It was a simple question that turned into a mystery: Why do Korean baseball players flip their bats so much?
In America, the act of tossing of a bat in celebration of a home run is considered a grave offense, a taboo that has become a flash point in baseball’s increasingly heated cultural divides — between white players and Latinos and between younger players and old. But in South Korea’s professional league, bat-flipping is common, even celebrated. Hitters do it with remarkable flair, and nobody seems to mind. When ESPN The Magazine senior writer Mina Kimes asked baseball insiders how this alternate universe could exist, though, nobody seemed to know.
So Kimes, accompanied by illustrator Mickey Duzyj, on a journey across South Korea to find answers. Canvassing players and experts across four cities, five stadiums, a Little League field and at least one sketchy back alley, what she found revealed deep truths about not just Korean history and culture but American mores. Bat flips, Kimes learned, can be everything from a scream against repression to a symbol of emotional release — an act that can be understood only in the context of the country’s larger story of imperialism and globalization. “When I come to the field, I feel something opening,” she quotes one player as saying. “It’s the only time I can scream out my stress and open up and raise my voice.”
Kimes’ story, complemented by Duzyj’s original illustrations and animations, is nothing less than a cultural revelation — one that expertly unravels the power of sports across two continents.