Presented without further comment:
That Mark Canha flipped his bat after homering against the Giants in San Francisco on Saturday night was hardly noteworthy. It was a small affair, more toss than flip. The Giants did not appear to notice, at least so much as they let on.
It was Canha’s response to the flip, much more than the flip itself, that truly reflected the modern game.
“Growing up in San Jose and being a Giants fan and coming to all those games as a kid, it was nice to finally pop one and, given the situation, I was excited,” the Oakland outfielder told the media after the game. “So I got on Twitter and got out in front of this a little bit. I’m sure a lot of San Franciscans are offended by that, and I’m sorry.”
That wasn’t the good part. The good part is what came next.
“You know what, people getting offended by bat flips is so silly,” Canha continued. “I’m not sorry. I’m not really sorry. It’s part of our game. Everybody does it. If someone is going to throw at me because of it, I’ve got thrown at in the past this season for bat flipping. I clearly didn’t learn my lesson. If you’re offended by that, I don’t care.”
Now we’re cooking.
We’ve seen comments like these before, usually from Latin America-born players, who have tried for years to explain how celebratory displays are part of the baseball they grew up with, and how they make the game better. For a certain subset of critics, however, those guys are too other for traditional tastes—foreign voices that have no business telling Americans how their sport should be played.
Mark Canha was born and raised a Giants fan in Northern California. He went to U.C. Berkeley. He now plays for the A’s. There are few better examples of a Bay Area baseball kid made good. (And, okay, maybe some of those same critics who decry foreign voices will now dismiss Canha as a West Coast liberal, as if that has anything to do with anything, never mind that the guy’s politics are closeted to the point that I have no idea what they are.)
The point isn’t that Mark Canha is trying to move the needle. It’s that he’s being honest about the fact that the needle has already moved. This is Major League Baseball, 2018, and Canha is simply a product of it.
Also intriguing is Canha’s claim that he’s been thrown at this season in response to bat flipping. There are no direct ties—series in which he homered and was subsequently drilled. The best bet is a flip against Seattle, on May 2, of which you can catch a fleeting glimpse here.) Canha skated through the next day’s game unscathed, but was drilled by Mariners starter Mike Leake the next time the teams met, on May 22.
Then again, Canha said only that he was thrown at, not hit, in which case all box-score divination is moot. I’ll be sure to ask him about it next time I’m in the A’s clubhouse.
For those who can’t stand the acceptance of bat flipping and related celebrations into major league baseball’s mainstream, I give you Darin Erstad.
Erstad, a two-time All-Star over his 14-year big league career, has been head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska since 2011. He is decidedly old school.
So when one of his players, junior infielder Angelo Altavilla, did this against Indiana on Friday …
… Erstad was not happy about it. (As evidenced in the video, neither was Indiana catcher Ryan Fineman.)
Erstad greeted Altavilla in the dugout with no small amount of displeasure—“Don’t do that again,” were his exact words, according to the Lincoln Journal Star—and then pulled him from the game.
Altavilla had been slumping, as had Nebraska, so they had reason to celebrate. Such details did not matter to Erstad.
It’s one thing to accept that players set the tone for Major League Baseball’s unwritten rules. When a critical mass accepts bat flipping as the norm, well, that’s what it is. In college ball, however, there’s an emphasis on learning unlike anything found in the major leagues. NCAA coaches are shaping ballplayers, but, given that only a tiny percentage of the collegiate ranks go pro, they’re also shaping people. And if a guy like Erstad wants to pass along lessons about respect and decorum that his players can take with them into civilian life, more power to him.
Succeeding with grace is in increasingly short supply in this country. Here’s hoping for an infusion of the stuff from Lincoln.
It’s been a busy week, and I didn’t want to let more time pass before hitting up the many moods of Go-Go .
Carlos Gomez, of course, is no stranger to this space. Last year, he got mad at Colin McHugh for not hitting him. In 2015 he got into it with Madison Bumgarner. And remember that time he pissed off Brian McCann so badly that the catcher wouldn’t let him score on a home run?
Gomez has also been known to get into it with the opposition over various bat flips (games against the Twins, Pirates and Yankees come quickly to mind), and he will occasionally dab following home runs. His reputation is such that even when he makes defensible plays, he still seems to get into trouble.
So when Gomez unloads the mother of all home-plate celebrations, should it really come as a surprise?
On Sunday, the outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays hit a game-winning home run, flipped his bat, raised his arms, turned his back to the pitcher, peered into the Rays dugout, stuck out his tongue, and preened his way around the bases, culminating with what he later called “the Ray Lewis [dance]” over his final steps to the plate. Even by Gomez’s own standards, and even in the new-school world where celebrations are more acceptable than ever, this one drew notice.
