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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What the Flip is Going on With the Reaction to Jose Bautista's Bat Flip?

The Toronto Blue Jays are playing in the 2015 American League Championship Series in part because of a deep and powerful offense and timely pitching. However, much of that has been lost in the recent furor over an emphatic bat flip made by slugger Jose Bautista after hitting an Divisional Series-clinching home run against the Texas Rangers. Somehow, this display of emotion following a play that not only capped a furious rally but also put his team in the driver’s seat for the series was seen as not playing the game “the right way.” Not only was the bat flip no big deal, there are plenty of examples from baseball history of similar displays where not only has nobody batted an eye, they have actually been celebrated.

First of all, it’s fair to say that even the positive reaction to Bautista’s disposal of his lumber following his big jack quickly veered into the ridiculous. Toronto’s mayor went on television and attempted to recreate the moment. At least one fan immediately rushed out and commissioned a tattoo. Twitter also naturally had quite the reaction, with Craig Calcaterra of perhaps having the best and simultaneously most ridiculous reaction when he tweeted that the flip was so manly that it had “made everyone pregnant.”

Undoubtedly, being on the receiving end of a bat flip is not much fun. The Rangers and their home run-yielding pitcher, Sam Dyson, saw their October dreams slipping through their fingers like so many handfuls of water. However, does that mean Bautista was in the wrong? Baseball is a game of competing wills. That moment in sports when dominance is asserted over another not only defines a major reason why there are so many fans but also harkens back to our more primal instincts as humans.

Unwritten rules in baseball are dumb. Just plain stupid. The only rules (besides those in the actual rule book) should be playing as hard as you can, and by God, if you have a little fun while doing it then all the more power to you. Opponents who don’t care for such displays of exuberance should try harder to win the particular matchup themselves instead of hoping that everyone will adhere to baseball’s unpublished version of Miss Manners.

The negative reactions to Bautista are uninformed at best and in some cases, possibly related to something trickier like race, at worst. One would be remiss to not at least wonder if his Latino heritage (he was born in the Dominican Republic) contributed to any of the vitriol. Anyone who might say there is no need to bring race or ethnicity into this need to look no further than Game 1 of this year’s ALCS, where at one point, Kansas City Royals’ fans could be heard chanting “U-S-A” when the Blue Jays were batting (which was a bit laughable since their team’s pitcher at the time was Edinson Volquez (himself a native of the D.R.).

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of historical examples suggesting that this bat flip, if anything, should be remembered fondly as a part of baseball lore:

New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth famously called a home run he hit during the 1932 World Series against Charlie Root and the Chicago Cubs. Once thought to be myth, historians have gone out of their way to successfully prove that this actually happened.

Carlton Fisk hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Known simply as “the home run,” the dramatic moment was made even more famous by his passionate waving of the ball to go fair, followed by him practically dancing around the bases to officially end the game.

In Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, a lamed Kirk Gibson hit a game-winning home run for his Los Angeles Dodgers against the Oakland Athletics and their star closer Dennis Eckersley. The slugger did so much fist pumping while circling the bases that nobody can say for certain that it wasn’t the genesis for the craze that would eventually sweep the Jersey Shore.

Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series by giving the Blue Jays the championship over the Philadelphia Phillies by virtue of his walk-off home run. Much like Fisk, he practically cha-cha-ed around the bases to reach the waiting embraces of his euphoric teammates.

This list could go on and on. In addition to over-the-top reactions to big moments, the other commonality these all share is that they are all fondly remembered as some of the greatest moments in the history of the game. Yes, there were winners and there were losers, but such is sports. If one cannot experience and express joy during such monumental times then what is really the point of playing? Baseball is largely an escape for fans. The highs experienced from big plays and wins are balanced by disappointments.

Some may say that a bat flip is in poor taste, or not something they would personally do. That’s fine. Jose Bautista came up huge in a pressure-packed situation and reacted spontaneously. There can be no choreography in such a situation. It’s what he felt. It’s what he did. Get over it. Better players than him have done far worse and are remembered fondly for it. Let’s stop the inane sermonizing and give the man his due for his special and memorable accomplishment.

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