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So you might remember a couple of years ago, when Jose Bautista launched the bat flip heard around the world during a playoff game against the Texas Rangers. "The Good Place" executive producer Michael Schur and I co-wrote a piece after that game, and here's what we said about it (Michael's words are in bold):
I understand there are traditionalists and purists and whatever-ists who think that flipping a bat after you hit a home run is bad form, or disrespectful, or something. I disagree. I think it’s awesome, frankly, and if you can’t enjoy Joey Bats, who had that crazy itinerant baseball life and then found a home in Toronto, and who is the soul and beating heart of this team — a team which hasn’t been in the postseason in 22 years and which has brought sports life and sports relevance back to one of the world’s great cities — and whose team went down 0-2 at home to a clearly inferior team and then stormed back on the road and gutted out two big wins and then went back to Toronto, fell behind early, scratched their way back to even, then went down by a run on one of the weirdest plays in postseason history, then loaded the bases on three errors and had a guy forced at home and then only scored one run and had a guy thrown out at second on a single to the outfield … if you can’t enjoy Joey Bats flipping his bat towards his own dugout in a badass and life-affirming and glorious and barbaric yawp of baseball excellence after hitting a home run in that situation, then I feel bad for you. Or you’re a Rangers fan, in which case, well, I still feel bad for you, because your team lost.
When Blake Griffin jumps 30 feet in the air and dunks, you want to watch him howl at the moon and strut up the court. When Serena Williams lunges and rips a cross-court winner you want to see her pump her fist and scream. Same for Tiger draining a 30-footer, Brandi Chastain drilling a World Cup penalty, Tom Brady diving for a 1-yard TD. We’re fine with outward displays in every other sport. Why do we ask baseball players to bury their emotions like students in a seminary?
Yep. I mean, the Tom Brady part I disagree with, but the rest is dead on. Baseball is so quirky about this stuff. It is on the one hand a brutally tough sport, Ty Cobb’s sport, Cool Papa Bell’s sport, Pete Rose’s sport, 162 games, played every day, from spring to autumn, through preposterous heat and air soaked with humidity. You’re supposed to run out every ball, even fly balls you know are outs. You’re supposed to shake off getting hit by a pitch and take your walk. Bob Gibson throws inside. Cal Ripken plays thousands of games in a row. Adam Wainwright comes back from like 44 Tommy John surgeries. Tough as nails. There’s no crying in baseball.
And then, on the other hand, it’s like a dinner party in Downton Abbey — pinky out, silverware in order, keep the subjects light, don’t flip your bat, don’t look at your home run, don’t pump your fist when you get a strikeout, don’t do anything that might offend. I get that the Rangers and fans aren’t too thrilled seeing Bautista hammer-throw his bat after hitting a moon-shot homer that broke their spirit. I get that. But man if you can’t bat flip after THAT home run, seriously, why even play baseball.
If Neil Armstrong had played by baseball’s stupid unwritten rules of decorum, he would have whispered, “Yeah, I’m on the moon.”
“Act like you’ve been there before, Neil,” he said to himself, quietly, as he slowly descended onto the surface of an alien planet.
Wednedsay in Atlanta, Bautista bat-flipped again. This was a little bit different situation. This time the home run meant exactly nothing -- or just about as little as a long home run can mean. The Braves were leading by five runs, and there was nobody on base. Bautista hit the homer, then gave Braves pitcher Eric O'Flaherty a "Oh, I dislike you so much right now" look, then sent his bat into orbit, not in a celebratory way but more like, "I have now employed the power of this slab of wood it is of no more use to me."
The Braves didn't like that. Benches cleared. Jaws flapped. At some point, it does look like Bautista is pointing to himself as if to say, "Hey, look, I might have overdone that." But maybe he isn't saying that. Body language is hard to read. O'Flaherty said some unhappy words about Bautista after the game. Bautista talked about baseball being emotional.
Look: I don't think it's especially cool to show up other players in sports. I am enrolled at the the Barry Sanders School of Flipping the Ball to a Referere After You Score -- I think that sort of understated grace has its own kind of power.
