Fair or Foul: The Criteria for Respectful Bat Flips (Part I)

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It seemed as though the two sides were finally at peace. But that all went out the window Wednesday night, when Jose Bautista launched a solo jack into the left field bleachers at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, reigniting baseball’s most polarizing debate. Specifically, it wasn’t because of the actual home run itself, but because of the bat flip that followed.

The homer was essentially meaningless. It was an 8-3 ballgame in the top of the eighth inning. Bautista made it 8-4. So, when he stared down his dinger and flipped his bat, the benches predictably cleared. In retaliation, the Atlanta Braves elected to plunk Bautista in his first at-bat the following day, doing so with a 96 MPH fastball that, by some odd miracle, just happened to clock in on the radar gun as the hardest pitch Julio Teheran has thrown in the big leagues in two years.

Needless to say, the Braves were intent on sending a message. While Bautista took the pitch in the thigh and made his way to first with no reaction to ensure the situation didn’t escalate, the incident reopened the whole bat flip debate and once again brought it back into the spotlight.

Fair or Foul: The Criteria for Respectful Bat Flips (Part I)

Depending on who you ask, bat flips have varying levels of acceptance in today’s game. Some people, like Goose Gossage, despise bat flips of all kinds. Others, such as Bautista, argue that bat flips are simply a part of the Dominican baseball culture he grew up surrounded by. There are those in the middle (**cough** Texas Rangers **cough**), who love bat flips when it is Rougned Odor’s bat going airborne and despise them when the bat is an opponent’s.

The Myth of Bat Flips

First and foremost, we must dispel the myth that all baseball traditionalists hate bat flips. While many purists of the game do not view any sort of individual attention-seeking behavior kindly, players can’t be expected to act like robots. That simply isn’t realistic, given the nature of the sport; whole games, series, and seasons can be determined by one or two key moments.

Rather, bat flips actually happen after most home runs. The thing is, most times no one raises a finger. Some bat flips are less exuberant than others; some don’t get caught on camera or shown on replay; some are completely unintentional altogether, resulting from the simple forces of gravity that cause a bat to accelerate downwards when it is let go. It’s only when the bat flipper crosses the line into disrespectful territory that it triggers a reaction, and this can happen several ways.

So what exactly constitutes a ‘disrespectful’ bat flip? Here is a closer look at four common errors batters make when flipping their bats that opposing teams take issue with:

Common Error #1: Flipping the Bat with Too Much Force

The first error hitters make is flipping their bats forcefully, almost in disgust. What this does is make it known to the world that it was either a mistake to throw a challenge pitch, or that the pitcher screwed up and made a mistake in location on the delivery. Being amped up is fine, but whipping the bat into the dirt or towards the dugout isn’t necessary. Save the forcefulness for high fives in the dugout. More importantly, be gentle with the bat that just hit that dinger for you. Chances are it probably doesn’t enjoy being hurled into the ground.

Common Error #2: Flipping the Bat with an Upward Trajectory

This goes hand in hand with Common Error #1. Serving up a long ball is painful enough for the pitcher to begin with, but seeing a high, looping bat sail through the air rubs even more salt into the wound. A good rule of thumb to go by is the same rule you probably used playing dodgeball in elementary school: no throwing above the waist. Same goes for a bat flip. It shouldn’t first go up before it comes down, and it certainly shouldn’t be flipped head high.

Common Error #3: Staring Down the Opposing Pitcher or Dugout

Of these four common errors, this is by far the most disrespectful. Nothing irks your opponent more than being shown up, and staring down the pitcher or opposing team’s dugout after a home run does exactly that. Congratulations, you won the battle this round, but the pitcher could very well return the favor next time up. Plus, chances are the pitcher made a mistake in location that allowed you to hit one out. Reminding him about it is totally needless.

Common Error #4: Admiring the Dinger

A number of hitters tend to take a good, long looks at their home runs when they are confident off the bat that they hit it out. Now, this isn’t as bad as staring down the pitcher you just hit the dinger off of, but that doesn’t make it right. Standing still and watching it leave the yard, then strutting out of the box at snail’s pace isn’t acceptable either. Just hit your dinger and get on with it. You are far from the first Major Leaguer to touch ‘em all, and you won’t be the last.

If the goal is to minimize bench clearing brawls and retaliatory hit-by-pitches, avoiding those four mistakes is a good place to start. But if this has still left you confused, perhaps looking at a handful of practical examples showcasing respectful and disrespectful ways to flip the bat may clear things up. That’s on the way in Part II.

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