There are a couple of ways to view this. One is that Gomez is never satisfied, and that even in an era of celebratory acceptance which he himself helped bring about, he’s just going to keep pushing the envelope no matter what.
The other involves some context. Not so long ago, the sight of teams spilling out of the dugout to mob a player who’d just scored the winning run was limited to playoff-clinchers. Now, it happens with pretty much every walk-off. In that light, it’s tough to judge an individual player for ramping up his own response to the same situation. Gomez’s antics might have been over the top, but they could hardly have been directed at the Twins, given that the Twins were either in their dugout, or headed there, for the bulk of his circuit.
“If enjoying and having fun in baseball is bad,” Gomez said later in a Tampa Bay Times report, “I’m guilty.” He made sure to clarify that he wasn’t staring down the opposition but his own team, nor looking at the flight of the ball in the standard home run-pimp pose. There’s also the fact that the outfielder had been slumping so badly—a .158 batting average and .276 slugging percentage leading into the game—that he snapped a bat over his knee in frustration in an earlier plate appearance.
One doesn’t have to like Gomez’s act, but it’s impossible to deny that he is now part of baseball’s mainstream. There’s also an ironclad retort to those scolding him with the idea that he should act like he’s been there before. Gomez is 32 years old and in his 12th big league season, and Sunday’s walk-off homer was the first of his career.
Celebrators gonna celebrate, and Carlos Gomez is gonna lead the way.
And here I was, thinking that the new world order had been firmly established. The Puig-ization of baseball, wherein players can more freely express themselves on the field—usually in the form of bat flips—had already taken hold when the Puerto Rico team showed us exactly how much fun that kind of thing could be during their second-place run in last year’s World Baseball Classic.
As it happened, the second baseman for Puerto Rico, Javier Baez, also plays for the Chicago Cubs. Last week, he went a bit homer-crazy against Pittsburgh, hitting four longballs across the series’ first two games. That wasn’t what set off Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, however, so much as the second baseman’s response to popping up with a runner in scoring position—which itself included a bat flip. It was borne out of frustration, of course, after which Baez made scant effort to run toward first. (Watch what little of it was captured in the telecast here.)
Hurdle was peeved enough to address it the following day, not only as pertained to Baez, but to the Cubs organization as a whole. Among his comments, as reported by the Athletic:
“When a player does something out of line, there are one or two guys who go to him right away and say, ‘Hey, we don’t do that here. What are you thinking when you do that? Do you know what that looks like?’ ” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, guys don’t understand what it looks like. Usually, you’ve only got to show them once or twice what it looks like and they really don’t want to be that guy anymore. . . .
“Where is the respect for the game? [Baez] has hit four homers in two days. Does that mean you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up, like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men went over and talked to him, because I believe they’ve got a group there that speaks truth to power.” . . .
“There is entitlement all over the world. Sometimes, when you have a skill, you can feel special and you don’t get what it looks like. Most of the time here, we try to show our players what it looks that. And that’s usually enough.”
As it happened, members of the Cubs—reliever Pedro Strop, in particular—did pull Baez aside for a little dugout chat. We know this because Baez admitted to it while apologizing publicly for his actions after the game.
“You know what I really got out of today and what I learned?” he told reporters, as reported by NBC Chicago. “How ugly I looked when I got out today on that fly ball. I tossed the bat really high, I didn’t run to first base. One of my teammates came up to me, and he said it in a good way, and he said, ‘You learn from it.’ After I hit that fly ball and tossed the bat really high, I was kind of mad about it. Not because of the fly ball, just the way I looked for the kids and everybody that follows me. That’s not a good look. So I learned that from today.”
Hurdle is entitled to his opinion. He’s an old-school guy, a former catcher who learned to play the game under a structure wherein deviation from the norm constitutes something other than “the right way.” Every one of his sentiments was valid, but in making them public, the manager ignored another of baseball’s unwritten rules: Keep personal spats out of the media. Instead, Hurdle teed up Maddon for an all-time response, as part of a 17-minute media session prior to the following day’s game. The Cubs skipper, via the Athletic:
“It reveals you more than it reveals the person you’re talking about. I’ve always believed that. So whenever you want to be hypercritical of somebody, just understand you’re pretty much revealing yourself and what your beliefs are more than you are being critical or evaluating somebody. Because you have not spent one second in that person’s skin. . . .
