too.

“I think that can help a lot,” he said. “I see the jacket like, OK, you do something good, you put the jacket on. Sometimes when you see a lot of guys grab the jacket, you say, I want to do something good too so I can put on the jacket, too. But it’s more like having fun. We have to have fun right now. We’re up and down and to me the jacket brings the fun.”

Something the Blue Jays can use a lot more of.

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