Birds on the Batflips: What causes the Cardinals' old-school perception?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

During the 7th inning of Wednesday's American League Division Series Game 5 between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, an inning which was already a chaotic mess thanks to a confluence of events that I could not even begin to properly describe without instructing the unfamiliar to just find the video, Blue Jays superstar Jose Bautista crushed a three-run home run to give his team a 6-3 lead from which they would not look back. That no fielder would come within a kilometer (out of respect to our friends in Canada) of the Joey Bats swing was immediately apparent--to Bautista, to Rangers victim Sam Dyson, to the nearly fifty thousand fans at Rogers Centre, to me, and to anybody who was watching the game with even moderate previous exposure to baseball. It was gone. And Bautista busted out what is the new gold standard for bat flips. He stared at the ball's rapid departure from the field of play with a strange sense of focus, one in which his attention was undivided and yet he seemed almost bored at the inevitability. And then he took a few steps and tossed his bat aside. The next two innings only mattered for accounting purposes--the game and the series were, for all intents and purposes, already over.

Now, let me level with those of you unfamiliar with my stance on bat flips--I don't particularly enjoy them. This isn't to say that I hate them, or even that I dislike them--I just don't generally get too excited about them. For me, a bat flip is a little bit like basketball's 3-point goggles gesture: it was probably really cool the first time, but they're pretty much all the same. Unless a guy commemorates a home run by, I don't know, doing cartwheels around the base paths (MLB players--take note), I don't personally feel any great desire to see it.

That said, Jose Bautista's bat flip was extraordinary, next-level kind of bat flipping. I'd call it the Michael Jordan of bat flips, but judging by Jordan's baseball style, he probably wasn't too versed in the art. I hope small children don't try to replicate this bat flip not because I consider it a great pox on society but because anything will be a poor imitation in comparison. And judging by the reactions of my circle of friends on Twitter, my praise was hardly rare. My timeline, which consists largely of St. Louis Cardinals fans, was effusive in its praise of the Bautista bat flip. The GIF of the latest entry into the Bat Flip Hall of Fame was posted to "the dress" levels, while still others posted their favorite bat flips involving the Cardinals: Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, even Tom Lawless. It wasn't a matter of Cardinals fans trying to one-up Bautista--it was just a celebration of bat flips. People love these things.

At least people I know love these things. According to Twitter at-large, Cardinals fans are really, really offended by bat flips. Or at least they should be, in order to fit a carefully constructed narrative of them as the Fun Police.

Now, I'm not going to be brazen and declare that absolutely no Cardinals fans disapprove of the bat flip. I don't actually know any who do, but I'm certain some do. Just as I'm certain there are fans of all 30 MLB teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, who disapprove of bat flips. But it's hard to find much of a groundswell of Cardinals fans being disproportionately angry about it. Merely lots of non-Cardinals fans who really want to believe that Cardinals fans are stewing about a simple act of celebration.

It doesn't especially bother me that the Cardinals are hated, as I've written about ad nauseum. It doesn't even bother me if people hate the Cardinals for completely unfounded reasons. It does, however, bother me when the hatred of the Cardinals is an extension of hatred or, perhaps a more apropos word, belittlement, of St. Louis.

Earlier this morning, I encouraged people on Twitter that perhaps the best way to handle the stereotype of Cardinals fans hating bat flips isn't to deny it but rather to just troll the rest of the country by acting as though we're fundamentally bothered by it, that bat flips are contrary to our wholesome Midwestern values of humility and apple pie or something. But not long after, I remembered the problem with my logic--that this isn't really about bat flips. It's about a predominantly white base of fans criticizing a predominantly Latino group of players for not playing the "right way." The anti-bat flip crowd often speaks in poorly coded language: Rangers starter Cole Hamels commented on the Bautista bat flip, "It's hard to be politically correct." I don't know a thing about Cole Hamels outside of his baseball talent, but it's hard to read those comments and think he'd be talking about political correctness had the bat flipping been done by Josh Donaldson. For the sake of brevity, let's not even get into Yasiel Puig bat flip hot takes.

And the stereotype of Cardinals fans is an extension of a stereotype of St. Louis--that it's racist. That the group of very awful Cardinals fans who clashed with Ferguson protesters last October are a representative sampling of all St. Louisans and of all Cardinals fans (I've tried to come up with the best way to phrase my sentiments on this whitewashing of Cardinals fans, but I cannot articulate it better than the wonderful Chase Woodruff already did). And it conveniences this stereotype to ignore the reality of Cardinals fans. That the player who receives by far the loudest ovations at Busch Stadium is Puerto Rican. That it would be an overwhelmingly popular move among Cardinals fans to give an African-American player a contract extension which could realistically wind up being worth double the value of the richest contract in club history. That among the club's most popular young players are a Hawaiian kid who does the Nae Nae in celebrations and a Dominican fireballer with a proclivity for strutting and stacking cups. That's not to mention how a vocal contingent of fans want an African-American outfielder who statistically isn't even close to deserving of the honor to have his number retired. There are certainly bad seeds, but the idea that Cardinals fans are enamored exclusively with white players is wildly untrue.

This is what it is, but what I wonder is "Why?" Why would so many people embrace a non-truth? Isn't it much easier to defend your stances when they're backed up with evidence? My theory is that by labeling one target as bad, it enables the 29 other fans bases to ignore their own sins. The other 29 fan bases are not inherently any better or worse than Cardinals fans (my personal theory, backed up by absolutely nothing tangible, is that all fan bases are exactly the same and that therefore, the average Rays fan is way better than the average Yankees fan simply because there's more fan points to be distributed on a per-capita basis), but the Cardinals act as an effective scapegoat.

In the excellent ESPN documentary Catching Hell, about the excruciating lengths to which Chicago Cubs fans chastised Steve Bartman following his blunder from the Wrigley Field stands during the 2003 NLCS, the concept of scapegoating from its Biblical origins is covered in-depth. The scapegoat, in Leviticus, is a literal goat upon which townspeople imparted their own sins. And at Wrigley Field in 2003, Steve Bartman allowed other factors to be ignored--Dusty Baker's reckless use of Mark Prior, Alex Gonzalez's error, the general implosion of that Cubs team. And in 2015, the supposedly appalling Cardinals fans allow problematic fans to be restricted to the 0.2% of the United States which comprises Greater St. Louis rather than dispersed throughout the country, spread far enough that it might force the country, and not just baseball fan bases, to contemplate itself in a perhaps unflattering light.