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Bat Flipping: Fair or Foul

Is baseball a tired sport? Apparently Bryce Harper thinks so. In an interview with CBS Sports, Harper said he doesn’t think baseball players “express themselves” like basketball or football players. I beg to differ. Bryce Harper expresses how good he is whenever he hits a home run by staring at the baseball. Is there a difference between showing up the pitcher and admiring yourself? Either way it’s expressing yourself.

One of the most famous expressions came during last year’s playoffs in Toronto. In an emotional Game 5 of the ALDS, Jose Bautista absolutely tattooed a fastball to give the Blue Jays a lead. But Ba
utista’s bat flip seemed to get as much, if not more, buzz than the actual home run itself.

odubelOften, these are the kinds of things that rub people the wrong way, especially baseball purists.

Then we have a guy on our team that does expresses himself, and he happens to be the best player on the team. That would be Odubel Herrera. He has a famous bat flip, born in Detroit earlier this season when he hit a three-run homer. Herrera actually has a famous bat flip just about every time up. A lineout to the outfield … we see a bat flip. A weak pop-out to the outfield … we see another bat flip.

We can speak for most Phillies fans in sharing our love for Herrera, an exception to Harper’s beef. With the bat flips and the claps, he’s a player that expresses himself.

But do we not let his play bother us because he’s “our guy”?

It wasn’t long ago when one player bothered us with his expressionism. Jose Reyes, back during his days with the Mets, frequently shimmied, clappe, jumped and flipped his bat after plenty of plays in regular season games against the Phillies and other teams. Phillies fans didn’t like it, booing Reyes loudly and complaining about him on talk radio.

Reyes made an impression on the Phillies themselves. After hitting his epic grand slam against CC Sabathia and the Brewers in the 2008 National League Division Series, Victorino celebrated expressively. Cole Hamels said that when Victorino returned to the clubhouse, a note on his locker comp
ared him to Reyes.

We never complained about Victorino’s expressiveness as a Phillie. When he whooped it up and played aggressively, we cheered. And when teams targeted him (such as the Dodgers in the 2008 and ‘09 National League Championship Series) we stood right behind him.

So if we set our own personal rules for expression and bat flips, shouldn’t all players follow these rules? Should we come down on Herrera for flipping his bat any time he wants?

Our Corey Sharp and Timothy Malcolm provide their opinions:

Sharp: I’m in the middle with the argument of expression. I believe there is a time and a place for it. It’s not acceptable when you’re leading a game 7-0 in the eighth inning, then blast a home run and stare and flip the bat. That’s disrespectful to me. Drop the bat and start the home run trot. Also, a solo home run in the second inning of a game doesn’t warrant a bat flip or admiration, either. That home run in a blowout win or the solo shot in the second inning of a game hasn’t done anything.

The time and place for bat flipping is if an impact is made. For example, a walk-off home run absolutely warrants a bat flip. You won the game, you got the last laugh, you can do what you want. Bautista’s bat flip last season in the playoffs is also acceptable. That was one of the most emotional games I’ve ever witnessed. With the weird play of Rougned Odor scoring for Texas to take the lead, the fans throwing debris on the field and the benches clearing multiple times, emotions were running high. When Bautista hit that home run, Rogers Centre erupted, as did Joey Bats with the impressive bat flip. The magnitude of the game and the emotions of it made for a perfect opportunity. That goes for any big game, on the road or at home, big comebacks or just big home runs late in games. Do what you want. You’ve made an impact.

Odubel – you’re lucky we love the way you play and also hitting over .300 helps. Bat flip all you want!

Malcolm: Nearly everyone who reaches the major leagues starts playing baseball at a very young age. They practice and work for years to reach the professional ranks, and most never even get close. So those that do fight through multiple levels – youth ball, little league, club and traveling ball, high school, maybe college, minor leagues – endure countless major and minor injuries and devote themselves to the time and effort necessary to make it big. Basically, for around 20 years, you’re working just to get to the majors.

And if you make it?

For that reason I approve of bat flips and other celebrations. We’re not talking about spitting on logos or dancing for 15 seconds. We’re talking a human expression of excitement after doing something pretty cool. And that “pretty cool” is pretty relative – hitting a big home run, sure, but what about an RBI double into the gap? Why not?

It’s one thing that a player flips his bat after popping one up. If that’s truly what’s happening that should probably be tempered; more likely the player (in this case Herrera) is angry at himself and chucking his bat aside.

But I actually don’t mind that emotion. As Harper noted baseball can be tired. It’s inherently repetitive and lasts long enough to literally cause one to be tired. Tossing emotion into the sport won’t kill it. In fact, it’ll only make it stronger.

Bautista showed that the night he gloriously flipped his bat in the Division Series. His flip symbolized his brute power and unflinching individuality. It also reminded me that after years of getting to this very moment, of being good enough to reach the professional ranks but struggling mightily before reaching Toronto, Bautista absolutely earned that flip.

And everyone deserves to flip, to celebrate, to be expressive. Even rookies. They reached their goal. They realized their passions.

It’s easy for Harper to do it – he’s maybe the most obvious example of a phenom, on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16. All this comes easier to Harper, so why not actively celebrate that raw talent? If anything our major leagues should feel more proud of their unique accomplishments, allowing them to celebrate even more.

Then, maybe, we won’t be so damn angry when a guy flips his bat.

Herrera should keep on flipping and clapping at his well-earned walks. He makes this game fun. He shows us how comfortable he is in his very rare job title: major league baseball player.

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