Those with their finger on America’s iron-rich, throbbing pulse can agree on at least one shared sentiment: the nation has fallen in love with the bat flip. If anything, we’re left to wonder how it took baseball 150 years to reach this point, when the bat flip is such an American act, a distilled essence of emotion, of joie de vivre. Clearly, these GIFs are mirrors to our own soul, showing how much we’ve changed. How can baseball be the same when Rickey Henderson, embodiment of the id, never flipped a bat, and yet Josh Donaldson has?
I have personally spent hours, while mechanically attending to the welfare of a fragile newborn child, reflecting on the bat flip. I have chiseled into the forgotten, calcified sections of my heart. I have lain in the dying July grass and stared into the colorless sky, and I have found the truth of the matter. It is not the truth I sought, nor the one I was hoping for.
I do not like the bat flip.
Before the rage blinds your vision, and before Cistulli fires me and erases my archives from the NotGraphs canon, allow me to explain. First, my opinion is a purely personal one with no political or moral grounds; I am not foolish enough to stand against the current of American spirit. Instead, think of it as simply the feelings of a single man, perhaps egotistical enough (as all writers are) to believe that his small words are enough to create some connection with his fellow reader, and nothing more.
Am I old-fashioned? Do I fear anything new and different? Yes, and perhaps. As I delve further into my thirties, I’ve learned that it grows increasingly difficult to continuously remodel myself with the times. Certainly, there are occasional shared societal norms and values that we should each adapt to, regardless of our age, like having the ability to set up wireless routers and basic human tolerance. But someday, our youths will embark on new voyages that I simply won’t be able to join, won’t have the time and patience to learn about. I handled Twitter, but if Pokemon had become enmeshed in the central fabric of our culture, I would have been lost.
What I mean to say by all this is that at some point, our aesthetics and values are rooted in our own perspective, and our own time. There is an element of crotchetiness to it: it says that baseball was best when I was young because that’s how it was when I was young. But there’s an undeniable truth that in some ways, the most beautiful form of baseball is our first idealization of it. And this is why, when I conceptualize the swing of a bat, my mind’s eye inevitably returns to this:
There is no room for the bat flip in this image.
My other source of disquiet toward the bat flip is somehow even more esoteric, and goes back to Rickey Henderson. His was a more conservative era, and baseball has always been the most reserved of sports. But the bat flip is among the signs that this façade is crumbling, that baseball players are feeling increasingly liberated in showing their emotions on the field.
In general, I support this trend. The more individuality each player can display in a game, the more flavor that game provides, the more life it contains. And if Yasiel Puig, ten years from now, remains the predominant bat flipper of his time, the same way Bo was known for breaking his bat or Phil Plantier was known for batting as if he were hiding in brush, I’d be pleased. But he probably won’t. All original things eventually become clichés.
But the degradation of everything good is no argument against the bat flip itself, just a simple truth. It’s the timing of the thing that struck me. Twenty years ago, Yasiel Puig would be so riddled with beanballs by now that he’d be unable to lift a bat, much less flip it. Pitchers and managers have clearly become more lenient over time, and I believe this is because of how the act is perceived. The bat flip is not a taunt, but an untargeted expression of joy. It’s the spike of a football in the endzone.
And everywhere else in the game, I want this. I want joy, I want baseball players to actually look happy when they’ve done incredible things. So why not the bat flip?
Baseball is a game of independent actors, where every fielder is acting upon the ball or the foot of an incoming slide. In such circumstances, the batter-pitcher matchup is the primary confrontation in the game. To divorce the expression of the batter from the action of the pitcher is to separate the act of pitching from the act of hitting. Suddenly the hitter is competing against the ball rather than his opponent, and shows pleasure in defeating it.
I want the hitter-pitcher battle to continue not just until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, but through to the end of the play. This means that the hitter’s reaction remains part of that combat, and is directed toward the enemy. In that light, the bat flip is an unacceptable demonstration toward a worthy foe. This, too, is old-fashioned, but I like to maintain tension through the artifice of a contest of wills.
None of this matters. Bats will continue to be flipped. People will demand visual evidence of them. I understand. But this time, I can’t join you, America. I’m stuck here with Wally Joyner, growing old.
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