And I'm definitely not for celebrating individual achievements when your team is losing. The Kansas City Chiefs used to have this player named Mark McMillian -- "Mighty Mouse," everyone called him -- and he would celebrate every play he made or almost made or didn't quite make, no matter the situation. If he knocked a ball down, he flexed. If the receiver dropped the ball and he happened to be nearby, he flexed. If he made a tackle after the receiver made a long gain -- and with the Chiefs down three touchdowns -- Mark McMillian flexed.
It seemed so goofy, so annoying, but as the years have gone on I've looked at it a little bit differently. No, flexing after making a meaningless play is not a great visual. But Mark was 5-foot-7, he weighed 154 pounds, he didn't even try football until he was a senior in high school. He played for a junior college and then transferred to Alabama. He was drafted in the 10th round. They don't even have a 10th round anymore.
For Mark McMillian at that size to become an NFL player -- for him to play in 127 NFL games, to make 23 interceptions and return three of them, for him to start in playoff games -- required a sort of maniacal will, a sort of energy, a sort of crazy ambition that is almost unimaginable. If he needed to celebrate himself to push through the pain and the odds, to reach the crazy high level of engagement he needed, well, maybe we can appreciate that. Maybe we can even say, "Hey man, flex if that's what you need to do, we're all just in awe of what you're doing."
Jose Bautista was a 29 year old journeyman with a .238 batting average and 59 homers in 575 big league games when he found the swing and the fury that would make him a star. He plays baseball right on the edge. Now he's in his late 30s, and his numbers decline, and many people think he's through. So he hit a home run in the midst of what has so far been a frustrating and soul-crushing season. He flipped his bat.
Maybe that isn't the crime of the century.
Tebow to the prom
It's easy to be cynical about the world. It's easy to be cynical about sports. It's very easy to be cynical about Tim Tebow. His college football greatness did not transfer to the pros. His baseball dream is likely nothing more than that.
But, really, how can you be cynical about this?
The Impossible Zero
Well, Jose Altuve did the impossible on Wednesday. Altuve often does amazing things -- he might just be the most fun player in baseball to watch. But this was weird. And impossible.
On Wednesday in Miami, Jose Altuve hit two doubles and two triples -- a rare feat that has only been done 14 times in the last 100 years. The last guy to hit multiple doubles and triples in the same game was Carl Crawford in 2005. Before that you have to go to Travis Fryman in 1994. And BEFFORE THAT you have to travel all the way back to 1968 when Ed Stroud did it for the Washington Senators against the Yankees.
So that's hard enough.
Here's what made it impossible: He scored zero runs.
That's never happened before -- two doubles, two triples and no runs scored. And, you know what? It will probably never happen again. Only three times in baseball history has a player had four extra base hits in the same game and not scored a run. Matt Murton did it for the Cubs in 2006 against the Astros. And Willie Jones did it for Philadelphia back in 1949.
But those were different -- Murton and Jones each had four doubles and zero triples.
The closest thing to Altuve's feat seems to be Stan Musial in 1943 hitting a single, a double and two triples and not scoring a run. His Cardinals lost 2-1. But, you know, there was a war going on.
Kyle Schwarber keeps doing legendary things. He apparently hit a home run during batting practice that took out the "Bu" in the "Budweiser" sign on top of the scoreboard.
"It had some wind behind it," he told our own Carrie Muskat. "You could see some wires fall. I apologize in advance. I'm sure they'll make that quick fix."
And then he said this: "It would be better if it was in the game."
Schwarber continues to be an odd case -- a baseball legend who hasn't yet proven to be a viable every day Major Leaguer. That's so weird. There haven't been too many players in any sport who were who great before they were good, but that's Schwarber's lot in life. He's broken Budweiser signs. He's made miracles in the World Series. He's hit home runs that stagger the mind. And he's batting .188 so far this year. He's young, and he's so talented, and you have to believe he will indeed be a star. But for now he's not wrong. It would be better if it was in the game.