Baseball has a “fun” problem. The game noticeably stands apart from other professional leagues with its reputation for longer, slower-moving games and expectations for more stoic behavior on the field. Sports are a leading source of entertainment but baseball lags behind their counterparts in many ways when it comes to sometimes being perceived as stuffy and boring. This was personified by recent comments made by Hall-of-Fame reliever Goose Gossage, blasting behavior he thinks is ruining the game.
Speaking to ESPN, Gossage made remarks lamenting about, among other things, what he perceives to be over-the top behavior in baseball. He even went as far as to call current Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “disgrace to the game,” presumably referring to the slugger’s emphatic bat flip after hitting a momentous home run in the playoffs last fall as his primary transgression.
Playing the game “the right way” is a mantra echoed loudly any time a player steps across the imaginary line of what is and isn’t proper baseball behavior. The problem is that appropriate and inappropriate baseball behavior is often blurred or downright hypocritical. In case you are a bit rusty on these unofficial rules, here is a quick primer:
-It is not okay to “show up” the pitcher after hitting a home run by tossing your bat away with gusto, taking a moment to watch the ball clear the fence, or taking an extra second or two while circling the bases.
-It is okay for a pitcher to intentionally hit a batter with a pitch because he has hit well against him in the past, or perhaps “showed him up” in a previous at bat. A codicil is that it is also okay for a batter to charge the mound and attempt to start a physical fight with a pitcher if they don’t like having been hit by a pitch.
-It is not okay to excessively celebrate, such as pumping a fist after getting a big strikeout or clapping your hands while rounding the bases after a home run. This is considered “bush league.”
-It is okay to shove “shaving cream pies” in teammates’ faces while they are conducting interviews with national media outlets. It is also okay to make rookies dress up in all manner of costumes and make them wear them out in public.
-It is not okay to steal a base if your team is up by a few runs later in a game.
-It is okay to hit a home run if your team is up by a few runs later in a game.
The idea that so many actions in baseball can be an affront to the opposition is silly and really just a thinly veiled correlation to threatened masculinity. Don’t suppress player expression by throwing unofficial rules at them. If a player does something that the opposition doesn’t like, get back at the old fashioned way in sports—by winning. If a batter pimps a long home run, don’t hit him with a fastball the next time up. Strike him out and give a nice fist pump to mark the occasion. If a batter bunts during a no-hitter, don’t loudly complain. Bear down and dominate that lineup!
In the current climate, where average MLB games last an average of nearly three hours, letting players express themselves a little bit more on the field would be a good thing. After all, if the players are having more fun, it stands to reason that the fans may enjoy themselves more as well.
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