A Blue Jays Superstar Thrives on Bronx Cheers

A Blue Jays Superstar Thrives on Bronx Cheers

The next time the son of a road team’s superstar visits the Bronx, the Yankees would be wise to treat him nicely. Kids with long memories and extraordinary talent delight in revenge.

In the 1990s, it was Ken Griffey Jr. Now, it is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Just as Griffey tormented the Yankees repeatedly in his prime, Guerrero, 24, is doing the same in his. The latest punches came over the weekend in a series victory for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Guerrero, their slugging first baseman, blasted a two-run homer to start the scoring on Friday. On Sunday he did it again, pulling a blistering liner into the seats near the left field foul pole with two outs in the sixth inning. The Blue Jays went on to win, 5-1, and the Yankees lost a series for the first time this season.

As he rounded first base, Guerrero pointed skyward. He stutter-stepped on his way around third. He kissed his wrists as he pranced home. The crowd booed, and Guerrero reveled in it.

“Of course, you listen to it,” Guerrero, who is hitting .341, said in Spanish through an interpreter. “But they’re not going to take that home run away from me. I’m just going to continue to run the bases and enjoy it.”

Though Guerrero cannot be a free agent until after the 2025 Major League Baseball season, he vowed publicly last off-season to never play for the Yankees. The declaration echoed one by Griffey, then with the Seattle Mariners, who was filmed signing autographs at old Yankee Stadium and vowed: “If they were the only team that gave me a contract, I’d retire.”

Griffey’s stance came from a sobering incident as a teenager, when he was sitting with his father, Ken Sr., on the Yankees’ bench before a game. A security guard told the Griffeys that the Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, had issued an edict to clear the dugout. They did, but not before Ken Sr. pointed out that the son of a teammate, Graig Nettles, was taking grounders at third base at that very moment.

The takeaway — that a white player was given privileges not afforded a Black player — emboldened the younger Griffey, who hit 41 homers against the Yankees in his career, including five in a five-game playoff series victory in 1995. (Only one team, the Minnesota Twins, allowed more homers to Griffey.)

Guerrero’s father, Vladimir Sr., never played for a New York team in his Hall of Fame career, although his career average against the Yankees (.319, including the postseason) is a bit better than his .316 career mark across the regular season and playoffs. Whatever the origin of Guerrero’s issue with the Yankees, it seems to cut just as deeply.

“It’s a personal thing,” he said Sunday. “It goes back with my family, and I’m not going to talk about more than that. Things happened in the past and I’m just going to leave it like that.”

Like Griffey Jr., Guerrero Jr. has thrived against the Yankees. His slugging percentage at Yankee Stadium is .614, the best of any player in the ballpark’s 15-year history (minimum 100 at-bats). His 12 homers in the Bronx are the most he has hit in any road stadium.

“You get here and you get booed, and you can kind of do one of two things,” Blue Jays Manager John Schneider said. “Reggie Jackson said, ‘They don’t boo nobodies,’ so I think Vladdy kind of worked off of that a little bit. We all know the kind of hitter that he is.”

Toronto starter Kevin Gausman, who blanked the Yankees for seven innings on Sunday, said Guerrero basks in the heel’s role.

“It seems like he loves playing here,” Gausman said. “He says he doesn’t like coming here, but he plays pretty well here. Anytime he comes up to bat, we’re all paying attention because he just hits the ball so hard. He’s a guy that kind of likes being the villain when we come here.”

The Blue Jays’ George Springer has experience with heckling; he played for the champion Houston Astros in 2017, the year of their sign-stealing scandal, and was among the players booed by opposing fans once the scheme was revealed. Springer said Guerrero is calm by nature, trusting in his talent and his process. But it is a subtlety that impresses Springer most.

“How he processes information is next-level,” Springer said. “He’s a student of the game in his own way. The way he goes about things, I mean, he remembers everything.”

Including, quite obviously, something from the past that drives Guerrero to vanquish the Yankees every chance he gets.

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