It’s awfully hard to be a mythical figure these days.
With a larger percentage of life being captured on video and shared than ever, it’s difficult to ascend beyond the constraints of one’s reality in the eyes of the world. Cultivating an air of mystery doesn’t work as well when you’ve got a Wikipedia page.
And yet, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had some of that going when he arrived on the major-league stage. He came with a backstory, a look, an aura and a resume of accomplishing absurd baseball feats in the minor leagues.
Vladdy popped up in the consciousness of most Blue Jays fans from time to time when he’d hit another gargantuan home run or they took the time to check his Baseball-Reference page. There was also a steady drumbeat of “When’s Vladdy coming?” At the end of the day though, he was someone people heard about, not someone they knew.
For his first 13 games as a Blue Jay that continued to be the case. He had his moments, but more often that not he was unspectacular. He looked mortal after being described for so long as something more.
Logically speaking, there was never reason for alarm. The 20-year-old was always going to have some ups and downs, and having more ups than downs out of the gate was slightly surprising, but not truly concerning.
But seeing is believing, and having Vladdy fail to show himself as the force he was always said to be invited doubt, however irrational. The stories of the young slugger were always full of hyperbole. Was it possible the hype was too much? What if Guerrero Jr. was just a guy, not the patron saint of ball annihilation?
Those questions may still be asked someday, but on Tuesday night Vladdy demonstrated what he could be by putting on an exhibition of pure striking most of the best baseball players in the world could only dream of.
In the first inning Vladdy clobbered a homer with astounding ease as the harmony between his electric bat speed and titanic strength came together for the first time at the highest level.
A sizzling single, and a seven-pitch walk later, he did it again. This time he ambushed the first pitch he saw with two men on and effectively put the game out of reach.
When his first four plate appearances were said and done, he’d hit three rockets to go along with his walk.
The list of players liable to hit three balls 110 mph and draw a walk in the same game is awfully short. Aaron Judge, and Joey Gallo come to mind. Maybe Gary Sanchez. That might be it.
In those four turns at the dish, Guerrero Jr. did quite literally everything you could hope to see a hitter do. He showed he wasn’t afraid to attack with one of his home runs and his single coming on first-pitch swings. He showed he could work a count on both his walk and first home run. He put an epic hurting on the baseball.
If you were a scout and this was the first time you’d seen Vladdy, it would be impossible not to label him a future star. If this was the first baseball game you’d ever seen, he was identifiable as the best player on the field.
He made it clear why he has unanimously been deemed a special talent by anyone with the most passing familiarity with him. In one performance he made whoever began to doubt the mythology surrounding him reverse course.
Then, in his final at-bat, he chopped a hanging curveball from a Rule 5 pick into the ground for quite literally the worst-hit ball of the day — a handy reminder that he’s just a man.
In the years to come, there will be plenty of nights like Tuesday where it’s easy to forget.