You may have noticed that some guys in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) like to flip their bats after making contact with the ball. [MyKBO’s Bat-Flip Playlist] I will be the first to admit that I enjoy a good bat-flip whether it’s in the KBO, MLB, or any other league around the world. (I also happen to enjoy a good touchdown dance or goal celebration as well) Judging by the amount of press coverage and comments about Hong Sung-heon’s flips, it would seem that I am not the only one that also enjoys watching the bat gracefully spin in the air.
Former Lotte pitcher, Ryan Sadowski, once told me there is 'baseball' and there is ‘yagu’ (Korean word for baseball). Yagu and the yagu culture are unique to Korea, while 'baseball' is unique to MLB/MiLB etc. I attribute bat-flips to the yagu culture. While I have yet to determine the origination of the bat-flip in yagu culture, I did notice that players have ‘pimped’ their home runs for a while and even in the early ‘90’s bat-flips were present in the KBO.
One comment that I keep hearing is something along the lines of ‘If he was in MLB, he’d get drilled’ or something to that extent. While that may be true, the slight problem I have with that comment is that this player is not in MLB, he’s in Korea playing in the KBO. MLB has their own set of unwritten rules and baseball culture and the KBO has their own set of rules and yagu culture. In fact, the unwritten rules in MLB seem to be getting more difficult to understand and decipher what is deemed appropriate (Jed Lowrie bunting in 1st vs shift comes to mind).
Fans that grew up watching MLB, may feel that a bat-flip is poor sportsmanship or even disrespectful. If you think that, what you need to remember is that what is considered disrespectful in one country may not be considered disrespectful in another country. One example is that in the KBO if a younger pitcher hits an older veteran player with a pitch, the pitcher is expected to bow or tip his cap as a way to say he’s sorry and it wasn’t intentional. MLB pitchers for the most part do not bow or tip their hats after hitting a guy. Using this example, would it be fair for KBO fans to consider MLB pitchers disrespectful for not adhering to this yagu rule? No, it wouldn’t be fair because it’s another league in another country that does things another way. The same can be said about bat-flips and the KBO.
If a player were to come from the KBO to the MLB, I assume he would temper his bat-flippiness a bit because he knows MLB has a different set of rules. If he doesn't know this, I would hope that someone on his new MLB team would inform him that one does not need to flip their bat every time they make contact. This past spring during KBO Spring Training, Hanwha's Felix Pie (yes, that Felix Pie...he's now playing CF for Ryu Hyun-jin's former team) would greet the catcher and umpire with a soft tap on their shinguards. This greeting is something that can be seen done on MLB/MiLB fields daily and is usually seen as a subtle form of endearment and respect to the men behind the plate (exception being Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina 'tapgate'). When Pie tried to bring this part of the baseball culture to the KBO, many fans and umpires did not know how to react, didn't think it was appropriate and was a sign of disrespect to the umpire. The team talked to Pie about this and to his credit, a week later, he simply did a quick bow to the umpire before his at-bat. At first I was a bit miffed by this reaction from the fans and umps in Korea (I was looking at via 'MLB-eyes', which I am guilty of doing from time to time), but I later came to chalk it up as another difference between baseball and yagu.
KBO pitchers usually don’t retaliate if a player 'pimps' or flips his bat. Some MLB pitchers on the other hand seem to take great offense to this action and will try and cause some sort of pain to the batter at a later time. The differences in reactions are just another way that baseball cultures across the globe interpret things differently. If you constantly make comparisons between the MLB and KBO and the way the games are played, you may miss a Park Byung-ho home run or Choi Jeong web gem. Is one baseball culture better than the other? I’m not going to sit here and make that judgment, but I do know that if you view the KBO through ‘MLB-eyes’, you will probably not understand everything about the league nor enjoy it near as much as if you were to simply enjoy the league for what it is…the Korea Baseball Organization (not MLB Lite).-Dan of MyKBO