There’s this kid in Texas who’s pretty good at hitting baseballs. He does things like this …
… and this …
We already know Arrieta’s thoughts on the topic. Young players who flip their bats, he said, “might wear the next one in the ribs.”
While it’s unlikely that Arrieta was referencing amateur teenagers, DJ might want to keep his head on a swivel while walking to the team bus. Wrigley Field is only 1,100 miles away.
That’s Jake Arrieta Tuesday, on Chicago’s ESPN 1000.
We’ve heard so much recently about bat flipping and showboating and personal expression—just two days ago Yasiel Puig modeled his latest flip for a spring training crowd …
… that it’s nice to hear something from the other side.
Forget for a moment that intentionally planting a fastball into a young player’s ribs is no longer a viable means of response, or that Arrieta himself has bristled at such treatment. The pitcher’s point is as much about veteran status as anything.
Which is valid. For as long as baseball’s had unwritten rules, one of them has been You earn what you get. Players who have walked the walk get more leeway than fresh-faced rookies, and justifiably so. Back in 1972, Mudcat Grant summed up the sport’s salary structure by saying, “Baseball underpays you when you’re young, and overpays you when you’re old.” The same holds true for respect. In the eyes of many veterans, those who haven’t earned their big league stripes have no business acting as if they run the place.
For a guy like Arrieta, this includes showboating at the plate.
While I disagree with the sentiment of visiting physical peril on the opposition, I love that somebody is willing to recognize a merit-based hierarchy within the sport’s structure. No participation trophies here. You earn what you get.
If Arrieta and like-minded pitchers come off as stodgy in the process of voicing their opinions, so be it. All players shouldn’t be treated the same, just as people in any workplace environment in any industry shouldn’t be treated the same. In an ideal world, those who deserve promotion get promoted. And those who make too much noise with insufficient accomplishments to their name merit their own response.
What that response looks like is up for interpretation, but in this instance I’m kind of wild about that aspect of baseball’s old guard.
[H/T Big League Stew]
It was bound to come to this. Now that bat flips have become more or less acceptable, somebody had to come along to push the envelope regarding how much will be tolerated. Meet Edgar Michelangeli, newly minted power hitter from the University of Miami, whose ongoing displays of flippitude are leaving all other flippers behind.
In Sunday’s Super Regional against Boston College, Michelangeli hit a grand slam to give Miami a 9-3 lead, then pulled off what has for him become standard schtick—he strolled down the line holding his bat at arm’s length, then tossed it high once he was most of the way to first base.
There are arguments to be made for the spiritual power of a good bat flip—how it captures the spark of success, encapsulates a conquering moment for a home run hitter. Michelangeli’s flip had none of that. It was pure contrivance, an awkward display of self-aggrandizement intended strictly to draw attention to his own prowess as a master preener.
As Michelangeli approached the plate, BC catcher Nick Sciortino had some angry words for him, and benches quickly emptied. (Yes, Michelangeli has done this kind of thing before.) No punches were thrown, but the anger was sufficient for both coaches and the umpiring crew to opt against holding the traditional post-game handshake line.
Yesterday’s confrontation shouldn’t be on Boston College, though. My question concerns what Miami coach Jim Morris is saying about all of this. The guy is in his 23rd year on the job and has national Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, so it’s not like he lacks any sort of institutional authority. Allowing this sort of nonsense to go unchecked is to pass up a teachable moment about comportment, and the points at which glory-seeking become disrespectful to one’s opponent.
At least BC coach Mike Gambino was on point. “What we talk about in our program is character, toughness and class …” he said in an AP report. “I think our boys play hard. I think they play the game the right way. I think they respect the game and their opponents.”
Maybe it’s different in the big leagues, but this is college—a place where kids go to, you know, learn things. Gambino seems to get it. Michelaneli clearly does not.
Now that flipping a bat is no longer noteworthy, we might see new directions in personal expression being forced to the fore. And if ever there was a player to take self-salutation on a baseball diamond to unexplored levels, it’s Carlos Gomez. The guy was born for this stuff.
First, though, the bat flip. Those who do it, like Gomez, claim it’s within their celebratory rights as ballplayer, a virtual extension of their swing. There’s something to this. It’s what made Jose Bautista’s flip during last season’s playoffs so damn memorable.
There are limits, however, on what can reasonably be claimed as an extension of one’s swing. By the time a batter leaves the box, and certainly by the time he rounds first base, in-the-moment exuberance should be in the rear-view. Anything he does after that point can be viewed as a calculated act, and justifiably seen by the other team as beneath their dignity as opponents.
So what to make of the fact that Carlos Gomez dabbed as he crossed the plate following a spring training home run yesterday?
At this point, who knows?
Sure, Gomez flipped his bat, though not in particularly grand fashion by modern standards. To his credit, he hustled his way around the bases. And then … the dab. (Watch it here.)
True, it took only a moment, and Gomez was gone back to the dugout. It was so quick as to be easily missed (the broadcasters didn’t mention it as it happened), and the same Braves who had a thing or two to say to Gomez about similar topics back in 2013 didn’t seem to mind, at least to judge by their reactions on the field.
Ultimately, it comes down to the question of what constitutes a celebration, and whether the baseball equivalent of a touchdown dance is making its way into the mainstream. While watching Gomez, it was impossible for me to not think about Cam Newton—and however one feels about Newton probably goes a long way toward informing how one feels about Gomez doing something similar.
Or not. I am a fan of Newton and his celebrations. They are perfectly at home on a football field, where personal celebration is pervasive for anything from a QB sack to a short burst for a first down at midfield.
Baseball, though, is different. Part of the beauty of the sport’s unwritten rules is that they’ve served as a perimeter defense for the look-at-me attitude that has come to dominate other sports.
This is not to say that there is no place for such a thing in baseball, but when celebrations become contrived, they grow trite. And when they grow trite, they quickly become tired. Which is something, since Bryce Harper recently used that very word—tired—to support the opposite viewpoint, in describing a sport that does not favor such displays.
Still, it can be used here in equal measures to describe whatever it was Gomez did. His action originated less in the moment than as locker room-hatched scheme, the endgame for one of baseball’s biggest spotlight hogs to elbow his way into just a little more screen time.
Gomez is an exciting player, and merits some leeway when it comes to celebrating his feats. As a critic, I’m happy to grant him that much. When he ignores those feats, however, in favor of celebrating the mere existence of Carlos Gomez—the baseball equivalent to two thumbs pointed backward to the name on the rear of his jersey—he displays a degree of narcissism to which I have a tough time subscribing.
Update (3-29): Gomez managed to earn some bonus points, because when you’re pissing off Rob Dibble, there’s a decent chance that you’re doing something right.