I don't know anyone who isn't a baseball player or a former baseball player who hates bat flips. I keep being told there are millions of people who hate bat flips. Lord knows, Thursday morning, in the wake of Jose Bautista's all-time bat flip after his mammoth three-run homer to send the Blue Jays into the American League Championship Series, there are plenty of people telling me how awful those sticks-in-the-mud who hate bat flips are. But I don't actually know anyone. I'm sure you're out there. I'm sure you'll show up in the comments beneath this piece. But I don't think there are all that many of you. Unless more players are reading this column than I believe there to be.
I'm not entirely convinced that the "old-timey baseball people who won't let players enjoy themselves" isn't a strawman villain constructed to make baseball columnists who are "with it" try to look cool. Saying you like bat flips is sort of like patting yourself on the back for being pro-gay marriage; it broadcasts you as some unusually open-minded person when, in actuality, the vast majority of Americans already agree with you and you are in fact saying something that isn't controversial at all. You're baiting extremists, and then basking in the glow when that minority of people makes a bunch of noise in response. "Bat flips are awesome, and if you don't like it, then come at me, bro!" Yes, we know bat flips are awesome. You don't get a cookie for it.
What's strange about the rush to love a good bat flip is that while it's seen as pro player -- these arguments are always couched in, "just let the guy enjoy his homer!" -- the people who are made most angry by bat flips are almost always baseball players. Sam Dyson, the Rangers reliever who gave up Bautista's homer, was particularly vocal after the game, saying, "Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more. He's a huge role model for the younger generation that's coming up playing this game, and I mean he's doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn't be done." Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, a fine baseball writer who nonetheless loves nothing more than climbing on high horses like this one, is apoplectic. "What a bunch of condescending, patronizing paternalistic nonsense. Who in THE HELL is Sam Dyson to tell Jose Bautista what he 'needs' to do?" Well, uh, he is the pitcher who gave up the homer. At the very least he gets to have an opinion on the matter? We have a tendency, when writing about bat flips, to praise the person who flipped the bat as "just someone playing the game" and dismiss the guy upset about it as a humorless prig even though he plays the game as well. We might think that people like Dyson are being silly. But we can't say their sentiment isn't shared by players.
We also turn this into a morality play when it's more of a case-by-case issue. Dyson lectured Bautista after the game about not playing the game the right way, but you know who was lecturing players earlier this season on disrespecting the game and not honoring their elders? Jose Bautista. His scuffle with Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura back in April -- about someone throwing at someone else, at someone not showing appropriate deference, the usual junk -- was so heated, it leaked onto Twitter. (Whoa, right?) And the basis of it was Bautista thinking that Ventura did not know his place in the game … and not playing it the right way. Even showing guys up a little. Which is precisely what players are getting after Bautista for now. The issue is not whether Bautista was wrong then and right now, or vice versa. It's that players think about this stuff a lot less than we do. When they bring up "play the game the right way," they're not harkening back to an actual set of rules that they feel has been violated. They're just angry. They're just frustrated, and they're lashing out. They're young, testosterone-driven, ultra-competitive men. That's what they do.
We expect baseball players to adhere to some consistent logic that they have no interest in adhering to. We like to imagine baseball players all having a counsel meeting once a month where they decide what the unwritten rules are, what "respecting the game" means, which guys are on the right side of that line and which ones are on the wrong side. But that's not how it works at all. Like most humans, baseball players, when they feel as if an injustice has been committed against them, will harness whatever rule, real or imagined, written or otherwise, to justify their impotence and rage. Are they consistent in their application of these rules? Of course not! They're baseball players! Why do they have to be consistent about anything other than hitting and throwing a baseball? We stick microphones in their face after games, and they say things like Dyson said not because they truly believe them, but because they're mad. Sam Dyson doesn't really care about bat flips, and the Texas Rangers don't really care about bat flips, and we know this because the Rangers flip bats all the time. Remember just a couple of months ago when the Rangers and Astros got in a big fight because Rougned Odor took too long to get in the batter's box and then, with the Astros still angry about it, he hit a triple and did this?
How about July 31, when Madison Bumgarner got angry at Delino DeShields for a bat flip, starting another series of grown men pretending they want to fight each other?
The point is not that the Rangers are being hypocritical by calling out Bautista's bat flip and complaining about "playing the game the right way." Of course they're being that. The point is that we should stop trying to paint heroes and villains in this situation, like there are some baseball players who are "fun" and some who are "reactionary traditionalists trying to take the joy out of the game."
It is really just as basic as when players do something amazing, they do this:
And when players make a mistake, like Dyson's pitch, that allows someone to do something amazing, they get angry about it. There is no higher purpose, no higher philosophy, no credo of the game that is either being maintained or upended. Dyson's reaction to Bautista's homer is no less emotional than Bautista's reaction to it. It's all emotion. And emotion does not know logic and consistency. How could it? It's emotion.
So let's stop with the morality plays and the pleas for these stuck-up people to stop trying to "take the fun out of the game." When Bautista hits a home run like Wednesday's, his bat flip is fantastic, instantly iconic, and just about everyone involved with it who doesn't play or cheer for the Texas Rangers sees it as such. If the Rangers had hit such a homer, and admired it the same way (and they would have), the Blue Jays would have been yelling at them the same way the Rangers are now. It's just part of being competitive … and part of being angry when things haven't gone their way. Players aren't being unfun. They're just being hypocritical. They're baseball players. It's not their job to follow logic. It's their job to win … and be angry, even irrationally so, when they didn't.
And we can all agree on one thing: There is in fact such a thing as a bad bat flip, and it is this: