BY BRIAN REID, @bshupresident
“I hope kids watching the [World Baseball Classic] can watch the way we play the game…as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican [Republic] plays. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we show passion. But we just do it in a different way.”
The disapproval emanating from this quote from Detroit Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler paints a clear picture of what truly requires fixing in Major League Baseball: the unwritten rules. The rules of etiquette that dictate to the players, “Don’t admire that home run. Don’t celebrate that amazing catch. Don’t you dare flip that bat. Because if you do, there’s a fastball coming right at you or one of your teammates.” Those suffocating rules exclude some of the fun that comes with playing baseball.
As a sport and organization, MLB is trying all kinds of ideas to speed up the game to appeal to younger fans. As fun as a signal for an intentional walk may be, I think the true answer lies elsewhere, with the World Baseball Classic. In the WBC, professional baseball players were finally free of the unwritten rules, and they were having fun without them. The passion for the game shown in every moment. MLB should take notes on what the WBC offered fans: an uncensored look at the love the biggest stars in baseball have for the game.
When the WBC started, I was not looking forward to it or even planning to watch it. Instead, I was content to stick with the limited coverage of the Orioles’ spring training games, thinking that the WBC would be boring. One Saturday night, I clicked over to it because the United States was playing the Dominican Republic, and I wanted to see how the O’s on both teams were doing. I was hooked immediately. When Nelson Cruz took Andrew Miller deep to give the Dominican Republic the lead, jumping for joy and pounding his chest all the way around the bases, I thought to myself, “This is what every game should be like. The players should be able to have fun.”
As the WBC continued, more passionate plays grabbed my attention: Javier Baez’s no-look tag to nab Cruz trying to steal second base, Machado’s absurd throw from foul territory in left field to rob Miguel Cabrera of a hit, and Adam Jones’ equally ridiculous home-run robbery of Machado. With each play, the emotion afterward only compounded my enjoyment of it. Everyone on the field looked like they were genuinely having fun and being themselves.
As with any other time this topic gets brought up, there will be people who say that these players are punks, that they are not playing the game the “right way.” To those people, I say let’s take a journey back to Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS between Toronto and Texas. The game was tied 3-3 when Jose Bautista hit a three-run bomb and flipped his bat halfway to the moon. The fans went absolutely nuts, the Jays' dugout went absolutely nuts, and it was a great moment for Bautista.
For Orioles’ fans, the moment solidified our hatred of Bautista. He became a villain in Baltimore; someone who fans could not wait to boo mercilessly. Therein lies my point: villains make the game more interesting. The passion that stems from villains and rivalries is a part of what makes all sports fun to watch. Therefore, this season I want to see players admiring home runs, celebrating big plays, and flipping those bats. Allowing passion for the game to flow from every moment is the best way to “fix” the game and appeal to younger fans such as myself.
One last note: if the Bautista bat flip described above had instead been a Machado bat flip for the Orioles, you would have loved every second of it.