Bat flips, Toronto Blue Jays

On the Benefits of Embracing the Moment, or: Not All Bat Flips Are Created Equal

Bautista goes yard II

Jose Bautista’s bat flip yesterday was so powerful as to obscure the wildest game many of us have ever seen. It has drawn endless opinions, many of which consisted of little more than the notion, “Wow, wasn’t that something?”—the hallmark of any sporting act powerful enough to draw the attention of the non-sporting public. Pure, visceral response to a pure, visceral moment.

It was something. And it was magnificent.

It was an all-world player at the peak of his powers, unleashing as violent a swing as you will see from a man entirely under control, against a fastball approaching 100 mph, in an inning that had already yielded so much drama as to leave fans emotionally drained, in a game upon which the season hinged, for a team that had not played for anything so meaningful in nearly a quarter-century.

It was all that. It was more.

There are those who feel that such displays—a hitter staring at his handiwork until after the ball has settled into the seats, then tossing his lumber with intensity approaching that of his swing—are beneath the sanctity of the game. They claim it shows up an opponent, that it offers disrespect, that in a world where self-aggrandizement has taken over the sporting landscape, humility is a necessary attribute for our heroes. Yesterday, many of those voices resided in the Rangers’ postgame clubhouse.

They’re not entirely wrong. But they’re not entirely right, either.

The moment would have carried no less gravity had Bautista simply laid down his bat and trotted around the bases. The hit would have been no less important. But the moment Bautista gave us was enduring, as physical a manifestation of pure emotion as will ever be seen on a baseball diamond. It was in every way a gift.

Sports fandom, at its essence, is about embracing the weightiest moments, win or lose. About being fully invested in the outcome of a given play, able to devote one’s emotional energy toward joy or despair, depending upon whether things break your way. Those who criticize things like bat flipping and chest pounding and hand-signs to the dugout after hitting innocuous doubles, who decry them for subjugating key moments at the expense of stoking egos, are correct. Let the moments breathe. A player’s initial actions are inevitably more powerful than his ensuing reactions.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, however, someone transcends it all. Bautista’s display didn’t distract from the moment, or even highlight it—it was the moment, part of it, anyway, as inexorably intertwined with our collective memory as the pitch or the swing or the baserunners or the fans. More so, in many ways. What do we remember of the last greatest Blue Jays moment? Was it the swing Joe Carter put on that ball in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series? Or was it his joyous reaction as he literally leaped around the bases? Do we recall Dennis Eckersley’s backdoor slider, or Kirk Gibson’s fist pump after he deposited it in the bleachers? Would Carlton Fisk’s homer in 1975 mean half of what it does today had he simply rounded the bases instead of physically willing it fair?

This wasn’t some preplanned shtick in some minor moment, no pulling Sharpie from sock following a midseason touchdown. This was one of the game’s great players coming through as profoundly as possible in literally the biggest moment of his career, and responding as such. It was so powerful that Adrian Beltre simply could not keep his feet, taking a seat on the turf as Bautista rounded the bases.

Bautista deserved it. We deserved it. Save the indignation for the .220 hitter who tosses his bat some Tuesday in July. I may well join you. For now, though, I’m going to savor this for as long as I can.

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Bat flips, Toronto Blue Jays

Because Of Course He Did

It wasn’t so much that Jose Bautista unleashed the pure-attitude king-hell mother of all bat flips during Game 5 Wednesday, it was that the Rangers took notice and Ken Rosenthal still saw fit to ask him about it afterward.

Wherever we’re going, I guess we’re not there yet.

Bat flips, Retaliation, Showboating

On Measured Responses, and Why Every Slight Doesn’t Have to Equal Retaliation

Ration won the day again.

