About That Bat Flip: Poor Taste Or Good Fun?

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As if Jose Bautista's ALDS-winning three-run home run wasn't big enough on its own. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
As if Jose Bautista's ALDS-winning three-run home run wasn't big enough on its own. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

By now, baseball fans have probably seen the video of Blue Jay Jose Bautista’s home run that drove in the game-winning runs in Game 5 of the ALDS.

After sending that ball deep into the left-field bleachers, Bautista flung his bat across his body into foul territory. This is a maneuver that has become known as the “bat flip.”

New York Times sports writer/bat flip expert Andrew Keh joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Among people who really study the bat flip, the latest flip by Bautista has been celebrated. And I can't believe I got through that without giggling. How is the quality of a bat flip measured?

If it's the second inning of a scoreless game and somebody flips the bat after a home run, then that comes across as a little bit aloof, and players tend not to like that.

Andrew Keh

AK: I think there's a variety of factors to it. The No. 1 thing is probably the context. The situation plays a huge role in it. And in this case, obviously, the stakes were huge, and he was in his home stadium, and you can tell he was just fired up about the moment. On top of that it's just — we laugh about it — but it's the trajectory of the flip, the speed of the bat being flung, you know the rotations play a big role, so there's a bunch of various factors to it.

BL: But I think context is particularly important because, I mean, flipping your bat after grounding out to short would just be stupid.

AK: Yeah, and that's what can start fights sometimes, is what you'll hear players say. If it's the second inning of a scoreless game and somebody flips the bat after a home run, then that comes across as a little bit aloof, and players tend not to like that.

BL: This gets us to the question of how bat flips can be divisive. Some people like them and celebrate them. Some people oppose them. Tell me about each.

AK: Yeah, I find this really interesting, and I've written two stories about bat flips. Last month, I went to Korea and wrote about how commonplace bat flips are there. And here in the United States they're kind of seen as almost vulgar and tactless. But it's something that gets, I would say, divided along generational lines quite frequently. There's a lot of people that say baseball's kind of losing touch with the younger generations, and the younger generations like to see the color, so I mean it's an interesting on-going discussion I'd say.

BL: What does the future hold for the bat flip? You write about Americans going nuts when they see the video clips of South Korean ballplayers doing it. Is it going to be world wide? Is it going to be a cultural phenomenon everywhere they play baseball?

AK: I think that's obviously where the trend is going in Major League Baseball. And there are various things that point to this. Number one, which I think cannot be discounted, is the obvious promotion from the league. If you look at their social media sites, they very much promote bat flips, and I think they're trying to appeal to the younger viewer there. When you talk to players, I think there's an acceptance — and in some cases a resigned acceptance — but I think they understand that this is where the game is going as well.

And, you know, I don't think a lot of people think of it as a bad thing. There are a lot of people that think "respecting the game" — "playing the game the right way" can be taken as sort of coded language for "You have to play it the American way. You have to play it the white-American way." When, in fact, baseball is this sort of beautifully international game now. So the idea that there are different ways to play the game, that there are different ways to express yourself within the game, I think a lot of younger fans in particular see that as a positive thing. And I think the game will make the necessary adjustments to that.

BL: Andrew, you and I know that baseball is a game of continuous adjustments. Pitchers adjust to hitters. Hitters adjust to pitchers. When the pitchers are doing too well, Major League Baseball lowers the mound — all that kind of stuff goes on. So what do you think pitchers are going to do if this bat flipping continues? Will they begin throwing their gloves into the air if they strike somebody out?

AK: Well, I mean you see them pumping their fists after a big strikeout and things like that. What they used to be able to do — and what a lot of opponents of bat flips would like to see them do more — is, you know, on the next pitch, throw it at the next guy's head and sort of send the message that way. And maybe the next guy won't flip his bat. What players are saying these days is that the league is cracking down so much on anything that can kind of be perceived as belligerence and aggressiveness or any kind of confrontational behavior, so pitchers' only choice might be to have their own celebration.

This segment aired on October 17, 2015.


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