Doolittle, Nationals closer, is not amused when it comes to bat flips. What
doesn't amuse him is that at the flip of a bat following what proves a home
run, the purists and the nannies who surround baseball purporting to stand for
its sacred traditions fume, rant, rave, and fulminate that the great and
glorious game has turned to something ... unrecognizable to the True Keepers
of the Gate.
Heaven help Doolittle if his opinion goes viral. In a wide-ranging conversation with the online journal Expanded Roster, Doolittle was led toward talk about "respect for the game" and the subject became Bud Norris. More specifically, Norris's observation that the Show's Latino imports need to be a little more, shall we say, respectful of "a game that has been here for over a hundred years ... by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is."
When told one of the things that tripped Norris's trigger was bat flipping — which is not, by the way, a practice limited strictly to the Show's Latino imports — Doolittle was also asked whether he was pro bat-flip. "Oh, gosh, yeah," the pitcher replied. A few minutes later, Doolittle offered this expansion:
A lot of these guys come to America and baseball was their ticket to give their family a better life. They come from less privileged situations than most American players come from. Don't talk about disrespecting the game when the game has given them these unbelievable opportunities to improve the lives of them and their families. They're incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play this game. I promise you, they're not disrespecting the game. If you got your feelings hurt, that's on you. If a guy hits a home run off me, drops to his knees, pretends the bat is a bazooka, and shoots it out at the sky, I don't give a shit.
Doolitte's wife, Eireann, who was part of the interview, interjected: "I hope after this gets published someone does that." I think she was being only slightly sarcastic. Then her husband continued: "They better make it count." Mrs. Doolittle: "Moonwalk around the bases." Her husband: "Cartwheel around the entire diamond." The salient point, as Crash Davis once hollered to a conclave of infielders around his pitcher during a game: "This game's fun. OK?"
It's not OK with the True Keepers of the Gate. But it ought to be.
"Remember when you were a kid and you'd skip supper to play ball?" Dick Allen once counseled a youthful Phillies third baseman named Mike Schmidt. "You were having fun. Baseball's supposed to be fun. Enjoy it. Be a kid again." Schmidt became a Hall of Fame third baseman against whom all since have been judged, and he wasn't exactly renowned for over demonstrativeness when making highlight-reel plays at the hot corner or hitting home runs that were conversation pieces. But Allen's advice took, especially coming from a man who'd learned the hard way about letting the nastier sides of the game in his time remove his joy in playing it.
It's been bad enough when a hitter stands in the box watching a long high drive sail toward the back of the park and the nannies think he's admiring his handiwork. When Bryce Harper did it near the end of a National League division series, it was just another case of Harper being a showboat. But it turned out Harper stood there not because he wanted to admire the shot but because he wanted to be sure it was going to stay fair---it sailed right down the right field line. Only when it sailed past the foul pole fair (and landed in McCovey's Cove in the bargain) did Harper begin running it out. That, by the way, was the second of two bombs Harper hit off Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, which got him a deliberate drill on the hip from Strickland on the first pitch almost three years later, triggering the brawl that among other things helped hasten the end of outfielder Michael Morse's career.
Harper, of course, wasn't the only one to get drilled in delayed and misapplied justice long after the actual or alleged fact. When Jose Bautista delivered one of the all-time bat flips after mashing the bomb that helped propel the Blue Jays into the 2015 American League Championship Series, the Rangers refused to forget. They also waited until the last minute in their final set of the next season with the Blue Jays to do something about it. They handed the job to Matt Bush, who wasn't even a Ranger when Bautista teed and flipped, drilling Bautista and enraging him enough to take out Rougned Odor on a hard slide at second, which led to Odor punching Bautista out and triggering a bench-clearing brawl.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone hitting that important a home run who wouldn't be tempted to celebrate on the spot. But why condemn him? Have baseball's arteries hardened that much that the merest display of---oh, the horror!---joy in playing the game and coming up big becomes a capital crime?
Brian McCann once obstructed Carlos Gomez from touching the plate after hitting one out because, well, Gomez "disrespected" the game. McCann got into Gomez's face bawling him out and the benches emptied. The late, ebuillient Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez once made the mistake of hitting one out against the Braves, for whom McCann caught at the time, and loving it visibly as he made off to round the bases. Guess who decided Fernandez needed an on the spot lecture about "respect for the game."
The True Keepers of the Gate love to point to the game's Sacred Traditions when objecting to demonstrativeness on the field or at the plate. They forget that the great and glorious game was never immune to its on-field characters, from Germany Schaefer stealing first to Arlie Latham lighting candles along the top of the dugout to protest an ump's refusal to call a postponement for pending darkness; from Casey Stengel doffing his cap and letting a bird fly forth from it as a player to leading his much later Yankees mocking the White Sox's exploding scoreboard by prancing around the dugout with Fourth of July sparklers when a Yankee hit one out in Comiskey Park.
