Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has been around his fair share of players who like to shown emotion during his baseball career.
He was teammates with Manny Ramirez during his time playing with the Boston Red Sox. Ramirez, one of the most dominant power hitters in baseball history, would often admire balls that he hit deep. Sometimes the balls altogether left the stadium, while other times he would admire what turned out to be a long single, which probably would have been a double if he ran from the time the ball hit the bat.
From 2015-2017, Kapler was the Los Angeles Dodgers director of player development. Yasiel Puig, perhaps the team’s most talented position player over the course of that span, is certainly a unique character. Puig might be known to fans who only watch the postseason as the guy who inexplicably licks his bat. If not, fans may know him as the player who, on multiple occasions, has walked up and kissed hitting coach Turner Ward in the dugout. San Francisco Giants star Madison Bumgarner once stopped Puig as he rounded the bases after a home run to voice his displeasure with Puig flipping his bat.
And now as the manager of the Phillies, one of Kapler’s most talented – though sometimes frustrating – players is Odubel Herrera. Though not known for his power, Herrera is one of the more notable bat-flippers in recent memory, even if the ball doesn’t always leave the stadium after he flips his bat. He’ll also occasionally clap towards the Phillies dugout after working a walk in a key situation.
Kapler recently appeared on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina and was asked how he feels about bat-flips and emotion in baseball. He gave a nuanced answer in support of increasing emotion in the sport:
“I like emotion in baseball. I like players celebrating, I like high fives, I like seeds getting thrown up in the air, I like bat-flips. I don’t believe in everybody has to be the same. I love Matt Williams’ style – when he used to hit a home run and put his head down and sprint around the bases, I thought ‘that’s really cool.’ But I would not like to have everybody be like Matt Williams. I think the game would be boring. So I love Chris Archer’s style, I love Odubel Herrera’s style at the plate, I love Fernando Rodney with the [shooting the] arrows, I love bat flips, I love Bryce Harper celebrating like he did last night [in the home run derby]. I love all of it, I think it’s good for baseball.”
As we saw in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, in many Latin nations that play baseball, bat flips and emotion during key moments of a game are viewed as part of the game. The mindset in many of those nations is that if you don’t want to see the other team celebrate, you shouldn’t allow them to have the necessary success to celebrate. While that mindset has become increasingly prevalent among American baseball observers, specifically Millennials, there’s still an old-guard that believes flipping the bat or showing any sort of notable emotion after a major play is showing the opposing team up. And the older guard that believes that thinks that if you flip your bat or do anything to show the opponent up, it’s also part of the game for you to take a pitch in your back the next time you come to the plate.
The debate reached a fever pitch during the 2015 ALDS when Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista stared down Texas Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson and flipped the bat away after delivering a go-ahead home run in the deciding game of the series:
As Phillies fans know all too well, this wasn’t the most important home run in Blue Jays history. But for a team that was back in the postseason for the first time since Joe Carter’s walkoff home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, it was an iconic moment. Heck, it might be the most memorable baseball moment this decade. In his seventh season in Toronto, Bautista, one of the most prolific home run hitters of his era, launched an incredibly important home run in an elimination game. Even many baseball observers that wouldn’t consider themselves to be pro bat-flip viewed Bautista’s career-defining moment to be par for the course.
However, Mike Schmidt, despite showing emotion when he hit his 500th home run, said Bautista’s bat-flip crossed the line. Even a contemporary star, Ian Kinsler, seemed to suggest that American baseball players handle success in a better way than Puerto Rican players during the 2017 World Baseball Classic. (Kinsler wasn’t referring to Bautista – who is from the Dominican Republic, not Puerto Rico – but rather a growing narrative during the World Baseball Classic that other countries seem to have more fun playing baseball.) After a hard slide in Texas the following season, Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face, with leftover emotion from his bat-flip perhaps contributing to the incident. So while in many senses this is a generational debate – the same way it was with Cam Newton’s touchdown celebrations – there still is a faction of younger people involved with baseball who abide by the sport’s “unwritten rules.”
Of course, whether you like emotion in baseball or not, the easiest way to stop the other team from celebrating is to not let them have enough success to celebrate. There hasn’t been a rush of baseball players upset when the opposing team shows negative emotions, such as throwing the bat or slamming a batting helmet after being struck out. Perhaps that’s the middle ground that people like Kapler will have to meet those who are against showing emotion at.
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