Jose Bautista authored one of the most exhilarating playoff moments in recent memory last night. And it would’ve been memorable even if he calmly set the bat down, quickly circled the bases, offered his third base coach a tepid high five and then calmly took a seat on the bench. But he didn’t, of course, and that whole bat-flip-and-stare thing is what’s going to be burned in the minds of everyone for a long, long time. The celebration, such as it was, being every bit a part of the highlight as the swing of the bat.
In this Bautista joins a host of other memorable “Wow!” moments in baseball hitstory. Not “Wow!” because of what they meant purely in baseball terms, but because of what accompanied the accomplishment. The gestures. The emotion. The celebration, spontaneous or otherwise. Those moments where the highly-trained athlete melted away for a moment and the human being — including his emotions or attitude or both — came to the fore. Let’s look at some of those, shall we? In no particular order:
Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series Walkoff Trot
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Obviously this is a big baseball moment in and of itself. Along with Mazeroski’s 1960 shot, it’s the most memorable home run in World Series history. But part of what makes it so memorable was Carter’s absolute and irrepressible joy as he circled the bases. He was seemingly walking on air half the time, and many people remember that just as well if not better than the actual swing of the bat:
Kirk Gibson’s Fist Pump
Everyone remembers Gibson hobbling to the plate. Everyone remembers Eckersley’s wind-up and pitch. Everyone remembers Gibson’s top-half-only swing and the ball disappearing into the right field pavilion. Heck, everyone even remembers the brake light of that car off in the distance in the parking lot, driven by that poor sod who left the park during the ninth inning of a World Series game in order to beat traffic. And certainly everyone remembers either Vin Scully or Jack Buck’s call of the home run:
But there is no question that the cherry on top of this impossibly delicious sundae was Gibson pumping his arms as he limped between first and second base, needing something to do with all of the adrenaline coursing through his body and, this being Kirk Gibson, doing about the least destructive thing he could conceivably do.
I can’t believe what I just saw!
Carlton Fisk steering the ball fair
Perhaps the most iconic moment in an ultimately losing effort. But that loss wouldn’t come until Game 7 of the 1975 World Series. In the 12th inning of Game 6, however, Carlton Fisk bashed the Sox to victory with his home run off of the Reds’ Pat Darcy:
Like so many of these other moments, we’d remember it even if Fisk merely trotted the bases. But it was his waving the ball fair — willing it fair — that turned the merely amazing into the iconic:
Yogi Berra jumping into Don Larsen’s arms
Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series was the greatest pitching performance in the history of the Fall Classic. What immediately followed out number 27 was one of the most memorable images from the long, rich career of Yogi Berra, as he leapt into Larsen’s arms:
Much of that game is available on video now, but no part of it — not a single out — sticks out the way the celebration of it does.
All of the above moments were spontaneous bursts of emotion. But not all of baseball’s “Wow” moments were. For example, if you have an office mate who is still beefing about Jose Bautista‘s allegedly disrespectful and hot dogging bat flip as the quintessential example of today’s modern players ruining a classic game, ask him where this one fits in:
Babe Ruth’s Called Shot
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There is some amount of dispute as to whether Ruth actually called his home run shot off of Charlie Root in the 1932 World Series. But Ruth himself claimed he did, which is itself an act of pretty crazy aggrandizement. And there is no dispute that, preceding the home run, the Cubs and Yankees were talking extreme trash to one another throughout the game and throughout the series. What is also certain is that Ruth made a gesture at Root and/or the outfield and that, no matter what else can be said about what followed, this was an epic in-your-face moment in baseball history. And it occurred while Herbert Hoover was president. So take your “today’s players don’t respect the game like the old timers” nonsense and shove it.
Rickey Henderson breaks Lou Brock’s Stolen Base Record
This went down on May 1, 1991, when Rickey Henderson stole the 939th base of his career, breaking Lou Brock’s record. I would venture to guess, based on what we know about Rickey Henderson, that he planned his take-the-base-out-of-the-ground and hold-it-above-his-head moment weeks in advance. Maybe longer. And it was most certainly aimed at aggrandizing himself. Indeed, he specifically declared himself to be the greatest of all time as soon as he did it. Was it a hot dog move? Of course it was. But with Rickey Henderson being a hot dog was a feature, not a bug, and our enjoyment of his career was made all the better for it.
Jeffrey Leonard’s One Flap-Down Home Run Trot
This was something that went down in Game 3 of the 1987 NLCS, when the Giants’ Jeffrey Leonard had some memorable homers and trotted the bases both extraordinarily slowly and with his left arm down, which he referred to as “one flap down.” This was made all the better — or worse, depending on your point of view — by the fact that the Cards and Giants of this era absolutely hated each other and had many memorable beanball wars and other assorted bits of chippiness both before and after this series, which the Cardinals went on to win.
Jimmy Piersall’s 100th Homer Backwards Trot
Jimmy Piersall is best known for his battle with bipolar disorder that became the subject of the book and movie Fear Strikes Out. But after that he’s probably best known for how he trotted the bases following his 100th career home run:
Respect the game, man. Respect the game.
Prince Fielder‘s Bowling Ball Walkoff Homer
In September 2009, Prince Fielder hit a walkoff homer for the Brewers against the San Francisco Giants. As he rounded first he pointed to the dugout, cuing his teammates to assemble for what was obviously a pre-planned thing: the bowling ball celebration:
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I didn’t join Twitter until a month or two after this, so I can’t tell you what level of uproar it caused there, but hoo boy did people talk about it in general. And, of course, it led to Fielder getting plunked in the back by a Barry Zito pitch the following spring. Which, given what Barry Zito pitches were like even then, was a small price to play for entertainment.
Tom Lawless’ 1987 World Series Bat Flip
And now we’re back to where we began: with a bat flip. Which, contrary to what some cranks like to say, was not something invented by Carlos Gomez in 2013 or something. This was 28 years ago. It came from a guy who hit .080 — yes, .080 — in the regular season and had a career OPS+ of 47. He hit exactly two homers in his entire career apart from this one. He is literally the last player on Earth who had the right to be cocky in 1987. But watch him here, specifically at the replay which begins at the one minute mark:
Wait, I’m not sure you caught all that. Please, watch it again:
That, my friends, is pure .080/.179/.120 (-19 OPS+) swag.
No matter how many armchair managers want to lecture players about respecting the game, putting a lid on their emotions and not showing up the opposition, baseball has always had its fair share of celebration, emotion, enthusiasm and style. Today we’re talking about Jose Bautista. Tomorrow it may be someone else. But let us not forget that it’s a game and a game can be fun. Or, at the very least, it’s supposed to be.