The “unwritten rules” of baseball range from bunting during a no-hitter (a capital offense) to stepping on the pitcher’s mound (equally criminal).  Today we delve into the controversial “bat flip” and its effect on the Cardinals, baseball, culture, and the world.

There is a war of attrition within the ranks of major league baseball.

During the World Baseball Classic, a celebration of the game’s diverse styles and flavors, Ian Kinsler made his feelings clear about the exultant habits of young players and teams like the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

“That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.” said Kinsler.

The Ranger second baseman isn’t alone in this regard.  A myriad of players, managers, and reporters form an old-school conservative yearning for athletes to play ball the “right way.”

While this definitively stupid belief (in my humble opinion) exacerbates existing socioeconomic barriers within the sport, lets entertain the notion that perhaps this American pastime could benefit from a shift to placidity. Because everyone knows baseball is just too gosh darn exciting these days.

Let’s take a peek at their case

The Guilty Party:

In the highest profile case since Orenthal James took the stand, the pesky, fun-having bat-flippers find themselves on trial for their disgusting behavior.

Jose Bautista, bat flipping extraordinaire, was caught red-handed October 14th of 2015.  His three-run shot in the bottom half of the 7th inning put the Blue Kays ahead in game 5 of the divisional series against the Texas Rangers and sparked international debate over its permissibility.

There’s an argument to be made that the “bat-flip” is a flippant, egregiously selfish “look at me” performance. It is sacrilegious to both the sport and the “unwritten rules” that some (a silent majority perhaps?) believe govern the game.

The pitcher-hitter relationship is intimate, and the post yabo boom-stick toss shatters the special truce.  “Disrespect” was the term most frequently used when denouncing Bautista’s actions.  The chance to trot the bases in front of an ecstatic home crowd (and the 3 runs) should be enough for his ego.  There’s no reason to prolong the moment and mock poor Sam Dyson on the mound.

 

Counterargument/Alternative Facts

Baseball is a sport where you are supposed to fail over 70% of the time.  So, when one succeeds, especially in such an impassioned position, it is downright duplicitous to expect them to act like their taking a standardized test.

The celebration, or “celly” if you will, is one of the most entertaining, joyous parts of sports.  Whether it’s the Icelandic soccer team Stjarnan FC (known for its intricate, choreographed post-goal presentations) or Tiger Williams gliding the length of the ice riding his hockey stick like a nimbus 2000, these victimless crimes gives athletes a chance to show their personality, creativity, and engage with fans.  But sometimes they do it because they are, as Dennis Rodman says, they are “just so excited!”

It is the purest of emotions, a simple pleasure, a deserved indulgence. Yet baseball admonishes it, and muzzles many of its most talented individuals in the name of “purity”.

Many others have said it before, but the NBA comparison is the most stringent in this regard. Basketball has never been more popular.   Billion-dollar sneaker deals, global recognition, and a space-jam remake.  The NBA needs a heat check, and one of the primary reasons for its meteoric rise in popularity is the way it appeals to young’uns is the celebration of eccentricity and individualism.

Every player adds a little flair to their dunk, and benches go crazy when Kyrie puts a defender on skates.  These moments are condensed into a micro package of excitement for viewing pleasure.  Clips of “Bench Mobs” going to great ends to ensure their teammates receive proper jubilation go viral because millennials so passionately believe in the recognition of achievement.

Dec 15, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Monmouth Hawks bench players celebrate in the second half against the Georgetown Hoyas at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If a basketball drains a three and doesn’t gesture with three fingers towards his temple, does it even count?  Probably not.

In baseball, MLB attendance is falling, youth participation has dropped and the new generations haven’t latched on to America’s pastime like they used to.  It is certainly not due to lack of talent (A 500 ft. Giancarlo wallop might give the entire crowd polio in 1928), but stagnation of the sport in a culture that so feverously consumes media seven seconds or shorter, and full of idiosyncrasies.

Baseball is a CPA and accountants don’t chest bump after debiting the notes receivable.

The Ruling

Censuring players who bring excitation and vigor to the sport only hinder its ability to draw in new fans, and unnecessarily repress expression in baseball.  The divisions in belief over proper etiquette also frequently mirror race and nationality (an article for another day), so arguments from either side can quickly become ethnically charged.

It’s a contentious topic, and debate will likely continue to rage on between new and old school for the foreseeable future (or at least until the old dies out).

Journalists and couch-potatoes, however, can argue all they want.  The players have, obviously, the final say and the young, animated talent taking over the majors is going to dance in the outfield, admire their handiwork, and bat-flip until the cows come home.

Aug 23, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi (40) , Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) and Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) congratulate each other as they beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This Ain’t Your Grandfather’s Bat-Flip

Bautista ain’t got nothing on the king.  After sorting through the archives and analyzing flip-frequency, distance travelled, and batter’s-box exit speed, we  found the GOAT.  Unsurprisingly, it was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

His name was Tom Lawless and it was the 1987 World Series.  After his first home run in three years in the bottom of the 4th of game 4 we were treated to the greatest bat flip of all time.

The mustachioed slugger’s 12 decisive steps out of the box are pure poetry.  His fixed stare, deep into the outfield to laud his work serve a proper prelude to the two handed launch of his Louisville Slugger deep into the stratosphere.  Its hauntingly beautiful.  Long live Tom Lawless. Long Live bat flips.