In a recent Facebook poll, I posed this question to gain some knowledge about bat flipping in youth baseball: “I read an article recently about a youth baseball player in the Midwest being ejected from a game after he hit a home run, and then proceeded to do a “bat flip.” These bat flip celebrations can really rile up a pitcher and make the act of hitting a home run into somewhat of a stare down contest between pitcher and hitter. To my knowledge (correct me if I am wrong) but youth baseball leagues do not have a bat flipping rule in place, other than maybe a warning or umpire’s discretion. Should youth baseball outlaw bat flipping to teach kids good sportsmanship? Or, should kids be allowed to express themselves and “be like the pros?” What are your thoughts?“
In addition, I reached out to Rhode Island Umpire Association member Rick Cunningham to get the umpire’s perspective. Rick wrote me that “To my knowledge there is no rule preventing bat flipping. It’s more of an unwritten kind of thing. I know players at the Little League level have been ejected for bat flipping especially once they’re already blowing a team out. To me it would depend on the severity of it.” And I looked through the Little League® handbook and rules book online and in print for any rules regarding discipline for “bat flipping.” No rule exists, based on my research.
A few thoughts before I reveal the results of the Facebook poll. At the youth baseball level, we as coaches are dedicated to working with kids on skills – physical, leadership, and sportsmanship – that they can use in sports and life as they get older. Skills that, if taught correctly and reinforced, will make the youth athlete stronger on and off the field. Some of these skills, especially in the sportsmanship category, are not found in any book or online video training session. These are the “unwritten” rules of sports that teach players to respect the game, their peers, their coaches, their leagues, and their communities. To go a step further, these unwritten rules teach kids to respect another as they would like to be respected.
One of the unwritten rules of baseball is showing up an opponent, in this case the opposing pitcher. This is where the bat flipping debate starts. There is incredible emotion when an exciting play, such as a home run, occurs on a youth baseball field. The player’s parents go nuts, the coaches jump up and cheer, and the players in the dugout rush to home plate to greet the home run hitter. So, should the hitter just stuff his/her emotions and simply place the bat down and run the bases unemotionally? Jog around the bases as if nothing has happened? Or, are they allowed to express their emotions by doing a bat flip, then jogging spiritedly around the bases, to be greeted by teammates joyfully at home plate? Is that considered showing up a pitcher?
I will say this. In my era of playing in the 1980’s to 1990’s, a batter was taking a considerable risk by flipping his bat after a home run. I played in an era with some pretty old school coaches that came from an era where showboating was considered an act of aggression and was to be met with retaliation. Retaliation meant the next at bat, you would most definitely get plunked (hit by pitch). So, we celebrated with our teammates, coaches, and families when we did something incredible on the field but we did not outwardly show up the opposing team. Bat flipping did not exist during my tenures playing for Wickford Little League, Babe Ruth, nor American Legion.
Today’s youth baseball player watches the professionals flip their bat on a gigantic home run. The players flip their bats during the postseason games on national TV. They flip their bats over their heads like a basketball shot. They flip them off to the side and strike a pose. All the while, the opposing pitcher and dugouts and TV audience is watching. And it is 100% legal to do so in Major League Baseball. MLB players can flip their bat if they hit a single if they want to. I have even see players flip their bats, only to fly out to deep center field. Again, no rules broken. Some pitchers will remember the bat flip and retaliate. Others will strive to strike out the bat flipper during his next at bat as a peaceful way of retaliation.
In the end, the game of baseball has a way of evening the score. So you as a player need to decide if that is through aggressive measures or passive measures. Going back to Rick Cunningham’s statement “it depends on the severity of it,” a bat flip in a close game by a hitter that drives in the game winning run is not showing up a pitcher. It is an emotional response by a player, possibly fueled by watching his favorite MLB player do the same thing on TV. These are kids after all and kids are very impressionable. Conversely, a bat flip in a 10-0 game against a lesser team and a struggling pitcher, is definitely out of bounds sportsmanship wise. That player should be disciplined by the umpire and the coaches and the league as a teaching moment. Regardless of the punishment, it should teach the player and the team and the families of your league that good sportsmanship is more highly regarded than a physical skill of hitting a home run.
Interesting enough, the Facebook poll has 20 votes. 11 are for outlawing the bat flip. 9 are for allowing the bat flip. So, it seems this debate is split right down the middle. Thank you to everyone who voted. And thank you to Rhode Island Umpire Association’s Rick Cunningham for your thoughts and comments on this unwritten rule of baseball.