It seems like this 2019 Major League Baseball season might be remembered as “The Summer of the Bat Flip.” I’ve been watching baseball religiously since 2001 (when I was 8, so back off) and every year the bat flip— the act of a hitter hitting a home run and throwing his bat in the air in a celebratory manner, oftentimes accompanied with a long stare at either the ball sailing through the air, or at the pitcher who just gave up said home run— seems to be increasing in volume and intensity every year. Something about this season seems like it’s going to reach its boiling point. We’re not even a month into the season yet and we’ve already had two bench clearing, suspension inducing brawls in Pittsburgh and Chicago. The cries from commentators and talking heads and even from MLB’s official Twitter account about how bat flips are good for the game and should continue to increase in volume and intensity are increasing with equal volume and intensity. And I fucking hate it. I fucking hate the bat flip. To me, it exemplifies all the wrong things about baseball, and sports in general. It’s a monument to the culture of self-celebratory, domineering primordial frat guy emasculating bullshit that turns so many people away from the game. And I get it, I know I’m in the minority here (I also love the hit-and-run and no DH for the National League), and it’s easy to clump me in with the “dinosaurs” like Goose Gossage and Johnny Bench, who don’t want to see it anymore. But hey, Goose and Johnny actually played baseball. Most of the folks on the “Bat flips are fun and if you don’t like them shut up and go away” side of the aisle haven’t. Maybe Goose and Johnny have a point.
Bat flips have been going on forever, but this new iteration of the bat flip conversation was birthed in what was possibly the single greatest baseball game I’ve ever watched--Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS, between the Toronto Blue Jays and the visiting Texas Rangers. I don’t want to bore you with my retelling of that game, but I highly recommend googling or searching in YouTube “7th inning Rangers Blue Jays.” If it wasn’t the best baseball game I’ve ever watched, that 7th inning was definitely the greatest single inning of baseball I’ve ever watched. Long story short- Jose Bautista hit the game winning home run, and, in order to sufficiently celebrate said home run, he: 1.) Watches his home run for about a full second 2.) Looks at the pitcher, Sam Dyson, for a full second 3.) Looks toward first base for a full second, and then 4.) While holding the bat with his left hand (he is a right handed batter) he throws it up into the air, at a 60 degree angle, toward the first base dugout about 20 feet, but does so in a way where the bat flips end over end a few times. Only until the bat falls to the ground does he start running around the bases.
The whole routine is undeniably pretty cool. And for the record, I don’t think it was that bad--given the situation, he hit what turned out to be the series clinching home run, at home, to take his team to the ALCS for the first time since Joe Carter’s back to back ‘92-‘93 teams. He was understandably pretty pumped. The bat flip itself was far less irritating to me than the move to stare back at the pitcher, but all in all, I didn’t think it was that bad. And don’t get me wrong--there’s a way to drop, or “flip” your bat in a celebratory way without showing up the pitcher. Bautista treads that line very closely here. If he had done this in Texas, in a regular season game, in like the 3rd inning or something— definitely a flip I wouldn’t agree with. There’s nuance here. I’m not calling for a ban on all bat flips, but you know an inappropriate bat flip when you see one.
Anyway, that game, the “Bat Flip Heard ‘Round the World” really brought the bat flip conversation to the forefront. Baseball fans were split in two. The majority said, “Baseball is boring, I’m sick of these dumb ‘Unwritten Rules’, I wanna see bat flips!” The minority, like me, said “Bat flips are stupid as hell and if you did that when I was playing baseball, you’d get the shit kicked out of you.” But why is it so divisive?
I tried to think about what a good comparison to another sport would be, from the pitcher’s perspective, to having someone flip a bat or otherwise “Pimp” a homerun (I hate using the word “pimp,” but in this context, since it is part of the bat flip lexicon, I’ll use it). I had a really hard time coming up with anything across sports that does it justice. Getting scored on by a penalty kick in soccer, and the goal-scorer celebrates in front of you? No one really does that in real games. Getting dunked on in basketball? For some reason that doesn’t carry the same weight. Snowing the goalie in hockey? Yeah, but that’s pretty much accepted as being a punk move across the sport, no one wants to see that. The only thing I can think of that is vaguely similar is in football, if someone is running for a touchdown and breaks away and is completely uncontested by any defender and is headed for the endzone, and slows down to taunt the last defender, a la Desean Jackson or Golden Tate. Unnecessary attention seeking self celebration. Generally regarded as a “punk” move, but some people like to see it. But there is a rule against that, and both Jackson and Tate have received penalties for what the NFL calls “excessive celebration”.
It might seem ridiculous for the NFL to have rules against something so vague and subjective as “excessive celebration”, but there’s good reason for it, and it’s a reason that the NFL understands better than MLB. Because when you fail to legislate and define what is considered “appropriate conduct” from an executive level, players are going to take it into their own hands. It’s a safety issue. You get a penalty for excessive celebration because then, if you are that last defender who just got their soul stolen by someone prancing into the endzone, you don’t need to punch him in the jaw in retaliation, you can just laugh at him when he gets stuck with a 15 yard penalty. It’s his funeral if he wants to act like a jackass. When someone calls you a “fucking faggot” in an Major League Soccer game, you don’t need to get in their face and potentially start a dangerous brawl— you can do what Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson did when San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon called him this in an MLS game in April of 2013, and simply laugh in his face, and show him 3 fingers, each finger representing the game suspension he’s going to receive for breaking MLS’s anti-discrimination policy.
Calling someone a homophobic slur is absolutely not the same thing as flipping your bat after hitting a home run to show up an opponent, but the point remains. The institutions that organize and legislate these leagues need to make rules for what is and isn’t acceptable and appropriate behavior for two competitors to engage in, otherwise they risk losing control and having the players legislate themselves. And when it comes to bat flips, that’s exactly what they do. That 2015 ALDS game, where Jose Bautista hit a home run off of Sam Dyson and flipped his bat? Yeah, the Rangers didn’t like that. When Bautista came around the bases and touched home, Dyson let him know he didn’t like that. Nothing horrible, just a few words to voice his displeasure at Bautista. Bautista got back in Dyson’s face, the dugouts cleared, and it caused this huge annoying delay, where the Jays fans started throwing beer on the field. But that was basically it, until the next time the Rangers and Blue Jays met the following season in 2016 (YouTube “Jose Bautista Punched by Roughed Odor”, it’s one of my favorite baseball moments ever).
But as the flips get bigger, and the “pimps” get more obnoxious, and the league does nothing to stop it, and in fact, encourages it, pitchers are going to feel more and more disrespected, more and more angry, and feel more and more like they need to take it into their own hands.
Flash forward to April 7th, 2019. Cincinnati Reds playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two time All Star, and all around fun personality Chris Archer on the mound for the Pirates, facing journeyman backup, career .253 hitting Derek Dietrich. Essentially, a well respected, good for the league, veteran pitcher versus an average/below average player filling in for the slightly fatigued Joey Votto, that only hardcore baseball fans have ever even heard of. Archer, a righty, falls behind 1-0, and is trying to get back into the count with a fastball on the corner, low and away to the lefty Dietrich. Archer misses his spot, about two inches inside. For a big lanky lefty like Dietrich, low and right down the middle, coming in on him from a right handed pitcher, it’s begging to be launched. Dietrich obliges. Literally hits it into the Allegheny River. He limply drops the bat behind him, and instead of rounding the bases, he remains completely inside the batter’s box, leans back, and admires his handiwork for about 4 seconds. 4 seconds. That’s an eternity, when you really think about it. The moment Dietrich makes contact, Archer knows he missed his spot, and is furious with himself. You can see him shout and slam his hands together in a display of disgust. If you’re a hitter, that’s the biggest complement you can get. An All Star pitcher made a mistake, and you punished him. That should be all you need. You don’t need to show up a pitcher, who’s “been there” more times than you have by a long shot, by acting like a 450 foot home run was the only logical conclusion to the matchup, and to think otherwise would be an exercise in futility. By the way, Dietrich’s history against Archer prior to the home run? 0-6 with 6 strikeouts.
Maybe it’s difficult for people to understand how that makes a pitcher feel, but it is absolutely soul crushing. And for an average player like Derek Dietrich, who has literally done nothing but strike out against you, to pimp a home run like that, in your home field? Oohhh. I can only imagine the 47 different iterations of “Who the fuck does this asshole think he is?” going through Archer’s head. And there’s no rule against Dietrich showing you up like that. Next time he comes to the plate, you just have to pitch to him like it didn’t happen, with your soul nicely tucked away in his back pocket. So you do the only thing you can do to tell him how you feel. You throw a fastball as hard as you can at his ass. Not at his head or even at his hands, that’s too much. That’s dangerous. You don’t want to hurt anybody. So you throw as hard as you can at his ass. That’s your way of saying “Hey asshole, don’t fucking do that. If I wanted, I could literally kill you with a fastball to the head. Remember that.” And this is exactly what Archer did. Top of the 4th, Dietrich comes to the plate again and first pitch, Archer throws a 93 mile an hour fastball at his ass, actually throwing behind him and missing him completely. Archer’s way of saying “Don’t ever pull that little league bullshit with me ever again.” And that should’ve been the end of it. Archer didn’t yell at Dietrich, Dietrich didn’t yell back at Archer. Cause and effect. You pimp a home run, I’m gonna scare the living shit out of you, next time I see you. You flex, I flex back, we’re good. Let’s play baseball. Instead, Reds manager David Bell decides to run out on the field and scream at the umpire for issuing a warning for both teams and not throwing Archer out of the game. This kickstarts a brawl that (notorious bat flipper but lovable reigning Clown Prince of baseball) Yasiel Puig somehow becomes the center of, resulting in ejections for Bell, Puig, Reds reliever Amir Garrett, Pirates relievers Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez, as well as later suspensions for Puig, Archer, and Bell. All this because career backup utility player Derek Dietrich decided to pimp a homerun.
This is what I’m talking about when I talk about safety being involved. It takes Archer being a reasonable person to not throw at Dietrich’s head, to instead throw behind him, or at his ass, to express his displeasure. What if Archer was less level headed? He could kill someone. There was an instance in 2011 when Detroit Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen pimped a no-doubt home run off of Angels ace Jered Weaver. Weaver, notoriously a hothead that rides his temper and pitches with his heart on his sleeve, didn’t wait around for Guillen to come back up to bat. The next hitter, whoever it happened to be, was going to get the wrath of Weaver. Next batter, catcher Alex Avila, steps into the batter’s box and, first pitch, Weaver throws a 92 mile an hour fastball aimed directly at his head, barely missing his helmet. Weaver was tossed immediately, as he should have been, but the message was clear. It’s irrelevant what you think of Weaver— obviously he shouldn’t have done that, and it may sound a bit much, but Guillen put his teammate’s life in danger by pimping a home run. A 93 mile an hour fastball hitting someone in the right place on the head could easily be a fatal event. Even if it hits the helmet squarely, it can cause a concussion that has life changing implications. Suffice it to say, no one ever pimped a home run off of Weaver again.
A similar thing to the Archer-Dietrich affair in Pittsburgh happened a week and a half later in Chicago, on April 17th, when White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hit a two run homer off of Kansas City Royals pitcher Brad Keller. Anderson stands there for a second, and then looks to his dugout on the third base side, and throws his bat toward his dugout with both hands, like a bat flip/spear chuck hybrid. Next time Anderson comes up, Keller drills him in the ass with a 92 mile an hour fastball. The results are similar to the fracas in Pittsburgh earlier in the month, leading to ejections and suspensions, and subsequently, everyone from Deadspin to ESPN get to talking about how awesome the bat flip was, and how dumb Keller is to throw at someone for “celebrating”. MLB itself even posted a not-so-subtle video on their official YouTube channel of the bat flip, with the description being “Check out all the angles of Tim Anderson's awesome HR and bat throw from April 17th!” No one left wondering where the baseball powers that be stand on the issue of the bat flip after that.
Of course, there are racial implications to all of this that shouldn’t be ignored. There are plenty of “dinosaurs” that believe in the stereotype that the majority of these bat flip offenders are Latin players from the Caribbean and Central America, or are African American. They don’t like to see bat flips for the same reasons millions of white Americans didn’t like to see Colin Kaepernick kneel for the national anthem— not because they disagree with his form of protest on an intellectual level, they simply don’t like to see a person of color unapologetically refuse to fall in line with the status quo of a traditionally and historically white space, such as the NFL. Plenty of Anti-Kaepernick folks hid behind their hate and racism by pretending to be offended at what they declared was “disrespect” by brave folks like Kaepernick, Eric Reid, and Michael Bennent, etc. This was all a ruse, of course. There was no disrespect shown by Kaepernick, they were simply lashing out at a confident and unafraid black man holding a mirror to themselves, forcing them to come to terms with their anger and hate and bigotry.
There is no doubt a swath of baseball fans that are angered by the bat flip phenomenon for similar reasons, and I feel the need to distance myself from them. Not only is the racial stereotype surrounding bat flip culture deeply racist, it’s simply not true. There’s no data to back it up. In fact, Derek Deitrich is white, and Chris Archer is black. I feel like it’s important to mention this because I don’t want to selectively call truth to power, and ignore injustices when it doesn’t fit my narrative. We need to call out racism wherever we see it. In that spirit, regarding the Tim Anderson bat flip and subsequent suspension— MLB decided to further show its ineptitude and lack of moral fiber by pulling a Jerry Seinfeld and issuing Anderson, who is black, a lengthier suspension for calling Keller, who is white, a “weak ass fucking [n-word]”, by vaguely saying that he violated a “language policy”. The idea that a largely white institution such as Major League Baseball is telling its black players what is or isn’t racist language is so oblivious and hypocritical it is laughable.
Maybe it seems ridiculous for me to take this stance, and to take it so vehemently, but this is why it bothers me so much. The conversation that the baseball world is trying to push onto us and accept is fundamentally dishonest. It is trying to make pimping homers the new norm because pimping homers generates revenue. It gets people to watch. Butts in seats. Eyes on TV sets. But this push is being done at the expense of the basic tenants of sportsmanship and further propagates the patriarchy and normalization of emasculation as a legitimate form of expression. Pushing and promoting bat flips is a signal from the baseball world that it’s ok to humiliate another man in a physical showing and pretend that it’s in good fun. And if you feel hurt or upset by that, shut up! It’s not about you, it’s about the winner! This is the heavy bullshit of late stage capitalism, given yet another conduit through this small and simple gesture.
Every baseball blog loves to point out the supposed hypocrisy of bat flip skeptics like me, by saying “Oh, its ok for a pitcher to fist pump after a strikeout, but it’s not ok for a hitter to flip his bat or stare at a home run?” No! No it’s not! It’s ok for pitchers to do that because a pitcher getting excited about a strikeout is just simply not the same thing as a batter flipping his bat or staring at his home run. There’s no emasculation involved. Anyone who’s ever played baseball knows that. To pretend that they are equivalent is either extremely dishonest or extremely ignorant. There are ways to celebrate in sports without emasculating or humiliating your opponent. There is something about bat flips that is inherently emasculating and humiliating to the pitcher that threw the ball. If you don’t realize that, you shouldn’t be writing about baseball.
MLB is not promoting bat flips because they think it’s fun, they are doing it purely from a revenue generation standpoint, as a marketing technique, at the expense of propagating bully culture and further embedding the patriarchy and toxic masculinity into the mainstream. The dishonesty in that is infuriating. You want to flip your bat, or stare at your home run? Fine. But you then lose the right to be upset when the pitcher throws at your ass. No one’s saying you shouldn’t be allowed to pimp a homer if you want, but pitchers should be allowed (culturally, not officially) to throw at your ass, and face the consequences of a warning or ejection.
I think that’s a more than fair compromise that Chris Archer or Brad Keller would agree with wholeheartedly. And if Tim Anderson or Derek Dietrich disagree with that, then they’re part of the problem, and are further embedding the patriarchy and toxic masculinity into mainstream Western culture. The culture of baseball is changing— the demographics of the league are seeing its Hispanic/Latino population grow not only in the players playing in the league, but its fanbase as well, which is awesome. Seeing the Asian, and especially Asian-American representation, for me personally as an Asian-American, is incredible and inspiring to see. MLB is also becoming more LGBTQ friendly, by hosting “Pride Nights”, as well as officially recognizing June to be “Pride Month,” a far cry from the not-so distant past of the John Rocker days. This is all good change, good progress. But not all change and progress is good. Sometimes speaking truth to power is in the form of the archaic, old school, “dinosaur” voice, and the oppressive patriarchal voice is the hip, new, “progressive” voice. I’m fine with being un-hip here.
Austin Finn is an artist and musician from Billings, Montana, now living in Brooklyn, NY. He plays guitar in the band Idaho Green, co-founded Julia-Louis Dreyfest, and helps run the Missoula based label Minor Bird Records. He graduated from Montana State University-Billings with a degree in Mathematics in 2015 despite being a degenerate alcoholic high school dropout. He currently has a warrant out for his arrest in the Republic of Serbia, and has a weird 9 to 5 accounting job for a multimedia company in the Empire State Building (unrelated).