How José Bautista’s bat flip saved baseball

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‘The right way to play the game’

At the same time as the death of baseball was being considered, something else was happening within the game – the crescendo of a longstanding debate over ‘the right way to play the game.’

This was a debate over unwritten rules, over how to show respect for the game – should the player who celebrates after a home run be applauded, or should the pitcher who throws the next one high and tight be the hero?

On one side of the debate stood standard bearers like Yasiel Puig, Carlos Gómez, and David Ortiz, players who weren’t afraid to look flashy and play the game with exuberance. On the other, were traditionalists who believed that the game should be played with a sort of respectful stoicism, people like Bud Norris, who asserted in a 2015 interview with USA Today, “if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years.”

Certainly, the game of baseball “has been here for over a hundred years.” Yet, it has also been elsewhere, in places where showing “respect” for the game means something entirely different.

In Latin America, of course, baseball is played with far more emotion, with players celebrating their feats in front of adoring fans who dance, sing, and blow horns. Meanwhile, in South Korea, bat flips are embraced as an “art.”

Even in the US, an American way to play the game has not been homogenous. One need only think of the famous stories of Satchel Paige instructing his teammates to sit down on the field while he struck out the side to see that in the Negro Leagues the game was played with more flair.

But that’s the point. The way traditionalists like Bud Norris believed the game should be played and respected was tied to a very specific version of American identity, one not inherent but intentional.

That is to say, the so-called ‘right way to play the game’ didn’t just drop out of the sky.