There’s this whole ado in baseball surrounding the way the game used to be played and what these young kids suiting up on the diamond believe the game itself is headed.
It started with comments from Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper indicating that bat flips and other demonstrative celebrations on the field should be part of today’s Major League Baseball.
“Baseball’s tired,” he says. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do,” Harper told ESPN The Magazine back in March. “I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair.”
At a time when we have the NFL reining in celebrations at a ridiculous clip, it’s interesting that this topic would come up in a game that’s always been about its history. Baseball’s identity is built within the fabric of American society. It’s a game as old as the republic itself. It also continues to display a willingness to promote its history — the fundamental aspects of baseball, per say.
Among these are unwritten rules that have been passed on from generation to generation.
But at a time when our society is enthralled by shiny things and self gratification, baseball has taken a step back. It’s not as interesting as a Stephen Curry three-point barrage or a J.J. Watt sack celebration.
In this, Harper is more than right to conclude that something is missing from the game. Something that must change in order for baseball to get with the times.
“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun,” Harper continued. “You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
While former players such as pitcher Goose Gossage have taken exception to Harper’s stance here, at least one current player sees no issue with these types of celebrations:
“You have fun, the game gets easy,” Houston Astros outfielder Carlos Gomes said back in March, via USA Today Sports. “What I say is, you play the game how you enjoy it. If you enjoy the game doing this, don’t let nobody get in your head and stop you. If you’re good that way, keep doing your thing. I think baseball fans will enjoy it more. When I don’t enjoy playing baseball, I go home.”
The conversation has included pitchers such as Miami Marlins stud ace Jose Fernandez, who has in the past upset opponents by his over-the-top celebrations from the bump.
But we can add another major figure to those who support Harper’s stance. This time it comes in the form of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred:
“…You know, I kinda line up with Bryce Harper on this. I think that we have got a great generation of young stars coming into the game,” Manfred told ESPN’s Mike and Mike earlier in April. “And just like Goose (Gossage) and his peers decided certain things were okay and certain things weren’t, this generation is going to define what the game looks like on those topics.”
Sportsnaut engaged in a bit of give and take regarding this topic. Head editor Jesse Reed sided with Harper on the discussion while the man behind the scenes, Malcolm Michaels, went in the opposite direction:
This gives us an idea of the split between old-time baseball fans and those who would like to see the game move forward in a different direction.
None of this is going to be decided at any time soon, if ever. Instead, it’s a growing conversation that should remain in the front burner for the foreseeable future. And as Manfred indicated, it’s this new generation of players that will define the unwritten rules moving forward, not the likes of Goose Gossage.