When Bryce Harper hit a powerful eighth-inning home run on Tuesday night, it wrapped up a dramatic homecoming narrative. But getting almost as much buzz was his top-notch bat flip.
It was Harper’s first game back in Washington after leaving the Nationals to join the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent in the off-season. Before the game, he made a magnanimous statement on Instagram thanking Nationals fans and saying he would “always remember the cheers.”
Nonetheless, he faced a predictable deluge of boos throughout the game from the home fans. (Perhaps they took their cue from the mayor, Muriel Bowser, who tweeted and then deleted a picture of Harper as Benedict Arnold.)
Parked in right field, where Harper plays, was a group of noisy Phillies fans, and Harper took a moment to salute them.
He started slowly, with two strikeouts. But then he had a double and a run-scoring single. In his final at-bat, he powered a shot into the second deck in right, fittingly just above those Phillies fans.
That brought the bat flip. The typical home run flip comes immediately after the swing and tends to be horizontal. Sometimes it is performed with enthusiasm and sometimes with arrogance.
But Harper took his time. He switched hands, then heaved it up one-handed. The toss had good height and tremendous speed, completing several rapid rotations.
That was followed by the home run trot and a complex series of fist bumps and poses with his teammates in the dugout.
Nationals Manager Davey Martinez was more concerned with his shortstop Trea Turner’s broken finger after the game. “I try not to watch,” he said when asked about his thoughts on bat flips. “It’s the way the game’s evolved.”
Flips are unlikely to become a disciplinary issue like steroids or beanballs. Major League Baseball can’t be too upset, considering it has posted a video highlighting the top 50 bat flips of all time.
And those unwritten codes do not really translate to other baseball cultures. In South Korea, flamboyant flips draw shrugs, not scorn.
Some more memorable flippery:
The nonchalant flip. Junior Lake’s slow, deliberate flip in 2015 prompted an on-field brouhaha.
The disdainful flip. Albert Pujols dripped derision with a delayed toss in 2009.
The historic flip. Barry Bonds tied the home run record with 70 in 2001, then executed a soft, high, looping flip that seemed as if it would never come down.
The long-delayed flip. Jose Ramirez annoyed the Twins in 2015 with a flip that came halfway to first base.
The famous flip. Jose Bautista’s flip from the 2015 division series has yet to be bettered. His homer broke a tie in the deciding game of the series. After the swing, Bautista stood immobile at the plate watching the ball, then performed a muscular hurl that sent his bat deep into foul territory.
“He’s doing stuff kids do in Wiffle ball games,” Rangers reliever Sam Dyson groused.
That’s a Wiffle ball game many people might like to see.