Wednesday, Cleveland second baseman Jose Ramirez homered against the Twins, admired it for a long while, then flipped his bat in the direction of Minnesota’s dugout. This was noteworthy less for the flip itself—which by now has become somewhat commonplace among the big league ranks—than for the reaction from the Twins dugout. Manager Paul Molitor stood on the top step and told Ramirez to “get the fuck off the field.” Catcher Kurt Suzuki lurked alongside, offering similar sentiments. (The gif above, via Deadspin, shows it all. Watch the full clip here.)

They had good reason to be angry. The balance of respect did not fall into Ramirez’s favor:

  • Ramirez celebrated his 23rd birthday only two weeks ago, while the guy he showed up, Ricky Nolasco, is 32 and a 10-year vet.
  • It wasn’t like he hit a bomb; his blast failed to clear the first row in right field and bounced back onto the grass.
  • Most importantly, the Twins Cleveland led 7-1 before he swung, and 10-1 afterward.

As best anybody could figure, Ramirez was upset with the fact that Minnesota had just intentionally walked Jason Kipnis to face him—a by-the-book move—and was letting off some steam.

Afterward, Nolasco threatened that Ramirez “will get his,” and the baseball media swarmed. Talk of retaliation has been at something of a fever pitch following last week’s episode of Papelbon Madness. Molitor himself was visibly pissed, and folks couldn’t wait to see what the manager would do.

Like Buck Showalter before him, however, Molitor sided with modern baseball reason. Instead of inflaming tensions by reacting to a perceived slight with tangible retaliation, he instead chose to do nothing. The Twins are a game back in the wild-card hunt, and have better things to worry about. Last night’s game—the teams’ final meeting this season—featured no hit batters.

Perhaps this is the new way of things, an enlightenment that dictates jackoff showboaters unworthy of undue attention.

Yesterday, Jeremy Affeldt announced his retirement with a bylined piece at SI.com in which he discussed the “recent trend of ‘look at me’ machismo,” writing, “Yes, let’s celebrate the game of baseball, and, if warranted, celebrate our on-field accomplishments with genuine shows of emotion. When you smack a double into the gap to take the lead in the eighth inning, by all means, pump your fist and praise your maker in the sky. But when you flash self-congratulatory signs after a meaningless first-inning single—or, even worse, a walk—you’re clowning yourself and not representing your club or your teammates very well.”

The notion is perfect—humble while acknowledging reality, accepting of changing times while refuting the kind of hubris that’s gained recent popularity. It’s noteworthy, however, for the fact that it followed something else Affeldt wrote: “I played the game the right way—not necessarily in compliance with some antiquated and silly ‘code.’ ”

Affeldt is right—the antiquated part of the Code is silly. But the stuff that governs the majority of big league ballplayers has evolved along with the rest of the game. It continues to mandate, as Molitor indicated from the top step of the visitors’ dugout in Cleveland, that respect be given an opponent. It also says now, in ways that would have been viewed as foreign a generation ago, that hard-line responses are not always necessary.

There’s always the chance that Molitor was simply abiding by game flow on Wednesday. The Twins didn’t lead by more than a run until the ninth inning, and could not afford to cede baserunners to their opponents. They always have the option of picking up the string against Ramirez again next season.

Here’s hoping that’s not the case.

Showboating

Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word: Junior Lake Goes Librarian on the Marlins

Lake shhhhh

People put differing amounts of credence into baseball’s unwritten rules, with a vocal faction consistently decrying their very existence. It takes an act of unusual persuasion to convince people on both sides of that aisle that somebody has crossed the line. Ladies and gentlemen: Junior Lake.

Lake’s actions after homering Wednesday against Florida not only had the Marlins outraged, but his own team, too. If we don’t hear more about this, it’s only because Cubs manager Joe Maddon made it known that he would handle the situation personally.

The preamble: Starlin Castro homered against Florida on Monday, then watched it, then delivered the season’s third-slowest trot. (Watch it here.) Last night, Dan Haren hit him in what can only be assumed to be response.

The main event: Lake homered off of Haren in the sixth inning last night. There’s little doubt that he had Castro on his mind when he watched the ball for five full steps toward first, then nonchalantly flipped his bat behind him as he began to jog. There were several things wrong with this scenario, beyond even the pimping and the flip.

  • It was Lake’s first homer of the season, and pimping in the big leagues is a meritocracy, something that must be earned. David Ortiz could maybe get away with it. Junior Lake can not.
  • It wasn’t like the homer won the game. Or even brought the Cubs close. Chicago was losing 6-0 when he hit it.
  • In response to the grief he was getting from the Marlins bench as he circled the bases, Lake put his finger to his lips in a Shhhhh motion after rounding third, while looking directly into Florida’s dugout.
  • Yep, he actually did that. (Watch it all here.)

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto delivered some words when Lake crossed the plate. Lake fired back, and within moments benches emptied. The primary reason things did not get out of hand was Maddon, who assured Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez that the matter would be taken care of internally.

“I just spoke to [Lake] and spoke to him during the game,” Maddon told reporters after the game, via an MLB.com report. “We don’t do that here and that will be the last time you see it. I did tell them at home plate during the scrum. I told Chuck Hernandez because that’s who I saw. I said, ‘It’s our fault and we’ll take care of it.’ ”

It was reminiscent of a scene from The Baseball Codes:

In a game in 1996, the Giants trailed Los Angeles 11–2 in the ninth inning, and decided to station first baseman Mark Carreon at his normal depth, ignoring the runner at first, Roger Cedeno. When Cedeno, just twenty-one years old and in his first April as a big-leaguer, saw that nobody was bothering to hold him on, he headed for second—by any interpretation a horrible decision.

As the runner, safe, dusted himself off, Giants third baseman Matt Williams lit into him verbally, as did second baseman Steve Scarsone, left fielder Mel Hall, and manager Dusty Baker. Williams grew so heated that several teammates raced over to restrain him from going after the young Dodgers outfielder.

The least happy person on the field, however, wasn’t even a member of the Giants—it was Dodgers hitter Eric Karros, who stepped out of the batter’s box in disbelief when Cedeno took off. Karros would have disap­proved even as an impartial observer, but as the guy who now had a pissed-off pitcher to deal with, he found his thoughts alternating between anger toward Cedeno and preparing to evade the fastball he felt certain was headed his way. (“I was trying to figure if I was going to [duck] for­ward or go back,” said Karros after the game. “It was a 50–50 shot.”) …

In the end, it was Karros who saved Cedeno. When he stepped out of the box, as members of the Giants harangued the bewildered baserunner, Karros didn’t simply watch idly—he turned toward the San Francisco bench and informed them that Cedeno had run without a shred of insti­tutional authority, and that Karros himself would ensure that justice was administered once the game ended. Sure enough, as Cedeno sat at his locker after the game, it was obvious to observers that he had been crying. Though the young player refused to comment, it appeared that Karros had been true to his word. “Ignorance and youth really aren’t any excuse,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, “but we were able to cool things down.”

Maddon, who has proven that there are some unwritten rules about which he simply does not care, did not treat this one with such nonchalance. Nor did he limit his lesson to the confines of the clubhouse. “I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run,” he said after the game, ostensibly referring to Castro as well as to Lake. “I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending. I would even like to use this moment for our Minor League guys, that [flipping the bat] doesn’t play. For our kids watching, it doesn’t play. Don’t do that. That’s not cool. It’s very, very much not cool. If you’re watching the game back home in Chicago tonight, don’t do that.”

Then again, this wasn’t the first time he tried to impart this edict since taking over on the North Side. Perhaps it’s not taking.

The Marlins have little need for recourse. Maddon’s gauntlet toss against his own player handled it, as did Lake’s own comment afterward that “I recognize that it wasn’t right. It was part of the emotions and part of the game and I want to apologize to Haren for that, because I respect him and didn’t mean it.”

