“Make Baseball Fun Again” may be Bryce Harper’s Trumpian attempt to revolutionize baseball’s bland facade, but it doesn’t really make much sense. Baseball’s never been “fun” in the way that Harper’s newest catchphrase implies. Harper wants to bring back the rah-rah and celebration that accompanies a big moment or emotional swing, but the truth is, those actions have always been looked down upon. Unless you’re a pitcher pumping your fist after a strikeout, there is little room for emotional flexibility on the baseball diamond. Harper simply wants to allow for more wiggle room.
And he’s right!
Do you even remember what happened in the World Series last year? Sure, the Royals beat the Mets, whoop-de-do, but you do remember what happened? Can you recall any play other than the final out that resonated with the nation at large?
No! You can’t! But you and millions of other fans remember the shit out of this:
I didn’t do a Year in Review for this blog in 2015, but if I had, this would have been one of the three contenders for Game of the Year. The game itself was insanity, probably the most exciting and emotionally charged events I’ve ever seen on television, but Jose Bautista’s epic bat flip was the icing on the playoff cake. It took what was a spectacular game and pushed it into the stratosphere of popularity, catching coverage on morning news shows and playing on loop at ESPN headquarters for weeks while MLB soaked in the spotlight. I mean, shit, look what happens when you do a Google image search for “bat flip”!
And that’s important. Baseball is a sport of patience, where one pitch over the course of 162 games is largely inconsequential. I love baseball; you might love baseball, a lot of people might love baseball – but a lot of people DON’T love baseball, and it’s because the casual fan can’t see the fundamental difference between the cutting action of a two-seam fastball and the graceful arc of a 12-6 curveball. To a mildly interested viewer, pulling the ball is just as productive as going the other way, regardless of the situation, and a 2-2 count is just a number on a screen. And when you view baseball through that lens, it looks pretty mundane. Pitch, pitch, swing, swing, hit, hit…it all blends. You and I may know the differences, but there are so many other who don’t.
So when Jose Bautista chucks his bat down the first base line, or Bryce Harper jaws at the pitcher after being hit with a fastball, or when Jose Fernandez takes a peek at his first career home run instead of mechanically jogging the bases, we shouldn’t lambaste them for their actions. Fernandez has thrown thousands of pitches in his career and you’d be hard-pressed to remember any of them, but you’ll remember that home-run staredown and the ensuing brawl. In a sport that is begging for new viewers, any publicity is good publicity.
So, bat flips. How do I feel about them? I love them. I love everything about them. Pitching is hard but batting is harder, and pitchers seem to be allowed to celebrate whenever the hell they want. Batters are literally punished for showing an iota of emotion, often pummeled by the pitcher if the batter flipped his weapon after a moonshot. Where’s the justice?
Why the fuck is Sergio Romo allowed to do this:
But Yasiel Puig can’t do this?
The best hitters in the world only succeed 30 percent of the time. They should be allowed to celebrate a damn single for all I care. Batting is so bafflingly difficult it technically shouldn’t even be possible to get a bat on the ball. Celebrate all you want, guys!
Now, the worst part of this debate: the old-timers. Guys like Goose Gossage, who had the temerity to call Bautista’s bat flip an “effin’ embarrassment” to Latin players, as if Roger Clemens injecting himself with copious amounts of God drugs was not an embarrassment to white players. Gossage’s comments are worth an entire article by themselves, including the part where he said Harper “doesn’t know squat” and “has no respect” for baseball despite Harper’s repeated examples of knowing quite a lot about baseball and its history.
Gossage and those in his camp long for the good ol’ days of baseball, where batters couldn’t show any emotion and pitchers could throw at their defenseless bodies whenever they wanted. Rough-and-tumble, respect the game. That’s Gossage’s stance.
Respecting the game, like gambling on baseball and throwing the match in the name of making a quick buck.
Respecting the game, like how managers used to respect the game by launching spit into an umpire’s face and kicking dirt on home plate after a bad call.
Respecting the game, like when Gossage showed the ultimate respect to a teammate in 1979 by bludgeoning him and tearing a ligament.
Respecting the game, like how Ty Cobb would use metal-tipped cleats to try and intentionally injure players while sliding into second base.
Respecting the game, like when Jackie Robinson had to fight tooth and nail to earn even a shred of respect from his white counterparts, including from legends who put up titanic numbers in an era when the only competition were the best white players around without a colored man in sight.
Shut up, Goose Gossage.
Do you want fun, baseball? Korea does it right:
And as this next video shows, bat flips have been happening in baseball SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Chew on that, Goose.
Bat flips are fun, they’re memorable, and they’re not poor sportsmanship. Poor sportsmanship is having skin so thin that you launch a rock at someone’s head at 95 miles per hour, just because you think tossing a piece of wood a few feet in the air is disrespectful.