MLB needs to let go of traditional unwritten

Tony Callens, Associate Sports Editor

Should baseball change? Has it lost its luster? Bryce Harper thinks so.

The 23-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder has never strayed from controversy. He’s been in clubhouse fights with teammates. He’s called out pitchers. His new walkup song is J. Cole’s “G.O.M.D,” an acronym standing for “get off my (insert male body part here).” Harper has always conducted himself with an unapologetic arrogance.

Now, he’s stirring the masses again. This time by wearing a hat during interviews that says “make baseball fun again,” a parody of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s famous slogan, “make America great again.”

The host of HBO’s Real Time and minority New York Mets owner Bill Maher called him a “douchebag” during an interview with New York WOR 710.

Despite Harper’s polarizing nature, his hat speaks to a new generation of baseball players and fans. Baseball has found itself in a bit of a war of ideals as of late.

It’s a sport that is steeped in tradition and has a pronounced set of “unwritten rules” that guide conduct among players on the diamond – rules such as the disallowance of showing up a pitcher after hitting a home run and not dancing and jiving around the bases. No bat flips or any sort of flamboyance allowed.

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista drilled a three-run home run in the seventh inning of game five in last season’s ALDS series against the Texas Rangers, after which he emphatically flipped his bat and set off a chain of reactions.

Some people condemned Bautista for the flip, saying it was a moment of arrogance and that it had no place in baseball. Others loved the moment, believing it to be a genuine show of the emotion of the game.

The bat flip was certainly a genuine show of emotion – a moment that will be replayed year after year. Don’t say it won’t. It’s the type of thing that baseball needs. How many Jose Bautista jerseys will the Blue Jays sell because of that moment?

When yours truly was six-years old, a certain basketball player named Michael Jordan made a game-winning shot to win the NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls, and that one shot made me a lifelong fan.

That is the power of sports. That is the power of a moment such as the bat flip. That is just what baseball needs – to create memories.

Time and time again, traditionalists have condemned actions that convey emotion – bits of celebration, dancing and showmanship – things that make a game fun to watch. Baseball traditionalists want things to remain stagnant.

In order for the sport of baseball to grow, it must also change. These “unwritten rules” have hurt baseball’s growth. They keep the league in a mentality that was prevalent in the 1950’s.

What I have to say to baseball traditionalists: It’s 2016. The NFL, NBA and college football are destroying the MLB in ratings. The number of viewers 18 and younger is as low as it has ever been.

Young polarizing stars, bat flips, controversy – it fuels people. It makes them want to take three hours of their day to watch your product on TV. It brings them out to the ballpark to watch the game in person. It makes them want to buy merchandise.

I’m not saying we need to completely tear down the traditions of baseball. Tradition is important. I’m saying we need to relax these rules. If a player wants to celebrate hitting a home run, he should be able to without fear of getting hit by a pitcher later on in the game.

Sunday afternoon, Madison Bumgarner, an elite pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, hit his second career home run off of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, another elite pitcher. A moment as epic as that is cause for celebration.

Baseball needs a shot in the arm, and the Bryce Harpers and Jose Bautistas of the world can be that just, given the opportunity to by the league.

It’s time to make baseball fun again.

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