OP-ED: Bat Flipping and Theatrics Good for the Game

Jake Miller, Staff Writer

Baseball has been known as America’s pastime since the 1850’s and since then, it has grown and evolved in many ways. One thing that many think should stay the same, however, are the unwritten rules. There are many unwritten rules, but one I want to highlight is that if a player hits a home run or anything of that nature, they are supposed to put their head down, round the bases and keep celebration minimal. Viewership has dwindled for baseball quite a bit in the last decade. However, new, young stars like Fernando Tatis Jr, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Ronald Acuna Jr have brought a new generation of eyes onto the game. Their flashy plays and theatrical celebrations bring life to a sport many thought was dying. However, not everyone shares the same sentiment. Many older fans believe that there is no place for theatrics in today’s game, but I strongly disagree. Theatrics and players having fun is exactly what baseball needs.

One of the first massively controversial occurrences happened in 2019, involving the Chicago White Sox up-and-coming shortstop, Tim Anderson. Anderson got a pitch to handle and sent it over the left field wall, but this was not the memorable part. He then put his bat over his head and threw it with a huge smile on his face. His manager, Rick Renteria, was a believer in the unwritten rules and believed that he had to teach them to Anderson after this showing. However, Anderson doubled down, telling reporters (according to The Washington Post), “We are playing a struggling game, where you struggle every day,” and “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.” Anderson has never changed his ways, and has since become a star in South Chicago, inspiring many young ballplayers.

A huge name in baseball right now is Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres shortstop, one of the flashiest players you’ll see. Tatis’ stardom became stronger and stronger heading into the 2020 season; however, many may remember an incident he had during that season. In a mid-season game, they led by seven in the eighth inning and Fernando Tatis hit a grandslam in a 3-0 count. Not only were some fans and his manager, Jayce Tingler, upset, the next batter Manny Machado got a first-pitch fastball thrown behind him. This once again sparked a conversation about the unwritten rules in baseball with his manager (according to ESPN) saying, “He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things. That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. It’s a learning opportunity, and that’s it. He’ll grow from it.” Tatis even went on to apologize for his actions and says he’s learned from it. He then spoke to a former player known for his theatrics who told him he should not have apologized and that what he was doing was positive. Tatis has since become one of the game’s brightest young stars, and is unapologetically in-your-face and fun.

One of the more recent cases of this was during the 2021 season, which ended up a bit more melancholy than the rest. Yermin Mercedes is a catcher and designated hitter that plays for the White Sox. Around the beginning of the year, Mercedes was having a breakout month, hitting extremely well. He was a player still trying to prove himself in the MLB and could be sent down to the minors at any time. Similar to Tatis, Yermin Mercedes got a pitch to hit in a 3-0 count up big. This time he was up against Willians Astudillo, a Twins first baseman now pitching with the score out of reach. Mercedes sent the pitch over the wall and ran the bases. Almost instantly you could see a bad look on manager Tony La Russa’s face. He reprimanded Mercedes and later told the press (according to The Washington Post) “I heard he said something like, ‘I play my game.’ No, he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball, [which] respects the game and respects the opponents, and that it was not.” Yermin has since struggled heavily after this point, hitting and defending at nowhere near his peak; this landed him in the minor leagues. He continued to struggle there, leading to an Instagram post in which he heavily implies that he is retiring. Many blame this on Tony La Russa’s criticism, myself included. He has since unretired, but is still struggling in the minor leagues and may never be what he once was, all because of a coach that didn’t defend his player. 

Now, why do I believe that bat flips and what some may call “overdoing it” are good for the game of baseball? 2016 was a resurgence year for baseball, seeing its best ratings in years after a long dip from 2012-2015, according to Fan Graphs Viewership Statistics. Much of that increase can be attributed to marketing; however, I think a lot of it came from the exciting players that were having outstanding seasons that year. Guys like Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. One thing these players share in common is they never shy away from celebration in a big moment. Love him or hate him, Bryce Harper was a star of last decade and will be a star of this one. Now this uptick came to a halt in 2020 when Covid began and sports became confusing and difficult to get into, as they could have ended at any time. However, I believe that in order to pull back that viewership from the mid 2010’s, you have to lean on your stars. Guys like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are the future of baseball, and the theatrics and excitement of their game may be the thing that brings eyes back to America’s game.