Baseball, boredom, bat flips and bickering

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

–          Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, French critic, journalist, novelist

It looks like the old school and new school are at it again.  It was only a week ago that Oscar Robertson implied Steph Curry is having the season he’s having because NBA coaches don’t understand defense.

Well, a similar debate between old school and new is happening on the baseball diamond, so much so that the discussion might just find its way into the commissioner’s inbox.

Goose in the HallIn a recent interview with ESPN, a network never accused of creating its own story, 64-year old Hall of Famer Rich Gossage blasted one of the modern game’s most notable power hitters for how he’s disrespecting the game.

“[Jose} Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told the four-letter. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.”

Never mind that Gossage was referring to one of the biggest moments in Blue Jays’ history, a series-clinching home run that sent Toronto to the American League Championship Series.

On the flipside, one of baseball’s bright, young superstars, 23-year old Bryce Harper contrasted Gossage’s sentiment, calling baseball a “tired sport.  You can’t express yourself,” Harper continued.   “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.”

There was once a time in baseball history that if you flipped your bat after hitting a home run, you better prepare for a high hard one the next time you stepped to the plate.  These are baseball’s unwritten rules.  They exist to this day, like ordering the code red.

reggieShowing up and the retribution that follows it have been a part of the game since its very first pitch.  Ty Cobb sliding into second base with his cleats raised high, Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse during an exhibition game and before Gossage calls out the new school, we should remind him that his old Yankee teammate, Mr. October, was one of the most notorious bat-flippers around.

All of those Hall of Famers could back it up.  They also provided us with moments that live on in infamy, just as Bautista did last fall.

So my question is… is the bat-flip good for the sport?

Harper may have a valid point about the sterility of the game.  The NBA lionizes the dunk; it’s one of the game’s most marketable tools.  The league even hosts a mid-season contest in its honor.  During games, a player can throw the ball off the glass, put the ball between his legs, put his hand behind his head and BOOM goes the dynamite.  We celebrate moments when players “posterize” others.  Rarely are they whistled for technical fouls.  NFL players spike the ball regularly after touchdowns.  They spend time inventing end zone routines to outdo each other and while yes, referees do often keep them in check for unsportsmanlike conduct, more often than not, touchdown celebrations border on the obnoxious.

That’s where baseball has always been different.  Major League Baseball has never needed umpires to monitor that sort of behavior.  The 95-mile per hour fastball to the eardrum was all the checks and balances you needed.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Cincinnati RedsShow me up and I’m gonna sit you down.

So does baseball have a problem?  Is the game ‘tired’ as Bryce Harper suggests?  Would more flip and circumstance draw interest or is this much ado about nothing?

Personally, I think there’s plenty of gray area.  While the last thing we want to see is Big Papi flip the bat every time he hits a pop fly to shallow center, which is pretty much what he does anyway, I’m not offended by seeing a guy toss his bat with flair mostly because a) I’m not the one who threw him that pitch and b) I know the guy who did is making a mental note of it.  He’s marking his calendar for their very next meeting.

Should the sport consider penalizing its players for poor sportsmanship or should it let them continue to police themselves?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… but is baseball broke?

While last year’s World Series did see a slight spike in ratings from the year before, ratings are still down substantially from 80s, 90s and even early 2000s.  Short of allowing players to juice again, perhaps the league should entertain ideas that might attract more viewers.

I’m not sure there’s a tasteful way to allow for more showmanship without being unsportsmanlike.  Lord knows we wouldn’t want to upset the Goose again.  All things considered we should probably entrust the next generation of players to carry on the unwritten rules of yesteryear.  It’s the way it’s always been.  Remember, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were once rookies too.

And if a guy has to be suspended a few games for throwing a fastball at a batter who once showed him up, I’m pretty sure he’ll be okay with it.

After all, some things never change.

11 thoughts on “Baseball, boredom, bat flips and bickering

  1. Gossage takes umbrage at Bautista tossing his bat after a home run ? I expect he thinks guys ‘juicing ‘ up on ‘ roids, might be a shade too unpleasant . Baseball needs to pull its head out of its own @ss and actually take notice , it’s a sport that’s dying on its own feet. Initiatives such RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner Cities ) has hardly been a resounding success and there was a reason , the game and softball are no longer a part of the Summer Olympics. Old timers such as Goose Gossage, need to wake up and smell the coffee .

