For quite some time the unwritten rules of baseball stated that if you disrespect the game or another team, payback was likely — and expected.
Rare were the times when a batter stood at home plate to admire a home run or a pitcher shimmied after a strikeout. Even glance at Bob Gibson after a hit and a batter knew to stay loose the next time he faced the menacing St. Louis Cardinal pitcher.
However, in a new generation of baseball, celebrations have become accepted. The unwritten rules have been edited.
Jose Bautista sent shockwaves around Major League Baseball on October 14, 2015, when the Toronto Blue Jays slugger smashed a three-run, go-ahead home run in the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. With the crowd going wild at the crack of the bat, Bautista admired his home run and sent his bat flipping end-over-end as he headed down the first base line.
The bat flip was born and it's significance soon led to the MLB "Let the Kids Play" ad campaign. The kids have indeed played, from the big-league level to college ballparks and on down to recreational ball. While pro and college football passed rules to tone down celebrations, baseball went the opposite direction — and with much success.
Still, though now widely accepted by most, sometimes the celebrations can ruffle a few feathers. What's the line that can't be crossed?
Former Los Angeles Angels pitcher and current East Hamilton High School baseball coach Matt Ramsey brings a unique perspective after having been on the receiving end of a few bat flips.
"If I'm pitching and you get me and flip your bat, you can't get upset when I strike you out the next at-bat and I take my victory lap," Ramsey said. "Bat flips and pitcher struts after striking out the side bring great excitement to the game and only add to the entertainment and production value.
"However, the only problem I have is if you stand in the box and watch the ball until it lands. That's going too far. Just run out of the box. Standing there is too much disrespect."
There's also the issue of timing. Most baseball folks agree the game — which by its nature is slow-moving — has improved with the excitement generated by the spontaneous celebration. But is it always a great time to launch a bat 30 feet into the air?
"If you are going to bat flip and are down by six runs or up 10 runs, now that's ridiculous," Gordon Lee baseball coach Mike Dunfee said. "If you walk off a game and bat flip, now that's exciting. As a coach I would say, 'hey good for you guys. You did a great job and took us down.'
"Celebrate it. That's a good feeling to a kid or ball player. Just don't run your mouth. I have no problem with the celebration when it's late in a game in a big moment. But the first, second or third inning, I don't agree with that. Just keep playing the game and keep playing it hard."
There have been, according to coaches, few excessive celebration moments in the Chattanooga area this spring, and when they do happen the players are usually admonished.
Earlier this season a warning was given in a tight game between Boyd Buchanan and Silverdale Baptist when Bucs' sophomore Brodie Johnston hit a grand slam. The Vanderbilt recruit, caught up in the moment, flipped his bat high in the air in front of the Silverdale dugout. It was a teaching moment for both teams.
"I think big league players have a major role in how kids play the game," Silverdale coach Lance Rorex said. "Kids want to mimic their role models. However, there is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Coaches have to educate their players on that.
"We want to respect the game and show class in all that we do. Do we fail at that? Yes, all the time. But if I see something that I believe crosses the line, it is immediately addressed."
There's likely not a more powerful prep team in the Chattanooga area than Baylor. The Red Raiders, who have won the past three TSSAA Division II-AA state championships, hit 25 home runs through their first 15 games. The team, according to Middle Tennessee State University signee Carson Yates, finds a way to have fun without disrespecting opponents.
"The best part of hitting a no-doubter is feeling the ball hit the bat and seeing the ball fly," Yates said. "Bat flips are not my thing since I am a hustle guy, but if it comes in a big spot in the game I will do a little one to fire our team up. When I'm just messing around hitting batting practice or something I will occasionally do the Tim Anderson bat throw."
Anderson may have set the bat-flip standard in April of 2019 when the Chicago White Sox player tossed his bat toward the opposing team's dugout and practically jumped his way down the first base line. He was later drilled by a 95 mph fastball, which ignited a bench-clearing brawl and was suspended (along with the pitcher), but the national publicity of the moment further loosened the game's unwritten rules.
Afterward, Anderson was unapologetic, saying, "We are playing a struggling game, where you struggle every day. It's okay to celebrate the positive things and not get down on yourself, because that's going to be a confidence builder to keep making you get better."
Three years later young superstars such as Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Robert have taken that to heart, regularly letting their unique passion for the game show to the delight of millions. It's a revolution that's reached every level of the game, and it's one area prep coaches want to make sure doesn't get out of hand.
"I always tell my guys," Gordon Lee's Dunfee said, "to just play hard and enjoy the game, but don't disrespect it or your opponent."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.