Baseball's seemingly never ending war over the so-called unwritten rules raged on last week when Bryce Harper made a rather poignant statement to ESPN the Magazine on how he wished baseball encouraged more swagger and outward displays of emotion from players. Specifically, Harper stated:
"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. 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. If that's Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig -- there's so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.
"Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn't care. Because you got him. That's part of the game. It's not the old feeling -- hoorah ... if you pimp a homer, I'm going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot ... I mean -- sorry."
Hall of Fame reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage, who has a special place in my heart because I most remember him for being bad with the Cubs, took umbrage and criticized the new school. In fact, he dislikes bat flips so much he unnecessarily called Jose Batista a "disgrace" to baseball presumably for Batista's bat flip in last year's ALCS which went viral, and, as an encore that I don't think was requested by anyone, Gossage ranted that "nerds" are ruining baseball. (He knows the "nerds" aren't actually playing, right?) CBS Sports has a good rundown of the events here.
"If a pitcher struck one of these great hitters out and then did a cartwheel off the mound, then the hitter's going to throw everything, they're going to bench-clear," Wainwright said. "But if a hitter hits a homer and throws a bat 26 feet up in the air, they think it's OK? I don't know if that's OK. I think you can have fun, but be respectful at the same time."
I think Harper is 100% on point with his comments. I could usually care less about a bat flip, in fact I get tired of hearing about them, but thought Batista's version during such a high-stakes moment was truly special. And for my viewing pleasure I want Carlos Martinez to be the most arrogant guy on the planet when he pitches. But that doesn't necessarily mean Wainwright is wrong. Sports usually deal with winners and losers simultaneously and embracing joyful raw emotion while dismissing that which is rooted in anger seems irreconcilable.
Adam Wainwright is a pitcher and therefore shouldn't like bat flips. All of the pitchers who were on the receiving end of one of Albert Pujol's flips and then slow strut out of the batter's box shouldn't have been happy either.
Folks, pic.twitter.com/dkg6VgH76i— Double Birds (@2xBirds) March 12, 2016
I don't know how Clayton Kershaw felt about it, but he had a right to not be pleased when Matt Adams did whatever the hell that was after he homered off him in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. And every batter who was ever "shot" by Dennis Eckersley following a strikeout (my favorite) had a perfectly legitimate gripe.
There are certainly limits to how that anger is expressed. Not that it should have ever been okay but purposely throwing a baseball at someone seems like a calamity waiting to happen in this age when so many pitchers are throwing harder than ever. But players competing at the highest level who yell or give a regrettable quote to the media after being shown up by one of their peers are not only acting how I'd expect them to act but are doing it almost benignly so. (Now when we're talking about a player who's been retired for over two decades, or a fan sitting at home on their couch that probably changes the equation a bit.)
One of the more interesting quotes from Harper is that he almost wants pitchers to let him know when they get the best of him. His ability, like Fernandez, to be able to absorb all of the swagger that they dish out is what makes me like them. It's why they're fun to watch. But it must be understood that not all players are wired this way. In fact, wanting all baseball players to behave uniformly is what would make the sport truly boring.
Also, if I never have to hear another word going forward about baseball's unwritten rules, pro or con, I'll be pretty happy.