  2. Thought provoking post SC. Can’t help but feel that what we are seeing is the changing tide of attitudes & “entertainment” ( that permeates into sports).
    Have often felt that I strattle two-worlds… the proper etiquette of your grandparents generation ( who loved loved loved baseball) and the rebellious 60’s and a generation that questioned “why” & “why not?”
    But today… whether it’s tabloid / reality TV, social media or even politics… it seems like the gloves of earlier generations are off & society craves behavior that earlier generations would be horrified by.
    It’s a bit surreal… and as I read your post I realized even the sanctity of our beloved baseball is feeling the effect of showmanship & an appitite for outrageous.
    While not a big “rules” person & you know I love individualism … I find myself missing the decorum , respect and restraint it takes to pass on the torch. Maybe the security of sameness.
    It use to be a choice to take my son to the circus. Now… I feel that the circus is constantly around us.
    For what it’s worth… I hope they just “play ball.”

  3. The wussification of baseball with not being able to break up a play at the plate or at second base doesn’t really jive with guys hitting home runs and then allowing them to play “tough guy” then. Nothing is going to “energize” baseball because it simply isn’t that kind of game. I don’t see fans spending three hours plus watching it just to see a batter or pitcher try to humiliate each other. Let’s leave it at this…I’m ok with bat flips and pitchers doing fist pumps if one thing happens…first man in (like hockey) to any subsequent fight gets 10 games off without pay and no one leaves the dugout under any circumstances. If they do that’s 25 games. Let the batter and pitcher duke it out if they need to prove how manly they are playing baseball.

  4. SC Mom & sportsattitudes both have it right. Bat flipping & show-boating aren’t going to make the game better nor entice youngsters to watch / play. Young ones are either good at it or not. If you are good at it as a kid you’ll play or if not, you won’t. I love baseball but the main reason I go to a live game is for the chance to sit still for 3 hours drinking beer and eating salted peanuts so that I don’t have to answer my cell phone.

  5. Al…

    I’m waiting for the day an old-timer speaks his mind and doesn’t sound like a bitter old bastard.

    Bryce a) has a point and b) has the right to speak his mind. The numbers don’t lie. And perhaps the new commish might want to at least take a listen to what the younger generation is saying.

  6. Ironicaly, MoS, the game today isn’t all that different from yesterday’s.

    Sure there aren’t as many household names but that’s because other sports and activities have taken center stage. There’s more than just baseball to watch on TV these days.

    But back to the same old, like I said in the post, if a hitter shows up a batter, trust me, he’s making a note.

    Baseball obviously can’t condone a pitcher’s headhunting. They do the right thing by warning, ejecting and/or suspending the pitcher.

    It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it always should be.

  7. Either that, Burnsy, or they can just show highlights of Nolan Ryan beating the crap out of Robin Ventura over and over again.

    I’d be cool with that.

    Re: the exciting nature of baseball, I think Hannibal Burress said it best. Baseball is the kind of sport that you take a long lost friend so that you two can catch up.

  8. Moose…

    I’ll say this.

    I recently paid two bills to see the Warriors play the Magic and the game went too damn quickly.

    Baseball has struggled with how to handle game length for years. It’s probably something that still needs to be addressed just to keep fan’s attention.

    By no means am I suggesting more bat-flipping. And I don’t think Harper’s comments were in direct response to Gossage’s. But if he feels his sport doesn’t allow the younger generation to express themselves, perhaps he should talk to the commissioner about what he has in mind.

  9. Chump you’ve got a wise Mom

    The game of baseball always has had an element of showmanship and I see nothing wrong with a bat flip. Or a brushback pitch. Both are part of the game but we’re too dang thin skinned and politically correct these days for our own good.

    Harper is still a punk. A very talented punk but when looking at the body of his actions since achieving fame he has rung up some serious karma debt.

    If you want the game to move faster stop allowing batters to play with their glove Velcro 217 times per at bat. Put a Batter’s Box 24 second clock into play but make it 4 or 6 seconds. Too many fame hungry types want to milk every second they can in their at bat before summoning the stones to step back in and swing again.

  10. Tree…

    They penalize golfers for taking too long. They assess technical fouls (rarely) to basketball players who take too long at the free throw line.

    There’s nothing wrong with an ump giving player fair warning to pick up his pace.

    Or perhaps we in the stands should just pick up the heckling.

  11. Pingback: The bat flip redux | Sports Chump

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