Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
As we approach the end of May it’s the perfect time to canonize the one of the rarest feats in baseball — the pitcher bat flip. Even with the increase in bat flips around the game, pitchers rarely flip even refusing to make the most of the few times they do get a hit, let alone a home run.
To encourage more of this glorious celebration of triumph, below is a definitive ranking of all pitcher bat flips found during an exhausting 40 minutes of googling. Each bat flip is ranked on a Joey Bats Scale, with a maximum of 19 points overall and 3.8 points in each category:
Tom Lawless Meter – Game situations matter
Bill Butler F@ck You Meter –
The lead up to the bat flip
The bat flip
James Shields – Spring training Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Full Dinger (3.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Flamboyant (3)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: KBO-esque (2.8)
Tom Lawless Meter: Spring training (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Angry at the ball (.5)
Joey Bats Score: Disqualified
In the highlight of their season, then Padres pitcher James Shields uncorked an impressive bat flip, but it’s immediately disqualified for coming in spring training batting practice. Kudos for being the only highlight real I’ve seen from the 2016 Padres.
Matt Harvey Game 1 2015 NLCS
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Sac bunt (0)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: None (0)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Bat fling (.25)
Tom Lawless Meter: During the NLCS but a sac bunt in the NL (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Extremely boring play(0)
Joey Bats Score: .45 or 0 Batmans
During a standard NL small ball play, Matt Harvey pulled out a bat flip halfway up the first base line. Given he is a worse base runner than Bartolo Colon (confirmed by in-person scouting), it’s possible that he forgot the bat was in his hand and was desperately flinging it away. His Dark Knight moniker should have been revoked after this flip.
Zack Greinke – 2015 versus Brewers
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Frozen Rope-esque Double (1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Robotic (1)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Solid bat flip (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: Midseason against Da Brew Crew (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Sighing on 2nd base (0)
Joey Bats Score: 3
A bat flip is acceptable on any decent hit by a pitcher, but the low-stakes combined with the lack of intensity from Greinke and the crowd makes this unmemorable to anyone but the MLB intern who posted it on YouTube. Loses additional points for not having Vin Scully call the play.
Zack Greinke – Dodgers vs Reds, 2015
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Peyton Manning-esque (.75)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Less Solid bat flip (1.70)
Tom Lawless Meter: Reds won at most 2 games that year (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: No sigh! (.5)
Joey Bats Score: 5.55
Greinke here looks like a Peyton Manning robot doing his best imitation of Puig. Despite hitting a home run, even the MLB intern passed over this one. It also came during in an August game against the Reds, who, I am sure, were awful outside of Votto in 2015 (I refuse to look this up).
Jeff Samardzija – 2017
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Solid Double (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Alright, Alright, Alright (1.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Nut seeking (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: 2017 Giants (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: The facial always says f’ you (1)
Joey Bats Score: 6.7
I am amazed he didn’t hit himself in the nuts with this bat flip. That’s some impressive spin, but next time he may want to flip it a little further out to avoid any issues on the bounce back. Pretty impressive, with the ‘70s creeper vibe adding to the cockiness of bat flipping on a double.
Hyun-jin Ryu – 2014 Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Double (1.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Standard (1.2)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great rotation (2.9)
Tom Lawless Meter: Summer game against the Rockies (1)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Low-pressure (1)
Joey Bats Score: 7.9
I am now thinking that the Dodgers (and Puig) must encourage their pitchers to flip bats. Still only the 2nd best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, though.
Hung-Chih Kuo – 2007
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: First Home Run in MLB Dinger! (3.1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Vin Scully Admired the Flip (3.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great range, great rotation (3)
Tom Lawless Meter: 3rd of 3 dingers (2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: That flip screamed hell yeah! (2)
Joey Bats Score: 13.8
Easily, the best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, even got Vin Scully to admire it.
Some Kid – 2016
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Puig and then some (3.8)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Sharp shooting, full KBO (3.7)
Tom Lawless Meter: 5-year old playing wiffle ball? Full Lawless in his mind (3)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Surprised he didn’t flip the bird (3.8)
Joey Bats Score: 17.3
This is a bat flip. I have no idea if he is a pitcher or not, I am assuming yes, but MLB pitchers could learn from this kid. Hope to see him in the show in 17 years.
The bat flip that will never be
The best pitcher bat flip is the one we can only dream of, the one that broke our hearts when its chance at life was squashed this offseason. The one from the sexist pitcher playing today – the Big Sexy bat flip.
The man who gave us one of the most improbable home runs, followed by what has to be the longest home run trot done in earnest, and the only reason for watching the Mets from 2014-2016 selfishly signed with an AL team this offseason. At 45, it’s likely he will never bat again, but we can dream.
Just picture this man, who once carried his bat to 1st base after nearly losing his helmet and the most memorable home run by a Met ever flipping a bat. Watch those video again, there is no doubt in my mind that this would be the bat flip we need. The sheer sexiness of it would result in Colon having at least 3 more families to feed.
We’ll update as the rankings as more pitchers flip more bats in 2018.