People have very strong feelings about baseball in this country. Perhaps it’s because it’s America’s pastime. Perhaps it’s because it’s a sport that can start being played from the time a child can walk. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia factor, like how a man looks back and reflects how a game brought himself as a boy closer to this father.
Whatever the reason, baseball’s young face in Bryce Harper stirred the pot yet again when he called baseball “a tired game,” prompting responses from both sides.
I’ve read the article. I’ve also read and listened to the commentary of several sports pundits. Many don’t seem to have a problem with what Harper said, the way he handles himself, and the persona he projects. Others, to varying degrees, do have a problem with Harper’s words. First, let’s get some terms straight. There’s nothing wrong with being happy that you’ve led your team to victory. There’s nothing wrong with showing some exuberance, kind of like Kirk Gibson’s iconic celebration years ago. commentary
However, there is a fine line between pompous, arrogant show-boating and expressing joy for a game-winning grand slam. This has nothing to do with the sport of baseball itself. It has to do with respect. It has to do with class. It has to do with personal integrity.
Look at the examples that Harper gives in his interview: Cam Newton, LeBron James, et al. We want arrogance to be what attracts people to the game that we love? We want poor sportsmanship and people who revel in self-glorification to be role models for our children? I’ll be totally honest here, I did not like what Jose Bautista did with his bat flip last season. Not only did it show a total disregard for the pitcher on the mound, and not only did it show a lack of respect to his fellow competitor, but it proved why the cancer of touchdown celebrations and the flailing limbs after a monster dunk should have no place in baseball.
We can all admit that baseball is falling more and more out of the public eye as each year goes by. This is, of course, due to a culture that has an insatiable hunger for instant gratification. The only game that isn’t up against the clock is just too slow for a generation that can’t process the subtleties of a game that doesn’t move at light speed or can be completely condensed into little tidbits to be viewed on one’s favorite mobile app. Home runs are but one part of the game, but hey, it’s flashy, so we’ll just focus on that part.
We’ve seen some backlash from active players already. San Francisco Giants reliever Sergio Romo, for example told Harper to “just shut up.” He noted how that fine line I mentioned above exists. Here’s a thought exercise. Think of some of the great players in recent years. Jim Thome. Paul Konerko. Ichiro Suzuki. Can you see any of them doing what Bautista did? Can you see any of those players making a fuss to “express themselves,” as Harper put it? Can you see any of these players acting pompous?
Let’s go back just a little further, to people who played when I was growing up. How about Cal Ripken? Or Ken Griffey Jr.? Or even today, with players like Jose Abreu? The answer is no. These players, and many like them, had respect for their competitors. They realized this isn’t football or basketball, the former having specific rules against touchdown celebrations because the lack of class and preponderance for grandiose performances after scoring has gotten so out of control.
Harper talks about how he has no problems with the stare-downs and the excessive celebrations, because if you want it to stop, you shouldn’t strikeout or give up a homer in the first place. I call bullcrap. Thome had plenty of moments where he totally destroyed opposing pitchers. But he rounded the bases in modest fashion, because he was just doing his job. There’s no need to revel in your work and bask in your own haughty glow.
That’s for self-absorbed narcissists, which makes me think that this all makes sense, seeing as Harper is himself a millennial; and we all know how in love with themselves such people are, as evidenced by the massive amount of Tumblr and Twitter accounts taking the Web by storm, along with camera phones and selfie sticks inundating us at every turn in our daily lives. Again, guys like Konerko could care less about getting in your face after making you look silly. He did his job, and quietly went about his business, showing no disrespect to his competitors on the opposing team.
One last note, and this might be the most important one. Harper said in his interview that “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.”
First off, this shouldn’t even be a concern unless you care about revenue primarily. Yes, baseball is a business so they want to make money. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep the revenue stream going. But as a fan, and many will agree, the entire viewer base could be cut in half and it wouldn’t matter. We could see Canadian Football League numbers, and we’d still be getting enough kids to be drafted every year. I’d still love the game, as would many others. Second, are we really going to have our kids look up to players like Cam Newton? We want players like this… pretentious, self-centered and boastful, to rise through the ranks in Major League Baseball and influence our children to be just like them? I’ll pass.
Hopefully in a few years, my son will start to have an interest in baseball. I love the sport, and I’d love to share it with him. We all know that kids idolize sports stars. I’d much rather my son look up to players like Thome and Konerko than guys like Harper, Puig, Newton or James. Baseball is exciting by itself. I firmly believe that, and if a culture that has ADHD can’t focus on the intricacies of the game because they’d rather update their Snapchats, or get a kick out of professional wrestling theatrics and buffoonery in an end zone, then good riddance. This whole “getting with the times” rhetoric is really what’s tired. This has nothing to do with “the times”, unless we’re talking about a lack of common decency across the board in Western culture, but that’s for another discussion. This also has nothing to do with the nature of baseball itself as a sport. But it has everything to do with respect for your competitors. This is why we teach our sons and daughters from their tee ball days not to show-up their opponent, and why we have them shake hands after the game instead of retreating to the locker room and crying, instead of talking to the fan base through the media. If Harper wants more role models for children like himself and Newton to dominate baseball, then he can expect me (and my son) to turn off our TVs and ignore them just like I already do with the NFL. But if we can have players that actually exude some virtue and dignity as role models in the coming years, then that’ll be the sport I want my son to take an interest in