— MLB (@MLB) July 16, 2017
Odubel Herrera is a guy firmly committed to his bat-flipping lifestyle.
Against the Giants on Saturday, he did it twice—once on a fly out and again on a double—the latter of which happened against notorious hothead Hunter Strickland, and led a reporter to ask in the postgame clubhouse whether Herrera ever considers that pitchers might not appreciate that kind of stuff on hits that aren’t actually homers.
The outfielder responded by ranking the latter flip as his best ever.
And what, he was questioned, if such actions should lead to an angry pitcher planting one into his ribcage?
“Of course it worries me a little bit,” he said in a CSN Philly report. “I don’t want to get drilled. But I’m not going to change the way I play. If I get hit, I’m just going to have to rub it.”
(The latter statement is itself a violation of the macho division of the sport’s unwritten rules. Never acknowledge that the pitcher hurt you, goes the tenet, because You can’t hurt me is a far more effective tone-setter than Ow, that stung.)
Regardless of the stupidity with which Herrera flings his bat all over the yard, one must at least credit him for perseverance. At least he has that much going for him.
Because one can never have too much bat flip discussion, and because no bat flip discussion is complete without Jose Bautista, let’s start there.
On Wednesday, Bautista hit an angry home run against Atlanta. He was angry because earlier in the game, Toronto teammate Kevin Pillar, upset at having been struck out on a quick pitch from Jason Motte, shouted a homophobic slur toward the mound, causing benches to empty. (The slur, having violated the unwritten rules of society more than it did the unwritten rules of baseball, is not the point of this post.)
So when Bautista homered a bit later against Eric O’Flaherty, he did this:
As you can see, a bat flip was involved. Also as you can see, the moment was pointedly distinct from Bautista’s other noteworthy flip from the 2015 postseason, which was documented at some length within these pages.
The latter was an expression of joy—satisfaction at having succeeded, monumentally, at an important task.
The former consisted primarily of churlishness. There was little to celebrate—the Blue Jays were down 8-3 when Bautista swung the bat. He tried to stare down the pitcher. He did a weird skip around the bases. There is a difference.
Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki thought so. He had words for Bautista as the runner crossed the plate, and when Bautista stopped to enjoin him, benches emptied for the second time in the game. Afterward, O’Flaherty had some pointed comments. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“That’s something that’s making the game tough to watch lately. It’s just turned into look-at-me stuff, it’s not even about winning anymore. Guy wants to hit a home run in a five-run game, pimp it, throw the bat around – I mean, I don’t know. It’s frustrating as a pitcher. I didn’t see it at the time, but I saw the video – he looked at me, tried to make eye contact. It’s just tired. We’ve seen it from him, though.”
Add to that the fact that Toronto pitchers hit seven batters over the first three games of the series—one of which knocked Freddie Freeman out of action for 10 weeks with a broken hand—and Atlanta was left with an abundance of bad feelings. (The pitch to Freeman was clearly unintentional, a fastball that wasn’t all that far inside, which hit Freeman’s extended top hand as he tried to check his swing.)
Atlanta responded to it all on Thursday, Julio Teheran drilling Bautista in the hip two pitches into his first-inning at-bat. Warnings were issued and everybody moved on. (Allowing players to police their own business, in whatever reasonable form it took, served to diffuse the situation after that point. Bautista and the Jays made a statement of their own by scoring three runs in the inning en route to a 9-0 victory.)
There is something to be said for recent cries that baseball should embrace the passion of its players and allow them to more freely express themselves on the field when it comes to bat flips and other celebratory acts. Unfortunately, that same sentiment is also used to justify poor behavior from egotistical spotlight hogs.
A player exulting after a virtuous performance lends realism to the sport. Showboating out of petulance strips that realism away. Bautista has encapsulated both sides of that argument. On Wednesday, it wasn’t a good look for anybody.
Kris Bryant went on Chicago radio station 670 The Score on Tuesday and discussed bat flipping. While being careful to say that he’s not offended when others do it, and adding that it’s good to “add more of that fun to the game,” he also said this:
If [you hit a home run] halfway up the video board, that’s it, that’s enough of a disgrace for the pitcher that you don’t need to add anything to it. You crushed a home run, you felt good about it. He felt bad about it. And it’s good.”
It’s all personal opinion, of course. In baseball’s new bat-flip-tolerant landscape, pitchers have little call to get upset by the practice. But Bryant drove to the heart of the anti-showboat mentality: Put your head down and act like you’ve been there before. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
[H/T Big League Stew]
We’ve spent a long time—years now—wondering whether baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s code of conduct, were slowly meeting an inexorable irrelevance. Bats are flipped, celebrations are celebrated, and teams mostly go about their merry ways, unperturbed by the spectacle.
Fair enough. If that’s how big leaguers are playing it, that’s how things are. This blog isn’t bent on prescription of the sport’s unwritten rules so much as documentation of how they’re enacted by those who matter.
