Is a Bat Flip Inherently Disrespectful? Rocco Baldelli Says That’s Up to You to Decide

Photo credit: Brad Rempel, USA TODAY Sports

Tim Anderson’s bat flip heard ‘round the world brought to light the frequently debated topic over whether players should be able to celebrate the long ball.

It also seemed particularly pertinent to the Minnesota Twins because both teams that were involved in the melee following it — the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals — are in the AL Central, so naturally Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was asked about it after the brawl.

“It is a long discussion,” he said. “I think the following: I think as long as someone is respecting the guys that are on the field with them, they should be able to do whatever they want.”

We know that former manager Paul Molitor wasn’t a big fan of bat flips. Back in 2015, Jose Ramirez hit a three-run home run off Ricky Nolasco (!!!) in the eighth inning of the second game of a doubleheader in Cleveland to put the Indians up 10-1. Molitor, then in his first year as the manager of the Twins, stood at the top of the dugout steps and yelled “Get the fuck off the field,” while pantomiming an umpire tossing him out of the game.

Ramirez’s actions would qualify as disrespectful to most people. The game was well out of hand, both teams had been on the field for 17 innings at that point and Ramirez pointed his bat towards the Twins dugout and then flipped it towards them.

After the game Nolasco said “He’ll get his, don’t worry” — a reference to the unwritten rules of baseball which call for retaliation for celebrating a home run. Nolasco, I’m sure you will remember, signed a four-year, $49 million deal with the Twins and had a 5.44 ERA (74 ERA+) in three seasons before being dealt to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2016.

Such a policy, if you want to call it that, seems rather outdated in today’s game. Hitting a player with a baseball, especially in the head, is an overreaction to a baseball celebration. But expecting players to act with sportsmanship shouldn’t be too much to ask.

“There’s a fine line because in baseball there’s a pitcher-hitter competition going on on every given play, so what a guy does is sometimes directly pointed toward the other people on the field,” said Baldelli. “There are times when a guy can express themselves as a player and do things as long as it’s focused on the positives with someone’s teammates as opposed to things that are focused toward the other team in any way.

“If someone is doing things to belittle someone on the other team in any way, they’re probably wrong. But who am I to judge which of those interactions are doing that and which ones aren’t?”

As the season goes along, we may see how Baldelli and the Twins act if Anderson, or another player, celebrates after taking one of Minnesota’s pitchers deep. Until then we can only speculate, but he said he doesn’t believe that a bat flip is inherently disrespectful.

“That’s up for you to decide,” said Baldelli. “Just like it’s up to every guy in that clubhouse to decide how they feel about it. Because believe me they talk about it and it’s part of the game.

“I also believe that players should be able to have a personality and express themselves. They aren’t robots. These guys are not machines. Although we like to think they are or decide when they should be and shouldn’t be, they’re not. They are allowed to have fun out there, too. Just respecting the other people on the field does matter.”

Anderson’s action appeared to be directed towards his teammates, but his reputation may have caused the Royals to get upset with him.

So what’s an example of a home run celebration that is not antagonistic?

Let’s start with Torii Hunter’s old man bat flipping that took place during his final season in Minnesota, specifically when he tossed his bat after hitting a ball into the second deck in September of 2015 against the Tribe. Same team, and a similar situation: a week before the Ramirez home run but at home in the bottom of the seventh inning in a game that the Twins were trailing 6-0 at the time.

As far as we know, Cleveland manager Terry Francona didn’t tell Mr. Hunter to kindly remove himself from the playing surface (or something like that). There was no brawl. Hunter never got pegged for it.

So what’s the difference?

For one, Hunter the bat flip was rather discrete.
Secondly, Hunter had a well-established reputation as a human shoulder angel at the time — an affable, goofy veteran player with a pearly white smile.

Finally, the whole situation was ridiculous. Hunter is a 39-year-old man pimping a homer off a player almost half his age — 24-year-old Cody Anderson.

According to Baldelli, a player’s reputation often factors in.

“Sometimes we go into games with preconceived thoughts about the players we’re playing against and individuals on the other team and it might change the way we react to what happens on the field,” he said. “If David Ortiz hits a home run and stands at home plate for a little while I think in general the opposing team or the opposing pitcher might have less to say or is worried about that less if it were a different player.”

Certainly players should be able to celebrate their home runs. We’re not talking Jose Bautista in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS — although there was some entertainment value in that. How about Willians Astudillo getting down on one knee to admire a bomb he hit in Venezuela over the summer?

Not a bat flip, but he gets plunked for that here, right? At the very least, it’s against the unwritten rules or comes across as taboo in Major League Baseball. But it’s fun and entertaining and hilarious. Is he really disrespecting the pitcher there? I fail to see it. He’s having fun, and the fun he’s having is contagious. Baseball needs that.

Respecting other players does matter. We don’t need to turn home runs into orchestrated celebrations like touchdown dances have become in the NFL. In most situations it’s just fine for the hitter to set down his bat and jog across the bases.

But in an emotional situation? As a tool to wake his team up? Because you’re a personality like Hunter or Astudillo and want to express yourself? That shouldn’t result in a ball getting tossed at you, especially your head. There should be an expectation of respect among players in the league, but the game should be fun too.

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