Are admiring homers and bat flips poor sportsmanship

Respect the game, play it right. You hear these things and a lot fans hate it. It’s the old man’s phrase, the cranky ballplayer near the end of his career. He doesn’t know how to have fun and wants you off his front lawn.

Bat flips and watching home runs have been a hot topic over the past couple of seasons. How high is too high on a flip? How long is too long to admire your blast?

And while the conversation is taking place more than ever before, the acts are nothing new to this game. Players have been watching home runs for decades.

Early in my career, Ruben Sierra was the king of the pimp job. He’d take the widest turns out of the box, it almost seemed like he could slap hands with teammates in the first-base dugout on his way to first if he wanted to, then he’d tug on his jersey. Ruben was a master. Rickey Henderson was no slouch either. Ken Griffey, Jr. had some style to him, too.

Reactions would vary. A pitcher would have to decide what, if anything, he would do. Sometimes a brush back or HBP was coming that day or maybe the next. Sometimes nothing was done. For those veterans I mentioned, it was just accepted. At the same time, Sierra would never do that to Roger Clemens, at least not without repercussions.

As each generation turns over the limits are expanded. Wednesday night in Cleveland we saw Jose Ramirez take it too far, at least according to the Minnesota Twins and eventually Ramirez himself.

With the Indians leading 7-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ramirez hammered a ball into the right-field seats. He watched, jogged halfway up the line and then, as I heard Eric Karros describe it on FS1, he tried to make it rain with his bat flip.

The Twins dugout immediately erupted. It seemed like all of them were on the top step. Cameras caught Kurt Suzuki and Twins Hall of Fame manager Paul Molitor vehemently screaming at Ramirez.

In the top of the ninth inning Eddie Rosario hit his 13th homer of the year. As he rounded the bases he had a stern look and some choice words for Ramirez, who was playing second base. Rosario was not happy.

Quotes from after the game (via LaVelle Neal of the Star-Tribune):

“That was horse (manure). He’ll get his. Don’t worry.” — Ricky Nolasco, who allowed the home run to Ramirez.

“It was just one of those things, a young player got caught up in the emotion. Maybe he was mad at me for intentionally walking (Jason) Kipnis, I’m not sure. It was over the top, if you ask my opinion.” — Molitor.

“Good swing. Poor judgment. He’ll learn. Hopefully not the hard way, but he’ll learn.” — Terry Francona, Indians manager.

T.J. Zuppe of 93.2 The Fan in Cleveland had some quotes from Ramirez through his translator:

“Sometimes the emotion in the game possesses you. The last few games I started feeling better at the plate. I think the emotion got me. That’s my bad, if they hit me, I’m going to take it.”

Ramirez was full of regret, he knew he was wrong. If a punishment was coming he was willing to accept it. Ramirez was not hit with a pitch in Thursday night’s game.

There is something else worth noting here. Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic, Rosario from Puerto Rico. I bring that up because Jorge Ortiz of USA Today wrote a piece about the culture clash in baseball regarding brawls and how the game is played. I mostly discount the racial component of Jorge’s piece. Players take issue with other players all the time, regardless of where they were born. The numbers cited in that column are pure coincidence.

Getting back to bat flips and watching home runs. Fans love it, they support it and they generally get angry when any retaliation, verbal or physical, happens. They’ll sometimes resort to the standard, “if you don’t want a guy to bat flip you make a better pitch!” Sadly, I’ve even heard media use this phrase.

There are well over 4,000 home runs hit per season. Both good and bad pitches are hit for home runs, so let’s put that lame statement to bed and come up with a better argument and understanding of what is really going on.

When teams and players get angry like the Twins did, it’s not about appreciating another player’s culture, it’s about sportsmanship. The Twins felt Ramirez showed poor sportsmanship, that he showed Nolasco and the Twins up, and according to a contrite Ramirez, they were right.

What fans and some media fail to understand is that they don’t get to decide what is too much and what is not. They don’t get to decide what players should tolerate and what they shouldn’t. I don’t get to decide either. I played this game professionally 19 years but I don’t play anymore. The people that decide what is over the top, what is poor sportsmanship and what will receive retaliation are the 750 players on the field on any given day during the major-league season.

The game polices itself. The game decides what it will tolerate and poor sportsmanship disguised as having fun and just celebrating will likely not be tolerated in this generation either. Some will be more lenient than others, but there will always be the players and teams that won’t stand for it.

Just because you are not personally offended by a player’s actions and are entertained by his antics does not make it acceptable or right, and the opposing players should not be shamed for taking offense.

If someone gets the promotion you thought was yours over you and they did cartwheels in front of your cubicle, I doubt you’d be happy.

If that loudmouth cocky kid takes your son way deep in Little League and then bat flips your kid while watching his home run, you’d cry poor sportsmanship, or worse.

If another writer celebrated his high readership numbers in front of you and told you to “be a better writer” if you didn’t want him to beat you, would that be well received? Of course not.

We would think those people were arrogant and showed poor taste.

The NFL has taunting and celebration rules that can result in penalties, fines and suspensions. The rules are defined under the Unsportsmanlike Conduct section of the NFL rulebook. The sportsmanship aspect of its league matters to the NFL. It matters to MLB too, it just doesn’t have a set of written rules to govern it. Perhaps MLB should.

I personally never got offended by home run celebrations unless they were overly excessive, which did happen a few times. Like you, I’m now a fan, and celebrations don’t bother me at all. I laugh when it happens and I’m entertained when I see a pitcher get worked up about it.

Just because they entertain us though does not mean we should expect players who are on the receiving end of celebrations to just accept them. They certainly don’t deserve to be criticized when they don’t.

For now the celebration and taunting rules in baseball are unwritten. The players are judge, jury and executioner. They are big boys, they’ll figure it out amongst themselves. If that means a fastball to the ribs or a high-and-tight heater that puts a hitter on his back, that’s OK. That’s a tried-and-true method this game has used since its inception.