Bat flips have been making their way into Major League Baseball over the last few years. A recent article posted on ESPN took an inside look at a big difference between American and Korean baseball. The bat flip has gained popularity, good or bad, in recent years, but is nothing new to the sport. There may not have been as many flamboyant or extravagant flips back in previous decades, but Major League players like Jose Bautista are merely innovators and not inventors.
I, like many other American baseball traditionalists, have loathed the likes of Bautista and those players that throw their bat as high as they can after presumably hitting a home run. Other players who show off their flare and swag include Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes. While the Hispanic players may have garnered the most attention because of their immediate success, the biggest bat flippers might actually come from Korea. After reading the article by Mina Kimes and researching some YouTube videos, it certainily appears that the Koreans have their bat flip game perfected.
There are bat flicks, bat tosses, bat flips, and bat throws. Each has its own flare and level of intensity, but to understand the difference in the perception of these actions, you need to know how fans in each country treat the sport. Watch this video of a fan at a Korean baseball game and tell me if you’ve ever seen anything like this in America. Reminiscent of a mixture between a concert and a water park, the atmosphere is very engaging and rivals that of European soccer.
Fans are simply different. The culture is different. Just as there are unique business practices and cultural values among countries, the same holds true for the baseball diamond. Things are done in a different way.
An optimistic view of the Korean treatment of baseball is that the players and fans are having fun. This includes loud music, dancing and cheering, outrageous on-field antics, and an outward expression of their passion. Fun in America means doing the wave and singing, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Granted I have not been to a Korean baseball game myself, but just from the videos I have seen, it is apparent that the fans are just as different as the height a bat reaches after a home run.
Now you have an idea about the difference in fan bases. The difference in bat flips, or lack there of, seems directly correlated. In Korea, the bat flips are high, very high, and OMG high. They don’t even have to be for a home run; some players apparently bat flip for ground balls and obviously balls that are short of the fence. The players are having as much fun playing the ‘game’ as the fans are watching it.
American players are not playing the ‘game’ for fun, at least not at the professional level. Maybe it’s because of the difficulty it takes to reach the Majors. Maybe it is the pressure from owners to win (or make a profit). Perhaps the difference is that this is the way it has always been. Regardless of why, players are regulated to fun moments in spring training and sporadic incidents during the regular season. Having too much fun can result in people assuming a player isn’t taking his job seriously (i.e. Puig).
Bat flips here to stay
I still do not fully embrace the bat flip, but Kimes provided insight into the reason why bat flips are what they are in Korea. It puts all of the memes and videos into perspective as to why a hitter tosses his bat like a hammer throw. The bat flip has been accepted by the professionals and embraced by kids who mimic their heroes. There have been spurts of bat flipping in America, but there is too much backlash for it to be considered acceptable by the masses.
Don’t be surprised to see some type of bat flip in the MLB playoffs; the stakes are higher and intensity is through the roof. The reason for the bat flips might be different – Korea for love of the game and America for pure adrenaline rush. The reaction is becoming customary to each country. Refer to Kimes’ story about Chan Ho Park, although there are few players who have played in both the MLB and KBO to compare their views on each style of play.
Korean ballplayers entering the American baseball system may have adapted their swings and follow through to try to eliminate the bat flip, but there seems to be a gradual acceptance forthcoming. As a younger generation progresses to the Majors, the tolerable actions change with the talent. Whereas Cole Hamels once plunked rookie Bryce Harper because it was “old baseball”, old adages have begun to disappear from the current game.
There are no more take out slides. There are multiple challenges and camera reviews. The bat flip could be the next thing making its way to Major League Baseball.