The baseball offseason has a funny tendency to take a dark turn along the way, and it seems to just intensify until we finally get actual baseball back when April arrives. It increasingly reminds me of Lord of the Flies. You know, we’re all a little shaken at first after the World Series ends, but we’re in agreement that we’re going to handle all of this rationally and create some order for the ensuing months. This unravels rather slowly, but before we even know what we’re doing, things have gotten just downright bizarre. I think today’s activities in the baseball world captured this pretty well, and for as frustrating as some of it was, it yielded what I think is an important reminder. Really, I had intended before all of this to write a very different post. Something about not wringing your hands over spring training losses and win/loss records, etc. etc. But last March, Will Ferrell probably captured the best response to this in a single sign. Hence the header image you see for this post. And while I do think it’s important to go ahead and dismiss final game scores and who is winning and losing games, John addressed this to some extent in a post just a couple of days ago, so I’ll leave it at that. After all, fretting over losing spring training games is really just a killjoy. Instead, there’s fun to be had in enjoying the fact that baseball has returned, whether the games count or not.
And that’s part of the problem here. This is supposed to be fun. It’s a game, and one that can entertain and even bring solace sometimes. So when a former player and Hall of Famer shares his thoughts on the modern game like Goose Gossage did today, it’s troubling. Troubling because it represents an attitude that I think is ultimately harmful to the game. If you had the good fortune of missing Gossage’s remarks yesterday, I have to apologize, but I am going to foist some of it on you. It started with a piece on ESPN in which he referred to Jose Bautista as a “disgrace to the game.” Why? Because he flipped his bat during last year’s playoffs. You remember:
Gossage went on to complain about the “nerds” who are running baseball now, but that’s probably just another subject for another time. The problem with Gossage’s remarks is not just the way he’s represented himself and his opinions on the sport so poorly, but it’s this attitude that there’s some expectation of decorum residing over the sport, and that expectation just doesn’t allow for flair or self expression. In fact, it’s stamped down when it pops up. Even Bryce Harper agrees, as in an interview with ESPN Magazine, he expressed some of his frustration with this problem. The article as a whole is definitely fascinating, but what he said about the lack of expression in the game was most interesting to me:
“Baseball’s tired,” he says. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.
“Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn’t care. Because you got him. That’s part of the game. It’s not the old feeling — hoorah … if you pimp a homer, I’m going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot … I mean — sorry.”
So of course, I fully disagree with Gossage. Fully. Really, the sad irony in his remarks is that I think his attitude stands to ruin the game if it isn’t supplanted with the attitude we see represented in Bautista’s bat flip or Harper’s comments. Even with all of the excitement surrounding the Cubs during last year’s playoffs, Bautista’s homerun and bat flip is still my favorite moment of the postseason as I look back on all of it, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. On Cubs Insider, Evan Altman touched on the subject of baseball’s need to appeal to a younger generation in a fantastic post, and I was reminded of a special moment of the kind that Harper is describing by a friend on Twitter:
In case you forgot: https://t.co/BsZ44MBawv
It’s a perfect example of what Harper was talking about
— Cooper (@RushingBaseball) March 11, 2016
It’s precisely the kind of thing that reminds us that this is a fun game, and that even the guys who play it for a living haven’t lost sight of that, for the most part. I am reminded too of the first time I started watching games in the World Baseball Classic in 2009. I was struck back then by the atmosphere in the games in Japan in particular. By the buzz in the crowd that just did not cease. The unrelenting enthusiasm for the game, no matter what was happening. For the same reason, I make it a point to watch the Carribean Series when it is aired during the first week of February each winter. This might be partially due to the baseball withdrawal symptoms I’m experiencing by that point, but it’s also because the atmosphere at those games can often feel more like a carnival or a festival than just a dry old baseball game.
Gossage, sadly, wasn’t done there, and doubled down on his remarks when he was asked if he wanted to clarify any of his comments. Basically, he was offered an out, but he didn’t take it. He made some strange claims about how the way professional baseball players act affects kids, and even somehow drawing a line from there to the country’s political climate. At some point, just decline the interview, Goose. Again, the problem here is that baseball has a future that needs to be allowed to be fun. Yes, just fun. Celebrate, flip bats, pump your fist. Smile. It’s a beautiful thing, baseball, and expecting it to be stodgy and rigid and formal kills that. It’s been a lively and colorful game since its inception, so if it is going to stay that way, bats are probably going to have to be flipped. Baseball is not boring, Harper is right, and when we stifle the characters who play it, it stops being fun. And this is supposed to be fun.
Filed under: General