Jose Bautista's bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS will go down as one of the more memorable moments in recent baseball history, but not all will look back fondly at what some may see as a teaching moment for how not to show your opponent up.
Baseball has long presented a dynamic unique in the world of sports: the never-ending debate of celebrating individuality vs. the unwritten rules and acting like you've been there before. It has become even more prevalent in recent years with a new generation of players entering the game that know no other way. MLB may be behind other sports in the practice of showboating, but even longtime veterans of the game can sense the paradigm may be shifting.
"I was taught not to do that. I was taught to be humble externally by Hank Aaron," Nats manager Dusty Baker said. "Back in our time, you would have gotten drilled had you celebrated the way they do now. But it looks like today all the kids are doing it. I had to get on my son because one day I was at his game and he was doing the James Harden ‘feeding himself’ or something. That’s what they see. That’s what the kids see. I don’t know if I’m going to have to change my outlook on it or not."
Baker admits the game has changed, if even to a slight degree. That is evident in the differing opinions among players. Some think celebrations should be encouraged, while others believe there is no place for them in baseball.
Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, for one, thinks a little personality can be a good thing.
"I think there’s a time and a place for it, definitely. I think players should be able to do what they want," he said. "Everybody says there are unwritten rules in baseball and it’s definitely in the game. We all understand that, but you have to enjoy it and have fun as well. This game is all about having fun and all about personality... You try to go about it the right way every single day, but also throw in a little flair there every once in a while. It’s just part of the game."
Third baseman Anthony Rendon, a 25-year-old entering his fourth MLB season, also finds celebrations to be okay when the game calls for it.
"I think [the whole dynamic] is fun because it adds character to the game. It’s not like golf where you gotta be quiet when somebody’s hitting. That’s why I love the Waste Management [Phoenix Open], you can cheer your tail off and yell at those guys when they’re about to tee off. I feel like that’s how it should be," he said.
"I wouldn’t say [celebrations should be] encouraged, but to an extent. If you do something great for your team, if you get a big hit or have a big strikeout, go ahead. That’s your business. If somebody doesn’t like it, then that’s their business to do something about it. That’s a part of the game. We’re all grown men out here."
Center fielder Ben Revere sides with Harper and Rendon, and he has an interesting take given he was on the same Blue Jays team as Bautista. He loved Bautista's reaction, but wonders how he would have felt if he were on the Rangers - who Bautista homered against - instead.
"I’ll say this, if you hit a 600 ft. home run, you can pimp it all you want. If you get mad, then that’s on you. But if you hit a home run and it goes maybe to the second or third row and you bat flip, I don’t know," Revere said.
"If he’s my teammate, of course I’m going to support him. But of course if I was on the Rangers, I’d be like ‘Oh man, someone’s going to get ticked. That’s way too much.’ As a teammate, of course you’re going to get pumped up by it."
Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, two veterans on the Nationals, share the old school mindset. They don't believe baseball should follow football, baseball and hockey, which can sometimes offer individual celebrations as noteworthy as highlight reel plays.
"This game is a team game. It’s not golf or tennis. The less look-at-me attitudes, I think the better," Strasburg said. "I think it’s important to remember that if you are a professional and there’s a lot of kids out there that don’t have the ability that you have, I think those kids need to learn how to respect the game. They need to learn how to respect their opponent. I think if you can do those things and act like you’ve done it before, I think it will go a long way."
"If you can imagine, I’m more of the boring, old school guy. I know everyone is shocked to hear me say that," Zimmerman said.
Zim, though, said he's okay with those who celebrate if they can back it up.
"I think that’s the way that a lot of sports are going. My only thing is that if you’re going to be like that, be like that all the time. Be like that when you win, and be like that when you lose. Be like that when you have a two-week stretch and you hit .400 and you hit six or seven home runs. Then also be like that when you have a two-week stretch when you’re hitting .150 and haven’t had an extra-base hit. That’s my only problem with it. If you’re going to be like that, just be consistent. That’s part of the reason why I was taught to be the way I am. It’s a lot easier to stay even-keel when you’re a little more low-key instead of always being so high-strung. It’s really hard to stay that way when things aren’t going your way," he explained.
Shortstop Danny Espinosa also has a conditional take on the matter.
"I enjoy it. I enjoy celebrating and everything, but at the same time I don’t have the intent of hitting a home run or something and showing the pitcher up. I don’t like to do that. That’s not who I am. Unless it was someone who had done it to you before," he said.
The debate between new school and old school isn't going away anytime soon, but it will be interesting to see the effect younger players and their individual styles have on the future of baseball. Harper, for instance, is one of the young faces in baseball and has a profound influence on kids playing the game. Will players like him usher in a new era, and how will he see the game when he becomes one of its elder statesmen?
Baseball has a long history and won't change overnight, but the undercurrents of a new approach may be gaining momentum.