Everett Teaford had been in South Korea for barely three weeks before he finally asked the question. Maybe his curiosity got the best of him. Maybe he just wanted to know about this foreign culture.
It was April 2014, and for close to a month, Teaford, a former major-league reliever, had watched baseball bats go flying all over stadiums across the Korean Baseball Organization, the top baseball league in South Korea. Teaford had started the season with the LG Twins, a team in Seoul, and when a teammate or opposing hitter would make contact with a baseball, the result was almost always the same: The batter would finish his follow-throw, then flip the bat in the air like LeBron James heaving chalk skyward before an NBA Finals game. It was a little majestic, a little ostentatious, and sometimes, Teaford says, it was a little hilarious.
“It’s a single through the six-hole? Boom. Bat flip,” said Teaford, who pitched for the Royals from 2011 to 2013. “The only thing they don’t bat flip is probably a drag bunt. We had bat flips on foul balls. If you could bat flip it, they bat flipped it.”
Finally, one day, Teaford sat in the clubhouse, watching video and relaxing with his new teammates. His Korean translator sat nearby, and here was the chance. He asked to relay a question to the other guys in the room:
“What’s with all these bat flips?”
It is, indeed, a question worth pondering, a question that has come to the forefront as baseball finds itself in the October of the Bat Flip. From the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes to the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista, these playoffs have been dominated by dramatic moments and dramatic bat flips, the art of discarding one’s bat in the most beautiful way possible. You thought it was cool to just drop your bat on the ground after crushing a game-changing homer? You were sorely mistaken.
“If you don’t like it,” Royals outfielder Jonny Gomes said, “get him out.”
In some ways, the growing Bat Flip Movement in Major League Baseball reached its touchstone moment on Wednesday evening, when Bautista, the Blue Jays’ star, detonated a three-run homer in Game 5 of an American League Division Series, catapulting the Blue Jays over the Texas Rangers and into the American League Championship Series, which begins Friday at Kauffman Stadium.
In the moments after Bautista leg-kicked and crushed a baseball toward the International Space Station, he admired the homer from the batter’s box and then tossed his bat away, like a man flicking away a used toothpick. The act itself — like many moments of raw emotion in baseball — soon became kindle for another discussion on baseball’s “Unwritten Rules,” a conversation that carried over to Kansas City as the Royals prepared for another appearance in the ALCS.
“If I hit one that far, I’d probably do it, too,” George Brett said, smiling, “I never hit one that far.”
“There’s a lot of emotion,” Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez said, “and he’s a great hitter.”
“I think his home run is a lot more relevant than the bat flip,” Gomes said, “… I’ve got absolutely no problem with the bat flip.”
In other words, to bat flip is to be human, and according to most sources, it’s not exactly a new phenomenon. A simple YouTube search will offer proof that big-leaguers have been bat flipping for generations, from the 1980s Cardinals — gasp! — to the steroid-infused mid 90s. In the early 2000s, Mariners second baseman Bret Boone was a serial bat flipper who only served to perfect the craft. And in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of media and the Internet, the Bat Flip has gone global. One thing, though, is for sure: No culture has advanced it more than Korean baseball.
The greatest bat flip ever? Back in 2012, Choi Jun-seok of the Doosan Bears crushed a deep drive to left field against the Lotte Giants, a towering shot worthy of appreciation. As the ball soared, he tossed his bat nearly 30 feet in the air, a skinny piece of maple tumbling end over end, and then he struck a pose. Then the ball went foul.
“If they made an Olympic sport out of bat flipping,” Teaford said, “the Koreans would take gold.”
Now a reliever in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Teaford spent Wednesday night tracking the postseason results, watching the Royals and Blue Jays advance to the ALCS. He watched Bautista flip his bat, and he heard the response, and he’s also pretty sure of this: If that would have happened in Korea, nobody would have raised an eyebrow.
“It’s not meant as an insult to the pitcher (over there),” he said. “It’s not: ‘Oh my god, the guy just bat flipped the bat all the way to third so I’m going to hit him next time.’
“It’s so widespread that if you did start hitting guys, you’d probably hit the whole lineup.”
Teaford is not here to pass judgment, to say one culture of baseball is better than the other. And the playoffs are a different beast. But on that day in Korea, he did get his answer about the bat flipping.
“The translator said: ‘Koreans don’t have a lot of power, so because they do the bat flip, it gives them more power,’ ” Teaford recalled. “I then tried to explain to him: The ball has already left the bat. At what point did that give them more power? And that really stumped him.”