Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Containing Emotions in Baseball is Bad Business

One of the hot button topics in Major League Baseball these days is that some of the young stars of the game display too many celebratory actions on the field. For example, some young players like Los AngelesDodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harperhave demonstrated great talent and also the ability to flaunt it. This irritates the old-school players, coaches and fans. I’ll argue that these types of players are exactly what MLB needs now if it hopes to contend with the NFL and NBA.

Baseball is inherently a slow sport. It’s a function of the game. So, when there is exciting action on the field in the middle of the game, why is it that the players have to “act like they’ve been there before?” What is the harm of fists to the sky, flipping the bat or admiring a long drive over the fence? Why can’t a pitcher be demonstrative after a crucial strikeout? Why is it that the only time a team can celebrate something on the field is after a walkoff hit or the final out by its closer? In the NFL, players dance and strut after every first down, even when down by 28 points with two minutes to go. In the NBA, every dunk is followed by screaming and flexing, no matter the score.

I’m not suggesting getting into the opponents face or use of verbal taunting tactics. The game has built in mechanisms for handling these situations, which seem to keep things in line most of the time. In my view, shouting at a pitcher as you trot around the bases is uncalled for and probably deserves some sort of retaliation. But, the pitcher needs to suck it up if a batter hits a ball off of an upper-deck and watches it the whole way. He should get back on the mound and go after the next batter. He needs to stop wallowing and not voice his displeasure at the hitter as he rounds the bases. The pitcher has a job to do -- get outs -- not worrying about whether he is being shown up.

It’s the same if a pitcher throws a nasty slider for the final out of the fourth inning with runners in scoring position and pumps his fists, stomps the mound and shouts, “YES!” The hitter in that situation should walk back to the dugout, grab his glove and deal with it. He was beaten in that at-bat and should use it as fire for his next plate appearance. There is no need to get bent out of shape because the pitcher is happy he did his job.

Instead, baseball “purists” get angry with professional players who are outwardly expressive. But, you know what? This enthusiasm sells. Is there anyone more exciting in baseball than Puig right now? Are Dodger fans buying Mark Ellis jerseys or Puig jerseys? Yes, youngsters may emulate Puig’s style and yes it may be over the top for a 12-year-old, but it is the parents’ and coaches’ responsibility to explain that to Little League players.

I’ll choose to teach my kids that the extra bits of celebrating are not necessary. I was always told to demonstrate my displeasure by simply being better. I’d also explain to them that they are watching professional players being paid to entertain.

The baseball traditionalist can be happy that there are many young players who exhibit the old-school mentality of containing excitement and pleasure in success. I actually like when a player simply puts his head down and runs when he knows he’s hit a home run. I used to love that about former Reds and Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill. But you what I liked even more about O’Neill? He would tear up the dugout when he struck out. He wore his frustrations on his sleeve and I can’t see any reason why today’s players can’t wear elated emotions on theirs. No one seems to mind when a player demonstrates dissatisfaction; it means he loves the game. But displaying excitement in personal performance or soaking up the attention of fans is contrary to baseball’s unwritten code. Nonsense.

Thinking that there is a time and place for celebrating a good play has become ridiculous. As a fan if there is an opposing player fired up for something he did well on the field, deal with it. You’ve probably got a player or two on your own team that does pretty much the same thing.

Think of it this way, you’ve sat through six innings and watched your team get manhandled by the opponent’s starting pitcher and they are losing 8-0. Aren’t you going to get a little excited if your best player hits a three-run homer in the seventh? Don’t you want him to show some exhilaration as he rounds the bases? Who cares if the team is still down by five runs? He did something good to help his team, right? Why can’t he show his happiness just because they are still losing and may not win? Are you as a fan of the team going to stay in your seat because you think they still can’t win? Why should the opposition get riled up because the player is waving his index finger in the air, especially if they feel they’re going to win anyway?

I say, who cares?  I want players to celebrate their homers whenever they hit them. I want pitchers to be bombastic about a big strikeout no matter the inning. It may be the only time someone on the team does anything positive for his fans on that given day.

It is true that winning is the ultimate time to rejoice on the field, but in this day and age of NOW, old-school baseball players, coaches and fans need to embrace change. Today’s stars want to show they are having fun, at any point in a game, regardless of the score and despite what the opposition believes. It’s the new age of baseball and you all better get used to it.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bond via Flicker