More f lip, less f lap

That toss of the bat af­ter a big hit may have lost much of its power to ir­ri­tate. As its use spreads, no one ap­pears to care.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Zach Helfand

Years ago, back when Yasiel Puig was a 3-year-old in Cuba, a triple-A player in Buf­falo named Rich Aude dis­played a home-run cel­e­bra­tion that would put any of Puig’s bat flips to shame.

Aude hit a walk-off home run. He watched it f ly for sev­eral sec­onds, then walked half­way to first base, bobbed his head and stared at the pitcher.

The coup de grace was some­thing that has be­come in­creas­ingly familiar in to­day’s game: Still star­ing, he f lipped his bat about 10 feet to­ward the sky.

It ig­nited a con­fronta­tion be­tween the teams, and even Aude’s manager took ex­cep­tion.

“Bas­ket­ball is in-your-face,” the manager, Doc Ed­wards, told the Buf­falo News, “but not base­ball.”

Times have changed. To­day, Puig and play­ers across the big leagues have made the bat flip a sta­ple — and not only af­ter home runs.

Last week, when the Dodgers right fielder re­turned from a sixweek stint on the dis­abled list, Puig punc­tu­ated his first hit, a dou­ble, with a mini bat flip.

The flip has be­come so much a per­sonal sig­na­ture that Puig is try­ing to tone down the prac­tice be-

cause he fears the habit — born dur­ing his am­a­teur days in Cuba, where the play­ers tend to be more an­i­mated — has been giv­ing the wrong im­pres­sion.

“I want to show Amer­i­can base­ball that I’m not dis­re­spect­ing the game,” he said sev­eral weeks ago, be­fore a ham­string in­jury prompted his ex­tended stay on the DL.

While he was out, some­thing strange hap­pened. Play­ers flipped their bats af­ter home runs, sin­gles, even a walk — and no one has seemed to care.

Ear­lier this sea­son, Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke tossed his bat the­atri­cally af­ter a dou­ble and smiled on sec­ond base. Ret­ri­bu­tion was not sought.

The move has be­come so com­mon, Dodgers catcher A.J. El­lis says he no longer even no­tices.

“As long as noth­ing’s done ma­li­ciously to of­fend the op- pos­ing team,” El­lis said. “If it’s only done in gen­uine ex­cite­ment to what’s ac­com­plished for your own team, I have no is­sue in any way with peo­ple cel­e­brat­ing.”

Since pitch­ers are now join­ing in the fun, El­lis won­dered, why get worked up about it? He noted wryly that “No­body in the game’s got a big­ger bat flip than Zack Greinke right now.”

Base­ball doesn’t have a rule about what a bat­ter must do with his bat. It is per­fectly legal, for in­stance, to round the bases with bat in hand the en­tire time, though it is un­likely that’s been tried.

But at some point, Amer­i­can base­ball cul­ture deemed bat f lip­ping taboo. Be­fore Puig, the cel­e­bra­tory bat flip was in the same cat­e­gory as a re­tired bat­ter’s run­ning across the mound on his way back to the dugout, said Ja­son Tur­bow, au­thor of “Base­ball Codes: Bean­balls, Sign Steal­ing, and Bench-Clear­ing Brawls.”

Then along came Puig, the Johnny Ap­ple­seed of the bat flip.

Puig didn’t start the prac­tice, but he brought it into the main­stream, Tur­bow said. Early this sea­son, the Dodgers re­leased a com­mer­cial that showed a young fan f lip­ping his pen­cils and sand­wiches into the air, just like his hero.

For the Dodgers, a pro­mo­tional op­por­tu­nity. Else­where, though, Puig’s an­tics were met with some hos­til­ity, at least ini­tially.

Of­ten, dis­putes over Amer­i­can base­ball’s eti­quette are loaded with cul­tural el­e­ments. Puig has at­tracted scru­tiny be­cause of his flam­boy­ance, which he is not obliv­i­ous to. He didn’t say he needed to show “base­ball” he was re­spect­ing the game. He needed to show “Amer­i­can base­ball.”

Base­ball in Latin Ameri- ca tends to be more demon­stra­tive. When more Lati­nos joined the the ma­jors, they were pres­sured to con­form, to tone it down — by op­po­nents, re­porters, coaches, even team­mates, Tur­bow said.

“The Latino cel­e­bra­tions, which are tra­di­tion­ally a lit­tle more ex­u­ber­ant than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, haven’t al­ways been ac­cepted on that same code, even though it’s sim­ply a look-at-me-have-fun thing,” Tur­bow said.

Partly be­cause of Puig, bat flips have been as­so­ci­ated with Latino play­ers, but there is also a ro­bust bat-flip­ping cul­ture in South Korea.

That was a topic of con­ver­sa­tion in Jan­uary at a sem­i­nar run by Global Sport­ing In­te­gra­tion, a com­pany that helps play­ers make the tran­si­tion be­tween Amer­i­can and Asian base­ball.

Amer­i­can pitch­ers headed to South Korea were told, sim­ply, “hit­ters are go­ing to pimp” home runs, said Han Gil Lee, the com­pany’s founder. That’s nor­mal, he told them, so no need to re­tal­i­ate with a bean­ball.

Videos show­ing the Korean Base­ball Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s post-home-run an­tics have been mak­ing the In­ter­net rounds. A player named Kim Jin-hyung is fa­mously shown f ling­ing his bat as if it had burst into flames.

There are also clips of the dreaded pre­ma­ture bat flip: Choi Jun-seok, hands in the air, send­ing his bat f ly­ing on a ball that was about 30 feet foul; and Lee Taek-keun, chuck­ing his bat and be­gin­ning a cel­e­bra­tory walk/strut un­til he sees the ball caught at the wall.

By com­par­i­son, Puig is sub­dued.

“I don’t think the Korean play­ers see it as a sign of dis­re­spect,” Lee said. Rather, it’s just a way to get rid of a bat.

Dodgers pitcher HyunJin Ryu, who played in the KBO and still watches the league, said he paid the bat flips lit­tle at­ten­tion.

They were such a non-is­sue, he said, that he hadn’t no­ticed them at all. To that, Puig can’t re­late. When he’s on the field, Puig com­mands at­ten­tion, bat flips or not.

Harry How Getty Images

YASIEL PUIG f lips his bat af­ter hit­ting a dou­ble. It’s a Puig sig­na­ture, but he has said he doesn’t want to give the wrong im­pres­sion.

Nathan Denette As­so­ci­ated Press

ED­WARD EN­CAR­NA­CION’S bat goes f ly­ing as the Toronto player tracks a homer. Dodgers catcher A.J. El­lis says he no longer even no­tices the bat f lip, so com­mon has it be­come.

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