More interesting than Florida’s response will be the response of Chicago players to their manager’s new directive. Is a new quick-trot era in Chicago upon us?

Bat tossing, Retaliation, Showboating

Bautista Proves that Grudge Homers are the Best Kind of Homers

With Yasiel Puig’s renunciation of bat flipping dominating the early-season talk about the subject, there’s another function of the tactic that has been largely overlooked—one that is less Look at me and more Look at yourself. It was illustrated to perfection on Tuesday by Jose Bautista.

With the Blue Jays leading 11-4 in the seventh inning, Baltimore right-hander Jason Garcia threw a fastball just behind the slugger, perhaps in response to the teams’ April 12 meeting in which Bautista homered off of Darren O’Day, then skipped toward first base. Garcia’s shot came so close that plate ump Mark Carlson warned both benches about further hostilities.

On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Bautista connected for his fourth home run of the season, a mammoth shot that scored Josh Donaldson ahead of him. Its no-doubt-about-it nature allowed the slugger to stand in the box and admire it before insouciantly flipping his bat away in disgust. It was a pure, cold message for Garcia. You want to play, he effectively asked the pitcher? This is how you play. (Watch it here.)

As he rounded the bases, Bautista got an earful from Orioles infielders, primarily Steve Pearce and Ryan Flaherty. He responded in kind. As he crossed the plate he took a moment to stare down the Baltimore bench.

Things grew further heated as Bautista trotted to his position at the start of the next inning. Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones began hollering from alongside the dugout, at which point Bautista furiously pointed behind his back, reminding the Orioles how the whole thing started. (Watch it here.)

If anything, Bautista has proven adept at finishing things in a way that effectively gets under the skin of the opposition. His homer-‘n-skip act came in response to O’Day doing something similar after striking him out in 2013. His homer-‘n-pimp act came after Garcia’s near miss. The Orioles could barely stand either one.

Whether they take further action is yet to be seen, but if we judge the situation by what’s already happened, Baltimore’s response is almost beside the point. It seems certain that Bautista will get the last word.

[Gif via Baltimore Sports Report]

Bat flips, Showboating

The King is Dead: Puig Says No More Flips

Have we hit upon an unexpected sea change? Only last year I cried uncle and caved to the reality that bat flipping is no longer a response-worthy act. The sport’s unwritten rules are malleable, after all, and when something happens with enough repercussion-free frequency it can only be considered to reside within the norm.

And now this?

Yesterday, the man most responsible for the acceptance of the practice—the guy who took the bat flip from some insouciant act to an art that not only was celebrated but which served to label those who didn’t like it as stuck-in-the-mud cranks—recanted.

In a Los Angeles Times report on Tuesday, Puig shocked the establishment, claiming that gently tossing his bat after homering on Monday night was a mindful act. “I want to show American baseball that I’m not disrespecting the game,” he said.

By their essential nature, Puig’s flips were a spontaneous expression of id, a player proving to the establishment and viewing public alike that he was an individual, able to subvert the dominant paradigm via creativity of celebration. Once the practice gained acceptance—when it was no longer just Puig being Puig, but Puig being just another ballplayer—perhaps that allure began to wane.
Maybe one of the endless reel-it-in talks that the Dodgers have had with him virtually since the day he arrived have finally started to settle.

Or it could be that he realized hitting .136 is no fun, and energy expended outside the parameters of playing the game doesn’t actually help his performance.

We can only wait to see whether having the Grand Poobah of Bat Flips so publicly singing a new tune makes a difference in the landscape, but hell—the guy remade it in one direction, why not another? Look no farther than Tampa Bay rookie Steven Souza Jr., who hit his first homer of the season yesterday, then all but gingerly placed the bat on the ground before departing for first base. (Watch it here, at the :15 mark.)

Could be a rookie thing, Souza simply waiting until tenure allows him to blossom with celebratory creativity.

Or maybe it’s a new day.

[Image via Giphy. H/t Road Dog Russ]