Bringing Excitement to the Game…What’s a Baseball Player to Do?
For some reason in baseball, showboating has historically been frowned upon. Breaching the “unwritten rules” and showing up the opposing team have usually been met with batters getting knocked down and bench-clearing brawls. This on-field tension can make for great and compelling games. I think baseball needs that. It’s just like watching a hockey game. The occasional fight is a part of the game and can really sway the momentum of that game or even an entire series.
For decades, there have been players who were able to do this during the normal course of the game, without showing up the other team. Outfielders would make one-handed catches of easy fly balls. Not the amazing bare-handed kind like Kevin Mitchell had on an Ozzie Smith smash in St Louis in ’89. That’s another level of showing off.
Speaking of the Wizard of Oz…back-flips while running out to the short stop position? And what about Bo Jackson running up the outfield wall in Baltimore after grabbing a line drive? Oddly, as memorable and amazing as that play was, it was all about self preservation. He didn’t want aggravate a shoulder injury by crashing into the wall.
But who hasn’t seen and admired Pete Rose’s head-first dives into second base? Jeez, Rickey Henderson stole tons of meaningless bases in games where the outcome had already been determined. These all have two things in common. They bring attention to the player, and they bring a level of excitement to the game.
So here’s the dilemma. In a three plus hour game, exciting plays and moments can be scarce. In baseball, the opportunity to celebrate or show some emotion is really limited. Pitchers get pumped up and show emotion after striking a guy out in a big situation. But if a hitter goes yard and flips his bat, you can be assured that he’s going to get a rib full of red-stitched cowhide in his next at bat. There’s definitely a double standard here between hitters and pitchers. Hurlers can throw brush back pitches or just hit the batter. While the only retaliation for the guy in the batter’s box is to get a hit in his next at bat. Now that’s really the perfect way to retaliate and to stay within the unwritten rules.
Where does that leave us? I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The game is pretty good about policing itself. Let them have some fun, and if something happens that crosses the line, no worries. The boys of summer have it all under control.