Bichette's quiet leadership key to silencing doubters

February 21st, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- is the voice of the Blue Jays. He has to be.

That voice may not be the loudest, but that’s not Bichette’s style. It doesn’t fill the clubhouse, where teammates bellow over music, the buzz of bodies and the constant ratta-tat-tat of ping pong games, but when Bichette speaks, those other sounds stop. Each word, each letter, each pause for thought means something.

The Blue Jays’ star shortstop understands as well as anyone what this team needs to do better, which starts with understanding where this team has been.

“This is the first time we’ve been doubted,” Bichette said Wednesday in Dunedin. “We’ve always had high expectations and it’s definitely a different mindset trying to prove people right instead of trying to prove people wrong. I think we’ll see what we’re capable of this year.”

This isn’t the empty claim of fabricated doubters you hear to the point of exhaustion every year in every sport. Bichette is right. The Blue Jays have been a preseason darling these past few years, always a trendy pick to come out of the American League and make a run at the World Series. That’s what happens when your star-stacked roster looks so good on paper.

That has changed. There are doubts now, most of them warranted after Toronto stumbled in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, all three ending in a quick Wild Card sweep. This narrative is starting to grow roots and settle in, which the Blue Jays can’t allow to happen.

“You should be trying to prove yourself right,” Bichette said. “You should be trying to become the best player you can be. The outside shouldn’t matter, but it does. I think we’d all be lying if we said we don’t see any of it or that it doesn’t motivate us in any sort of way. There are guys who have pride in there and want to show people what we can do.”

Leadership comes naturally to Bichette. That’s the nature of being the best player on your team when you’re 10, 12 or 16 years old. It’s the nature of being one of the top prospects in baseball, then turning all of that hype into reality as one of the faces of a franchise. So much of this has been thrust upon Bichette, but he’s carried the weight admirably.

The Bichette you see now is someone who is certain of himself and his convictions. The growth of his leadership hasn’t been glaring and obvious, because Bichette cannot be measured in decibels, but those who have been around him for most of his professional career see it.

“He’s always been quiet,” said manager John Schneider, who managed a 20-year-old Bichette in Double-A in 2018. “Leadership comes in so many shapes and sizes. I think he’s always fallen back on leading by example with what he does on the field. As you get older and more comfortable with your teammates, I think you see him a little more vocal. He does it quietly, still, but what we’re seeing now is him not being afraid to speak up in front of the group. His voice definitely holds weight.”

One of the challenges of leadership is playing the right notes at the right time. It requires optimism for tomorrow while still acknowledging what went wrong yesterday.

Bichette doesn’t shy away from this. He’s worked all offseason to put his body in a better position after missing time with a knee injury in 2023, adding pilates, swimming and muay thai to his program. When he returned from that injury for the postseason push, Bichette spoke about the need for “urgency” from his team, which captured the moment so well.

The Blue Jays can’t dwell on 2023 any more, but they can’t tuck it away in the back of the closet and pretend it never happened.

“I don’t think a lot of things went right,” Bichette said. “The pitching, obviously, was amazing. That really kept us in it the whole season, the defense as well. From an offensive standpoint, we didn’t bring consistency. We just have to be better in our competitiveness, our preparation, our day-to-day focus. All of that. We have to be better.”

If there’s a way out of this, and a way to silence the doubters who have grown louder through the frustrating years, it’s by following Bichette’s lead. His voice won’t be the loudest, but he’s walking in the right direction.