Grandstand Central
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Grandstand Central

Bautista’s Bat Flip and the War Over Baseball’s Unwritten Rules

It’s been almost three years since Bautista flipped the baseball world on its head, and made the case for more emotion in the game. But it many ways, the sport is more divided than ever, torn between those who want to see players express themselves, and fans who still think there’s a ‘right way’ to play the game.

Every sport has its unwritten rules.

In soccer, when an opponent gets legitimately hurt, you kick the ball out of bounds. In football, you take a knee instead of running-up the score. In basketball, you dribble out the clock rather than heaving up an unnecessary three.

And in baseball, you’re not supposed to pimp your home run.

The chatter around baseball for much of the past half-decade has been about the ‘right way’ to play the game, and what to do about the increasing frequency of guys showing more emotion than the traditionalists are comfortable with. The old white guy chorus loves to perpetuate the idea that these unwritten rules are sacred, and that players need to enforce them through the use of force. In their minds, a fair punishment for flipping a bat is having a 95-mph weapon thrown at your head. At the same time, the new, culturally diverse generation tends to eschew some of these unwritten rules in favour of open expressions of emotion.

In many ways, the tension within baseball is a microcosm of the larger struggle within the country that calls it its national pastime. The quieter, more ‘respectful’ version of the game conjures up a nostalgic connection to the past, calling the old guard back to an era of America they preferred and believed was, in most ways, better. Opposing them is a new generation of baseball players and fans, those without any connection to ‘the good old days’, and who believe the best is still ahead.

To Major League Baseball’s credit, the league is finally starting to agree with the latter, as they fear being left behind by the social-media-savvy, gifable generation. Dancing, chirping, and yes, bat flipping, are all regular occurrences in baseball in 2018. And in many ways, the game has Jose Bautista to thank for that.

While his wasn’t the first bat flip in baseball history, it was certainly the loudest. The emotion, expression, and emphatic delivery of that flip effectively ended baseball’s old-school-era, and brought baseball into the modern age. The game is still sorting out what’s permissible in this era, but it will undoubtedly go down as the moment when the proverbial switch was flipped.

In this week’s episode of Roll the Tape podcast, the team looks back at the bat flip, the trajectories of the Blue Jays and Bautista since, and how this moment sparked the fiercest debate yet on ‘the right way to play the game’.

Show Notes

Why do antiquated ideologies stay so relevant in baseball?

Shouldn’t a 95 mph fastball to the head constitute assault with a deadly weapon?

What is ‘the right way’ to play the game?

With the growing international flair to the sport of baseball, how quickly will these voices drown out ‘the right way’ voices?

Additional Reading

Flippin’ Bats: Emotion vs. etiquette in sports (MLB)

Jose Bautista’s bat flip was amazing and should be celebrated (USA Today)

Is there one right way to play baseball? (Chicago Tribune)

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