FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz can’t understand why people are flipping out about bat flips.
Entering his 20th season in the big leagues, Ortiz insisted that those who cite “old school” values in expressing opposition to the gesture are misguided.
“People want to talk about old school. I am old school,” said Ortiz. “How many [expletives] are in the game right now who played in 1997 in the big leagues?”
As one of just three active players (along with Alex Rodriguez and Bartolo Colon) who fits that description and with 503 career regular-season homers to his credit, Ortiz qualifies as something of an expert on the subject of etiquette related to fence-clearing blasts.
It’s a subject about which he feels considerable passion.
“Whenever somebody criticizes a power hitter for what we do after we hit a home run, I consider that person someone who is not able to hit a homer ever in his life,” Ortiz told the Globe. “Look at who criticizes the power hitters in the game and what we do. It’s either a pitcher or somebody that never played the game. Think about it. You don’t know that feeling. You don’t know what it takes to hit a homer off a guy who throws 95 miles per hour. You don’t know anything about it. And if you don’t know anything about it, [shut up]. [Shut up]. Seriously. If you don’t know anything about it, [shut up], because that is another level.”
The bat flip by Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista last postseason sparked considerable controversy about the unwritten rules of the game. That conversation continued into this spring with criticism by Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage as well as adamant defenses of it by players like reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.
For his part, Ortiz views bat flips as honest emotional reactions to both the adrenaline of the game and the satisfaction of seeing behind-the-scenes work transform into on-field success. Those who oppose such measures, he said, don’t understand what goes into the job of a power hitter.
Ortiz noted the charged atmosphere — a raucous home crowd in Toronto with the season hanging in the balance in Game 5 of the AL Division Series — in explaining why he had no issue with Bautista’s flip.
“Of course as a pitcher you’re not going to like it if I take you deep, but after I do it, suck it up, man. Take it like a man. I don’t mind anybody doing anything when you strike me out or get myself out. You’re never going to see me criticizing anybody, because you know what? Whatever you do out there, you just motivate me. You just motivate me. If I take you deep and I pimp the [expletive] out of it, that should be motivation for you to try to get me out in my next at-bat, instead of just talking [expletive]. That’s the way I see it,” he said.
“This game is competition. This ain’t no baby-sitting. There ain’t no crying. When somebody strikes me out, I’m not up there crying, like, ‘Boo-hoo . . . this guy’ . . . No, no, no. There’s none of that. There’s no babysitting in baseball. There’s no babysitting. If you’re going to take it like a baby, I’m going to take [you] deep again. How about that? Take it like a man and make better, quality pitches the next time I face you, and then you get [me] out, and then you do whatever the hell you want. This is competition.”
Ortiz’s view that all is fair between the lines dates to his childhood in the Dominican.
“My daddy told me, when I was 7, ‘Even if I am on the mound teaching the game to you, and you are facing me, try to hurt me. This is competition,’ ” said Ortiz. “Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.
“I respect you as a person. I’m not supposed to go out there and hit you with my baseball bat, but the damn round thing that is coming at me, I’m trying to break it. So all this little crying [expletive] that is going on in the baseball game in today’s day, people need to stop, man. People need to focus on what is good and what is not. If a player is good, let’s enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hitter, pitcher, position player. Good players, enjoy it.”
Ortiz suggested that social concerns about bat flips — that they somehow represent a fraying moral universe with broader societal implications that extend beyond the game — are misplaced. Inside the lines, he said, the emotion of the game takes on its own momentum, in a way that he feels all players — pitchers and hitters — should be comfortable expressing themselves.
“It’s what happens in between the two lines, and which should stay there,” said Ortiz. “It’s not a big deal, people. I’ll go out for dinner with my boy the night before a game, and say, ‘Tomorrow, I’m hitting a bomb off you.’ [He’ll respond,] ‘Yeah, right, we’ll see — I’m going to strike you out and then I’m going to dance on the mound.’ And then it’s a competition.
“When a power hitter does a bat flip, you don’t hurt nobody. If I hit a homer, did a bat flip, threw it in the stands and break a couple of people’s heads, I understand. But that’s not what it is,” he added. “When you see a pitcher do a fist pump when they strike out any one of us, or jumping on the mound, I don’t see anybody talking about that. Nobody’s talking about that. Act the same way when we do a bat flip. It’s emotion. It is, ‘I got you.’ Just like a pitcher does, ‘I got you,’ when they strike [you] out. As a hitter, I don’t mind. You got myself out? Good for you. They work hard to do that [expletive]. But when I get you, good for me. Period.”
Ortiz feels that criticism of current player conduct overlooks the long history of colorful players who did not mask their emotions. Players like Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson, he recalled, used to make little effort to conceal on-field swagger.
“If I keep on telling you players that used to do that, power hitters, you’d be amazed. That’s the nature of the game,” said Ortiz. “Babe Ruth used to say, ‘I’m going deep to right field now,’ and get it done. You want something more embarrassing than that? You know what I’m saying?”
There have been many times in his 503 trips around the bases that Ortiz has been accused of showing up his opponent by taking too much time to make his way around the bases. After all, according to the Tater Trot Tracker, Ortiz is the standard-setter when it comes to deliberate circumnavigations of the bases. In his final season, Ortiz has no plans to change his base-rounding pace — in no small part than for reasons of health preservation.
“People sometimes don’t realize a guy like me, how much velocity we create on the swing. I have hit balls sometimes that it takes me a minute to pull myself together after I swing because I swing hard,” said Ortiz. “First of all, my bat is 34½ (inches), 32½ (ounces). And once that bat gets through the strike zone, the momentum that you’ve got going, I don’t think anyone can swing it and run at the same time. You will break yourself in half. You’d get your legs going one direction and your upper body going another. . . . People want you to fly around the bases when you hit a 500-foot home run. Uh-uh. A 500-foot homer, why should I? Why should I? Seriously, like it’s an inside-the-park homer?”
Ultimately, Ortiz said, those who critique the state of the game and the conduct of its players are tilting at windmills.
“This ain’t no old school. This is what it is in today’s day,” said Ortiz. “You pull yourself together and get people out, or you pull yourself together and you go home. That’s what it is.”Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier. Subscribe to his 108 Stitches newsletter here.