There’s a changing of the guard in the MLB.
No longer are we looking up to the humble studs who “play the game the right way.” The likes of Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and Ichiro are no longer the faces of the league. Fresh faced superstars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have ridden into baseball on a wave of swagger and production. But even those young guns are somewhat established. 2015 brought us a bevy of fresh faces. This year’s rookie class has served us with equal parts flamethrowers, bomb hitters, savvy swingers, and smart pitchers. When you see teams like the Cubs and Mets riding their young guys to victory, you get a glimpse of the future of baseball. Kyle Schwarber, Noah Syndergaard, Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, Addison Russel – those are just the rookies, don’t forget about the other young studs in the NLCS like reigning rookie of the year Jacob deGrom or star first basemen Anthony Rizzo. This is just a look at two teams who happen to have a collection of talented youth and rode them to an NLCS berth. Take a look at any of the other 28 rosters in the MLB too, almost all of them are packed with a brand new generation of impactful young players. Baseball’s youth explosion is only just beginning.
With all this young talent, there’s bound to be some generational gap in the game. The way these new guys play the game with excitement and youthful exuberance has seemed to rub some people the wrong way.
After Jose Bautista’s epic bat flip, Rick Sutcliffe, former Cubs and Dodgers All-Star, said that Joey Bats “wouldn’t have made it around the bases” if he had been pitching. Yeah, Rick Sutcliffe (the guy who showed up hammered in the booth on a guest appearance during a Padres game) implied he wouldn’t let Jose Bautista cross the plate because he threw his bat.
This is the problem with “old school guys” like Sutcliffe. They’re party-poopers. Fun suckers. Did anyone have a problem with Kirk Gibson’s celebration when he hit one of the most famous home runs ever in the 1988 World Series? This game, while embedded with tradition, is a game of passion. Young electric ballplayers like Carlos Gomez, Yoenis Cespedes, Bryce Harper and many others are adding flavor to a league that has been criticized for its slow-pace and failure to market its most exciting players. America’s favorite past-time is starting to become just that, a PAST-time. The NFL’s takeover of America’s heart’s is in large part due to the successful marketing of their superstars.
There are multiple cases of backlash in bat flips and even the simple admiration of a dinger. In an August game against the Phillies, the Mets’ Daniel Murphy took a second or two to admire his home run and included a mild bat toss before he rounded the bases. After being ejected from the game a few innings later Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa (now up for some managerial consideration) irately yelled at Murphy for his behavior cursing at him and indicating that he would have Murphy hit in the ribs.
Some of the old-school-mindset guys have a problem with players of certain ethnicity “ruining the game” for the rest of us. You know, just like gay marriage ruins “the sanctity of marriage” for everyone else too, right? San Diego Padre’s pitcher Bud Norris had some interesting comments on players from other cultures. “This is America’s Game” Norris said. “Over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with. I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.”
Yes, this is America’s game, and yes it has been built on tradition, but is it really “disrespect to the game” to toss your bat in the air to celebrate the biggest home run Toronto has seen since Joe Carter? I didn’t see anyone criticizing any of Daniel Murphy’s bat flips in the playoffs so far. Now whether it’s because he “plays the game the right way” or because the bat flips came four games in a row against four of the best pitchers in the game, I couldn’t tell you. Is baseball racist? Or maybe just ageist? One thing is for sure, baseball is in the midst of a youth revolution, and the superstars, and their bat flips, aren’t going anywhere.