It hasn't been hitters alone who celebrate on the spot when they come up big or get a little goofy out there. The late Joaquin Andujar loved to point his finger pistol-like after striking out hitters. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley sometimes made a fanning-the-pistol gesture with his hands after a strikeout. One-time relief star Tug McGraw once nailed the final out of a World Series triumph and winged his glove high above his head to start the celebration. Even Randy Johnson, a Hall of Famer who took a back seat to few for mound intimidation, didn't think it was untoward to tip his cap or point with a thumbs up to a player who'd just taken him out of the yard and even had the temerity to celebrate.
When Bill Mazeroski hit one out to win the 1960 World Series, he windmilled his batting helmet in celebration as he circled the bases. Today's baseball nannies would insist on him facing a knockdown pitch the next time he showed up at the plate, preferably to start spring training. When Jimmy Piersall, by then a Stengel Met, hit his 100th career home run, he celebrated by shuffling around the bases backwards. Today's True Keepers of the Gate would insist he go on his ass promptly his next time up.
Earlier this season, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson opened a game with a home run, starting an 8-0 drubbing of the Royals. Anderson ran the bases hollering, "[Fornicate] let's go!" in glee. Royals catcher Salvador Perez decided to lay down the law when at second base later in the game. After the game, he fumed, "Anderson don't even play a [fornicating] playoff game. He don't know about getting excited or not. He gotta be in the playoffs to be excited, like us. We got to a World Series. That's the second time, so I said something to him."
Yahoo!Sports's Blake Schuster was not amused. "What is it about winning a World Series — or even a playoff series — that turns such expressive ballplayers into MLB's Fun Police?" Point well taken: Perez's Royals were one of baseball's randiest bands during their 2014 and 2015 World Series runs. Suddenly their catcher thought a rebuilding team had no business having fun on the field. Spare me. So why didn't the White Sox send Perez a little message? Maybe because, at that point, the White Sox had won five of their first seven games against each other and could afford to forgive him, Father, for he knew not what he was saying.
Remember the mammoth shot Albert Pujols hit off Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship Series to jerk the Cardinals back into the Game Five lead? Pujols drove it, then walked very slowly out of the box to the first base line, holding his bat like a barbeque spatula as if about to flip a steak over on the grill. The ball was so obviously gone (and would have hit the streets behind Minute Maid Park but for the bracings for the retractable roof) that the umpire handed Astros catcher Brad Ausmus a new ball well before the ball's flight reached above the left field seats. The Astros were bloodied but not exactly butthurt. (That would come in the World Series when the White Sox swept them.)
Perez's own manager didn't exactly have his back over the Anderson debate. "Back in my day, we had fun, but the fun we had was after the game in the bar," said Ned Yost. "These guys have fun on the field. It's a different generation. I'm all for it. I like having fun."
How many of the True Keepers of the Gate are the same ones who kvetch about overpaid ballplayers making in one season what mere working stiffs won't make in a lifetime to play an effin' game, fer crissakes? Funny how it's a game when it comes to who's making too much money, but it becomes a business when it comes to what actually happens on the field.
There have always been baseball players who were serious to a fare-thee-well about the game. Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer, known as the Mechanical Man, once pronounced plain and true and flat about the batter's box, "This is my office." They should have dressed him in a gray flannel suit, not a Tigers uniform. Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once said, "The umpire doesn't say, 'Work ball!'" Professional baseball requires work, and lots of it, to play. But Stargell was right. Name one umpire who ever hollered, "Work ball!" after the finish of the national anthem. Not even Joe West would be that effronterous.
I'm with Doolittle. I hope a lot of hitters drop to one knee and point their bats to the sky like bazookas when they hit one out. I hope a lot of pitchers start channeling their inner Dennis Eckersley and start fanning pistols after they strike someone out. I'd kill to see a hitter moonwalk around the bases after hitting one out. Let's see more keystone combinations chest bump or make like jugglers after they turn a particularly slick and tough double play.
If I was a pitcher and you hit one of my services across three county boundaries, hell, I'd run the bases with you with a couple of New Year's Eve noisemakers to help you celebrate. You got me good. Enjoy it. I'll get you out the next time. If I was a hitter and you struck me out, whether on three pitches or after an epic battle, go ahead and fan your pistol, I'll even hold you up a target with a big fat K on the bull's eye. You got me good. Enjoy it. I'll hit one off you the next time up.
"When you're in the backyard as a kid playing and falling in love with the game and you crush the ball? You do a celebration. You stand and watch it like Ken Griffey, Jr.," Doolittle said. "You don't hit the ball and put your head down and run as fast as you can. That's not fun. It's okay to embrace that part of a game."
"Being comfortable showing positive emotion in a big moment is a part of it," said Mrs. Doolittle. "I think that's showing a great deal of respect for the game."
This game's supposed to be fun, OK? You want to work ball, hit the field in a three piece suit.