Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
I hate José Bautista. As an Orioles fan, I've been trained to boo the Blue Jays outfielder every time he comes to the plate. The simple explanation is he's a good hitter on a rival team, but in Baltimore, the animosity goes deeper. He's not just good — he's "cocky," they'll say. The most cited example of his supposed arrogance is the bat flip.
It's a seemingly small gesture, but in the code of baseball celebration, it's highly divisive. To flip your bat after a home run is unsportsmanlike for many traditionalists. It is showboating, pure and simple, to them. But a closer look reveals there is a lot more to a bat flip than meets the eye.
Yoenis Céspedes, a Cuban-born player, argues, "Baseball players in the U.S. need to realize that we are not doing this out of disrespect … It is how we play. To me, a bat flip is a great way to express a great job you did … We Latinos, we play baseball because it is a passion."
José Bautista wrote an entire article defending his infamous flip in the 2015 ALDS. "Come down to the Dominican Republic and experience it. … To us, baseball isn't a country club game. It's our national pastime, and it comes packed with emotion."
These quotes show the cultural reality of this debate. Even though the historically white Major League Baseball may not approve such displays of pride, the rest of the world is a lot more accepting. Last year, ESPN published an article about bat flips in Korean baseball, in which Dan Kurtz explained, "A bat flip isn't disrespectful here in Korea, which is a very formal, respectful country. … A guy flips and the pitchers don't do anything about it. It's just part of the game."
But it's not so clear in America. Ian Kinsler, a white player who represented Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, demonstrated the not-so-subtle racism behind many bat flip critiques. "I hope kids … watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican [Republic] plays," he said.
The message was clear: Latin American players do not play baseball the right way. Like so many things, the culture of baseball is often discussed in terms of playing "the right way," when we really mean "the white way."
Players of color were barred from the MLB in America for many years, and even a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the league was still almost 90 percent white. It has never dipped below 60 percent. But there have also been big changes. Today, over 27 percent of major league players are Latino. The demographics of the league and its fans are shifting. The league's institutional flaws become more clearly defined as baseball gets more diverse. It is hypocritical for fans to celebrate the fire of an angry George Brett or the excitement of a Gatorade celebration but condemn bat flips by players of color. And as Céspedes put it, "If in the U.S. we would introduce more of the Latin culture, I think that baseball would grow." Isn't that what all fans want?
As long as he's a rival of the Orioles, I can never stop hating José Bautista. But I will no longer add to my jeers any talk of sportsmanship or character. No matter your baseball allegiance, Ian Kinsler was wrong to hope kids would not learn from players like Bautista. Every child should be able to see someone who looks like them in a baseball uniform. They should get to see their heroes take pride in their accomplishments and learn to do the same. They deserve to flip the bat when the spectacular happens.
Jack Lewis is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.