Then Monday happened. Fastballs flew at batters, some intentional, some not, some difficult to ascertain. But they elicited response. Oh, did they elicit.
In San Francisco, Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker drilled Buster Posey in the helmet. It was the first inning, there was a runner on second and Walker had already faced the Giants once this season without incident. So unless something happened back on April 5 that irked Walker something fierce while going entirely unnoticed by the media on hand, the pitch was clearly a mistake.
Still, it was a 94 mph fastball that knocked the Giants’ best player from the game and landed him on the 7-day disabled list.
Until recently, this would have unquestionably merited response, be it a pain-inducer (fastball to the ribs) or a warning shot (brushback). In the current version of Major League Baseball, of course, nothing is typical as regards the unwritten rules. Things are calmer, more relaxed. Vendettas are strictly an old-school affair.
So it seemed only normal when Walker escaped unscathed. Neither of his subsequent at-bats were ideal for retribution—with one out and nobody on in the third, he hit a fly ball to right field; in the fifth, with two outs, a runner on second and the Giants leading 3-0, he whiffed—but neither were they unacceptable.
From there, though, things grew interesting. In the eighth inning, Giants starter Matt Moore plunked David Peralta in the back. Then, in the first inning of yesterday’s game, Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija plunked Arizona’s cleanup hitter, Paul Goldschmidt, in the backside—the ages-old response of “your best hitter for our best hitter.”
Bochy refused to discuss Samardzija’s pitch, and offered up an interestingly vague comment about Moore’s, saying in a San Jose Mercury-News report that “a pitch got away from him—I’ll leave it at that.”
Despite a pro forma post-game denial about wanting to pitch Goldschmidt inside, Samardzija had clear intentions for his target. Because the pitch was professionally delivered—into the posterior, nowhere near the head—the slugger took it without complaint. He knew the drill.
Why hadn’t it been Walker? Could be many reasons, though none resonate so firmly in a close game as not wanting to forgo an easy out by drilling the pitcher when one can send as firm a message against a far more dangerous hitter. Why Samardzija and not Moore? Might be a matter of personality, or the fact that the severity of Posey’s injury wasn’t known until after Moore’s game had ended.
Across the country, Phillies pitcher Edubray Ramos entered a tie game in the eighth inning and threw a one-out fastball well over the head of Asdrubal Cabrera. It didn’t come close to making contact, but was enough to elicit warnings from plate ump Alan Porter, and the subsequent ejection of Phillies manager Pete Mackanin for arguing a hair too vociferously. (Watch it here.)
The backstory seems pretty obvious. Ramos last faced Cabrera in September while gunning for his first big league save. Cabrera wrecked it, then did this:
Retaliating for a game-winning celebration is some old-school mentality. And here’s the thing: for all the noise coming out of the World Baseball Classic about how Latin players like to celebrate their achievements on the field, Ramos—a native Venezuelan—was having none of the exuberance of one of his fellow countrymen. Or maybe that latter detail offers another wrinkle to their relationship about which we aren’t yet aware. Whatever it was, it stuck in the pitcher’s craw.
So there it is: On the West Coast, a passel of Americans participated in all-American retaliatory daisy chain; on the East Coast, two Venezuelans did the same. (Worth noting is that Ramos’s teammate, Odubel Herrera—another Venezuelan—is a bat-flipping savant, while Mackanin, Ramos’ manager, is himself no fan of the flips.)
The unwritten rules may be inexorably changing, but it all serves to show that one should never place too big a bet on who their champion might be.
Following up yesterday’s post about the joy embraced by players from various countries in the World Baseball Classic (and how such embrace is frequently at odds with their big league counterparts), today I bring you a quote from Eric Thames.
Thames, of course, is the new Brewers first baseman, having spent the last three seasons playing in South Korea. (South Korea, you might recall, is known for some outlandish behavior by its ballplayers.)
While in Asia, Thames stepped up his pimp game. From Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue:
Thames wore metallic gold arm and leg guards and celebrated home runs with a choreographed two-man skit that ended with a teammate tugging his beard and the two of them spinning on their heels to give a military-style salute to the home fans.
“Uh, not here,” says Thames, who this spring wore white body armor. “You want me to get hit in the ribs?”
Yesterday, I pointed out that the joyful celebration shown internationally is having an effect upon the staid response to success in the majors. So why is Thames toning it down?
Because there is a difference. Because somebody responding to success openly and without filters is celebratory, but somebody pantomiming pre-planned shtick is more boastful than joyous. (Recall, if you will, another bit of home-plate soft-shoe perpetrated by these selfsame Brewers a number of years back.)
The line between those approaches dissects even bat flips. The ones from Korea seem to be self-indulgent ways of garnering attention. The South Korean players who make their way to the U.S. acknowledge as much. The flip by Jose Bautista following his ALDS-clinching homer against Texas in 2015, however, was none of that. They are distinct entities.
Baseball diamonds contain plenty of space for joy. There is far less leeway, however, for acts masquerading as joy. As Eric Thames noted, ballplayers can tell the difference.
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.