War is underway between baseball purists and new-schoolers, and just about everyone is taking sides. Either you’re with Goose Gossage, who thinks these youngsters and their bat-flips are spoiling his sacred pastime, or you’re with Bryce Harper, who thinks players showing their personality will only spice up the game and endear baseball to younger fans.
Count Astros shortstop Carlos Correa among the pro-bat-flip crowd.
In an essay on SoleCollector.com, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year wrote that baseball is, “beautiful, classic, traditional and…stuck in the past.”
We’ve romanticized the game’s past so much that we’ve forgotten about its future. Since its beginnings, baseball has been guided by an invisible hand. A set of unwritten rules that all players are expected to adhere to. These unwritten rules are responsible for trying to kill our fans’ favorable perception of the game that we love. They strangle the passion and creativity of some of our sports most exciting athletes, all for the fear of breaking those unwritten rules. We are so enamored by the idea of what we think the game should look like that we fail to see how it could be seen. The past has been glorified so much that we resist any change at all for fear that it will degrade traditions but in doing so we have stopped the game from progressing forward. We are surprised and offended when we hear someone say the game is boring or dying, but we don’t take action to fix it.
These are strong words but important ones. Baseball does not face an existential crisis, as some would have you believe, but nor is it thriving compared to the NFL and NBA. And while the unwritten rules we hear so much about certainly aren’t single-handedly sinking baseball, actively discouraging acts of emotion and personality don’t help.
Of course, baseball remains plenty popular among older fans, who usually happen to be the ones droning on about “playing the right way” and “respecting the game.” The people who enforce this soul-sapping code presumably don’t consider baseball in peril, because their generation hasn’t jumped ship. So the problem probably isn’t, as Correa suggests, hypocrisy or lack of critical action, but rather a difficult divide between opposing camps.
Here’s more Correa:
It is a fine line between playing the game respectfully and being disrespectful of your opponent, but I believe the fans love flair and that is what they come to see at the ballpark— the show. When I fell in love with this game growing up in Puerto Rico this is the way we played. We always played with a level of passion and style which brought energy and excitement to the games. There have always been players that have played baseball with a high level of passion and these players were able to transform the game. Now, this generation is tasked to evolve the game to meet the times and make this game our own.
Harper and Correa’s comments are important because at the end of the day fans of all ages and demographics care what the example set by players, particularly the best players. It’s easy to call one renegade disrespectful, but what about when there’s an army of them? The code around the game won’t fall because snarky internet writers want it to, it’ll fall because MVPs want it to.
Harper wore a trucker hat that said Make Baseball Fun Again during his postgame media scrum.
— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) April 5, 2016
The sentiment also matters because it demonstrates that these players aren’t afraid to buck convention and play their way. Harper and Correa will be around a long time, and it’s more fun for everyone (Goose Gossage and company excluded) if they’re putting their own stamp on the game.