When José Bautista tossed his bat into the stratosphere with the force of 1,000 men following a mammoth home run that catapulted the Toronto Blue Jays into the 2015 ALCS, it prompted immediate criticism. The man who threw the fateful pitch, Texas Rangers reliever Kevin Dyson, said Bautista needs to “respect the game a little bit more.” Cole Hamels, who arrived in Texas at the trade deadline, said the Rangers “don’t carry ourselves that way.”
Bat flipping has long been a no-no in baseball’s invisible gamesmanship rulebook, and many have chastised the new generation of ballplayers like Bautista, Yasiel Puig and Jose Ramirez for contributing to the crumbling of baseball’s holy unwritten rules. But a quick, visual stroll down memory lane sheds light on a fact that baseball purists prefer to ignore: bat flipping has been going on in major league baseball for a very long time.
Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz has long been perfecting the bat flip, tossing it high into the air across home plate after belting a home run. He even does it after getting walked, like he did in a game against the Los Angeles Angels in 2014. That’s absurd!
In his hey-day, Cleveland Indians slugger Jim Thome was known to send his bat spinning behind him after crushing a big home run, like he did in Game 5 of the 1995 ALCS—a two-run blast against the Seattle Mariners put the Indians up 3-2.
Thome tosses his bat at least 10 feet to his right as he begins his home run trot, one of the biggest of his career. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone complaining about his demeanor after that one.
During the 1987 World Series, St. Louis Cardinals infielder Tom Lawless jacked a three-run homer to put the Cards up 4-1. He proceeded to saunter halfway down the first base line, bat in hand, before flipping the bat high into the air and beginning his home run trot. That is 10 times more outrageous than what Bautista did.
What about Rickey Henderson, a man revered as one of baseball’s greatest all-time base-stealers? Yeah, he was a bat flipper, but we don’t really talk about that aspect of his game any more, do we?
Even Ken Griffey Jr., the “Kid” with the backwards hat, big smile and pretty swing, had flair when he hit a home run. No, he didn’t toss his bat, opting instead to immediately drop it on home plate as he slowly walked to first base, admiring his blast from afar.
You have the right to feel any way you want about bat flipping. Some of us love it and think it adds color to an otherwise gray game. Some of us hate it, considering it an over-the-top form of showboating that has no place in America’s National Pastime. But regardless of your feelings, the bat flip is not a new development favored by those darn kids. It’s been around for a long time, and we have a feeling it will be sticking around for a while longer.