“It’s just like people making decisions about Strop based on [the way he’s] sporting his hat, or Fernando Rodney. I think most of the time when you hear commentary—critical commentary—it’s really pretty much self-evaluation. It’s about what you believe. It’s about your judgmental component.
“I thought Javy did a great job in his response. I was very proud of him, actually. Like I said the other day, first of all, I didn’t see him throwing the bats. I missed that completely. But we’ve talked about it. His response and the fact that he owned up to it, my God, what else could you possibly want out of one of your guys?” . . .
“I did not see it coming at all. Clint and I have had a great relationship. I’ve known him for many, many years. I don’t really understand why he did what he did. You’d probably maybe want to delve into that a little bit more deeply on his side.
“But I do believe in not interfering with other groups. I’ve commented post-fights. Maybe I’ve incited a few things when it came to things I didn’t like on the field, when it came to injury or throwing at somebody. I’ve had commentary and I don’t deny that I have.
“But to try to disseminate exactly what I think about a guy on another team based on superficial reasons, I’ll never go there. I don’t know the guy enough. I’m not in the clubhouse with him. I don’t have these conversations. I don’t know what kind of a teammate he is. I don’t know any of that stuff, so I would really be hesitant.”
The modern era presents a different landscape than the one in which Hurdle rose through baseball’s ranks. Look-at-me moments across American sports began in earnest with the 24-hour news cycle, and have been driven into the relative stratosphere by a player’s ability to garner hundreds of thousands of follows and likes on social media, where it can literally pay to have a presence.
There’s also the fact that Hispanic influence in Major League Baseball is strong and getting stronger. Nothing I’ve seen has indicated bias on Hurdle’s part, but the Athletic’s Patrick Mooney made an interesting point as pertains to the Pittsburgh manager: “Let’s be honest: Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester are great players who sometimes show bad body language and we don’t hear about how they’re not showing proper respect for the game.”
In light of Hurdle’s “entitlement all over the world” comment, this rings especially true.
So where do we go from here? Ideally, everybody learns to keep things in perspective, and move along as innocuously as possible. Javier Baez has already started to do just that.
“To be honest, I got a lot of things I can say right now,” he said via Yahoo, in response to Hurdle’s comments, “but I don’t control what’s out there, what people talk about me. I’m just gonna keep playing my game.”
It wouldn’t be a World Series presented by
YouTube TV Yasiel Puig without talk of bat flipping and impertinence in the face of Baseball Propriety. In Game 2, however, it was not Puig flinging his bat around—despite having hit a timely, monster home run—but Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s not known for such things.
Given the chance, in fact, Puig offered an anti-flip, gently laying down his lumber after his almost-game-saving homer leading off the 10th.
It was almost certainly in reaction to Correia, who a half-inning earlier had given Houston a 5-3 lead after going back-to-back with Jose Altuve.
Puig has long since won the battle to bring this type of showboating into the mainstream. Where he truly shined yesterday was in his postgame comments about Correa’s display.
“I loved it,” Puig told reporters. “It was a little bit higher than the bat flips I normally do. He was happy, and that’s the way you should play in the World Series. Not everybody gets to play in a place like this.”
Puig has long asserted this let’s-play-joyously message when it comes to his own on-field drama. Being consistent in the position as regards the opposition earns him additional credibility.
“Like a friend of mine once said, I don’t know why my bats are so slippery,” Correa said after the game in an MLB.com report, jokingly about both his flip and Puig.
People who still begrudge these guys their moments are living in a bygone era. Time to get with the program.
In preparation for the World Series, I offer this, from Fantasy Island, 1978:
When it comes to the history of bat flipping, who knew that Steve Garvey was an OG?
A retaliatory story in nine bullet points:
- Luis Valbuena flipped his bat after a home run.
- Mike Fiers didn’t like it.
- Fiers threw a pitch several feet over Valbuena’s head the next time he batted.
- Fiers got suspended five games for it.
- Fiers should have better things to care about in the modern game than an exuberant home run hitter.
- Such as his 5.22 ERA, which, let’s face it, is enough to make anybody ornery.
- The umpires were hasty in issuing warnings following Fiers’ purpose pitch, which precluded the Angels from responding.
- Not that the Angels had much to respond to, since Fiers clearly wasn’t trying to hurt Valbuena so much as put his own cranky pants on display.
- Which calls his suspension into question, since drilling the hitter was never part of his intent.
Also: Valbuena keeps on flipping. Were it not for the preceding kerfuffle, it would not even be noteworthy. It’s 2017, the Era of Puig. Time to move on.