Bryce Harper and Changing The Game

God damn it.

The baseball world just can’t help its fucking self. It has to suck me in even during an offseason when I really haven’t given a shit, if only because the Texas Rangers haven’t given me good reason to give a shit. So I’m about to talk about spring training, right? I’m about to to talk about which teams made smart decisions this winter, or something. Right?

Not even. Not even fucking close.

Instead, I get to write more about baseball’s unwritten rules!

So here’s the deal: Perceived narcissistic douchebag, Bryce Harper — also known as 2016’s National League MVP — is quoted in ESPN The Magazine as saying:

Baseball’s tired. 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.

If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun. 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. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.

Since he arrived to the professional circuit in 2010 after being drafted #1 overall, the media establishment almost immediately branded Harper as temperamental and immature, a false perception based on his age (23) that has bled into the mainstream psyche of jealous, inferior MLB players, as well as jealous baseball fans. Harper could win all of the MVPs and continue being one of the two-best players in the sport, and there will still be a large faction of baseball observers completely against him.

With regard to what he actually said, Bryce Harper hit the nail on the head. Baseball is a tired sport; it isn’t anywhere near as popular as basketball or football, and it’s this writer’s opinion that the trend will only continue to get worse for MLB over time. (I believe I mention this every six months or so.) Football and basketball are built for the short attention span, and young people frankly aren’t wired to consume the slowest moving sport in by far the longest sports season. That’s where baseball is in 2016. Kids simply lack the interest in comparison to the faster-moving sports.

So it makes sense why I — noted young person — am an advocate for the hostile takeover of MLB by… young people. And what do most young people like? Action.

We like to see players showing emotion. We like to see yelling, and cursing. We like bat-flips, because bat-flips are cool as fuck. And this is coming from a fan of the team with the pitcher who served up the most famous bat-flip in the history of Major League Baseball last postseason:

It should be noted that “old school” baseball people — who are predominantly white — are not too pleased with the direction of this dying sport. Former reliever Goose Gossage said recently that:

Bautista is a fucking disgrace to the game. 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….

Then he goes on to talk about how “nerds” are running the game and blah blah blah, we’ve all heard that fucking story before. We’re moving further down the path of a non-violent, non-retaliatory game of baseball, and many former players who spent their entire careers living by the “unwritten rules” are starting to realize that they weren’t written for a reason: Because they are mostly bullshit.

Here are a few of those unwritten rules:

  • If a batter either (a) admires his home run too long or (b) flips his bat too demonstrably after said home run, he is subject to being thrown at intentionally by the opposing pitcher in a later at bat. If not him, one of his teammates;
  • If scoring a run is on the line, it is okay to run over the opposing team’s catcher. Similarly, if the situation calls for taking out the opposing team’s shortstop or second baseman to break up a double play, that’s okay, too.
  • If a pitcher hits one of your teammates with a baseball, it is okay to hit one of the other team’s players to even out the playing field.

Remarkably, we are 16 years past the turn of the millennium and more than 150 years deep into the game of baseball, and these items are still — at least privately — prescribed to. That’s baseball, or that’s old school, or that’s how you earn respect from your teammates. 

For generations, this is the way baseball was supposed to be played. Only now, as a wave of young stars assume the top of the mantle in the sport, are we beginning to see a shift in the culture. And it takes a superstar like Bryce Harper, specifically, to reinforce an idea that many people on the Internet have shared for far too long: That perhaps hitting someone with a projectile traveling near triple digits isn’t the best form of retaliation. That scoring one run might not be worth a man’s leg, or ankle. That maybe the radical idea of competition, and trying to best the man who just bested (the general) you, is the only true way to prove your toughness.

Not by firing a heater into a man’s ribcage.

Bryce Harper is the LeBron James of Major League Baseball. The thing he’s best at is arguably what he receives the least amount of credit for. There is a realistic chance when he becomes a free agent after 2017 that he is the first player in history to receive either (a) a $400 million contract, (b) a contract worth $40 million (or more) Average Annual Value, or (c) both.

But he is still “young”. And MLB’s hardline mouthpieces, who represent a far larger majority on television and most mainstream websites, will leverage that against Harper as if he’s disrespecting baseball. Which he isn’t.

It’s kind of the same in politics. Some people feel like liberals are un-American for wanting to shift the culture in a new direction, which is also total bullshit. There is a difference between being un-American and wanting to make America better. 

That’s what Bryce Harper’s argument is. He doesn’t hate baseball; he’s just calling it what it is. He recognizes the slow death it’s facing, so he wants to make it better.