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'Maestro' of the bat flip in a changing game

6/5/2014

 

LOS ANGELES -- You can tell something has blossomed into a true social phenomenon around the Los Angeles Dodgers when Vin Scully comments on it.

Two seasons ago, he discovered Twitter. As he read new outfielder Shane Victorino's tweet, he said, “The Dodgers received a Twitter and the Twitter read... Or, do you say, ‘Twit?’"

This season, Scully, 85, has, at times, turned his refined gaze to Yasiel Puig's bat flips. When Scully started broadcasting Dodgers games 64 years ago, a “bat flip” would have involved a DC comics superhero maneuvering to escape the Joker’s henchmen, not something Jackie Robinson would have done before running the bases.

Now, with Puig standing on the shoulders of bat-flipping pioneers such as Barry Bonds and David Ortiz, it’s kind of ingrained in Major League Baseball. As usual, Scully is rolling with the times. It’s one of the reasons he’s so great.

About a week ago, after Puig sliced a double off the base of the right-field wall against Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, Scully asked his crew to rewind the tape so he could make a few more comments on the aesthetics of Puig’s airborne stick.

“Throws the bat high, I mean he gets big notes for that, but the ball didn’t go out,” Scully said.

“Boy, that was a pretty high flip. Could we see that again?,” Scully said, awe in his voice. “If you want to really learn how to flip the bat, I mean here’s the maestro. I mean, watch this flip. Oh yeah, there you go. I mean, he thought that was a home run, but it was definitely not a home run. Since it was a double, it should have been half a flip.”

Puig has brought many around the Dodgers to entirely new places since he arrived in the major leagues one year ago Tuesday. They have gladly come along for the ride his historic performance has taken them on. They have, at times, struggled to keep up with his fast pace on the field, though he has slowed down in areas where he bordered on reckless. They have struggled to maintain the team’s image when he has blundered away from the field.

And, now, they are put in the position of being the most new-school of the new school.

The Dodgers have decided to take a stance on the frontier of cultural reform in baseball. After the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner confronted Puig near home plate last month as he completed his slow circuit of the bases, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly essentially said teams need to lighten up about the unwritten rules.

“The times are changing,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think there’s any going back. It’s already gone. The days are gone where a guy does something and he gets drilled for that, because everybody does it pretty much.”

There are still a few old-school strains left in the Dodgers’ clubhouse and coaches’ offices, but they’re evolving, too.

Puig has actually put Dodgers pitchers in a position of not being able to object to any kind of showboating from other teams. If the “maestro,” of bat flipping wears your uniform, how do you get mad about somebody else’s celebration?

“I don’t personally like it when it’s done to me, but you’ve got to think of it two ways,” said Dodgers veteran Dan Haren. “When I give up a home run and a guy does a bat flip, chances are there will be a guy on my team that’s probably doing something similar. Bumgarner gets mad at Puig. Well, every time [Angel] Pagan gets on base he does some type of salute or something. You’ve got to look at your own team. Everybody’s kind of doing it, so for me now, I don’t really pay attention to it when I’m pitching.”

Said Mattingly, “How could we say anything? How could any team really say anything? You can’t get mad at the other team’s guy when your guy does it.”

Josh Beckett said it used to bother him. Then he got to Boston and played with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

“We used to joke about it,” Beckett said. “We could never get p----- at anybody, because we had two of the worst guys in the league about the home-run deal. Ortiz and Manny would stand there and watch their home runs, so you just come to a realization, ‘My guys are doing it, their guys are doing it, it is what it is.’ You can’t just stand out there and, what, hit everybody? I’ve learned to just try to have fun.”

Slowly, as usual, baseball is allowing itself to have a little more fun. Ex-major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst wrote a story for Deadspin this week in which he called baseball’s unwritten rules “completely arbitrary.”

“It would be one thing if there were consistency across baseball -- if everybody followed the same rules, then there'd be some de facto weight behind them,” Hayhurst wrote. “Instead it's 30 different teams with 30 different unwritten rulebooks.”

That would explain why one team, the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, found Puig’s antics so annoying, while other teams let them slide repeatedly. Is it really so bad that a player spends five or six seconds admiring his ball’s arc? Is it really worth throwing a potentially lethal object at his nose at 92 mph? One of Bumgarner’s teammates, Tim Hudson, may have had the best comment about the whole thing.

“He hit the p--- out of it, so I would’ve flipped it, too,” Hudson said.

Fans of the Dodgers like Puig’s style and fans of Dodgers opponents usually detest it. His raw emotion has a way of reaching the upper deck and into the living rooms of people watching on TV (the few who can). If it rubs other teams the wrong way, so be it. If it even rubs some of Puig’s teammates the wrong way at times, so be it. Standing in front of it, they figure, is only going to put you on the wrong side of social change.

“Fans like the flair the players have, they like when players have personality, so if it’s good for the game, then great,” Haren said. “I’m all for the fan experience, because really there would be no baseball without fans. So, if they like it, sure keep doing it.”

Permission or not, the Maestro probably will.