When Jose Bautista flipped his bat after hitting a dramatic home run to send the Blue Jays to the ALCS last season, no one could have anticipated the seismic ramifications of such an act.
It was a wake up call the game needed to gain back the fans who seem to be turned off by baseball’s “lack of personality” and “self-expression.”
In order for baseball to get the lost fans back or start appealing more to the younger generation, something has to change.
Recent comments from Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper calling the game today “tired” and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledging the game needs more self-expression appear to say baseball thinks its found a solution.
Here’s the issue for baseball though: Everyone wants the players to have more freedom to express themselves and act like they’re having fun. Expressing themselves and having fun is applauded. Fair.
Retaliation on the other hand, is not. Fair? If a batter hits a home run and the pitcher beams the next hitter up, that pitcher will get thrown out of the game, fined, and likely suspended. It’s just the way the game works today and why that aspect of the sport has been phased out.
Some of the greatest moments I can remember from watching baseball are when Armando Benitez beamed Tino Martinez following a Bernie Williams home run during the 1998 season. This was the result.
The other was Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens going back-and-forth during the 2003 ALCS that was instigated after Pedro threw at Karim Garcia.
Perhaps my favorite regular season game in recent years was the one during the 2013 season when Ryan Dempster intentionally threw at A-Rod more than once causing Joe Girardi to lose his mind, and then having A-Rod go on to lead the Yankees to victory was as entertaining as it gets for a baseball fan (or me).
Obviously you don’t want these incidents to happen too often, but what makes watching sports great are the personal hatred teams and players have for each other. It’s what builds rivalries, and there’s so little hatred in the game today. Everyone is so buddy-buddy.
Nothing in sports sells better than hatred and rivalries. That’s just a fact of life.
I can’t remember enjoying baseball more than watching those Yankees-Red Sox battles in 2003 and 2004 when that rivalry reached levels not seen since the late 1970s.
Since then, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has died down considerably, and I can speak to that after walking around Boston for four years in a Yankees hat and having little to no bad things happen to me.
The fact players aren’t allowed to retaliate anymore definitely plays a factor into that.
Replay has also hurt the game in a way because it takes away another highly entertaining aspect when managers would go on epic tirades following questionable calls by umpires.
This tirade from Lloyd McLendon from when he was managing the Pirates in 2001 is a classic example, and there are many others.
Baseball can’t have it both ways. They can’t have players celebrating all the time and not give others the ability to do something about it, other than simply getting the hitter out or getting a hit off the pitcher.
There’s much more to this than just allowing players to express themselves more which is the solution Major League Baseball sees as solving their popularity issue.
In taking away the retaliation aspect from the game, which has resulted in there being so little hatred, as well as managers’ tirades, baseball may actually be doing more harm than good.