It’s 2017, and it’s time we all agree baseball is for fun – USA TODAY
This shouldn’t be a thing anymore, but it remains a thing because we keep making it a thing: Whenever a Major League Baseball player dares demonstrate that he enjoys his utterly enviable profession, someone, somewhere, grumbles that he needs to stop being so selfish as to revel in his own accomplishments and should instead put his head down and work harder to help his team win and respect the game. Much of the complaints come from crotchety old ballplayers; others hail from the jilted late-inning relievers that gave up a game-deciding blast. But it almost always includes that refrain — “Respect the game!” — as if there’s any better way to go about respecting baseball than by loving the hell out of it.
Oakland A’s reliever Sean Doolittle joined the For The Win podcast on Friday for a broad-ranging interview in support of his charity partnership to benefit families of children with cancer. After discussing some concepts for off-beat warmup music choices, Doolittle noted the need for more characters in baseball.
“I think that’s the direction baseball’s going,” he said. “We want to show more personality, have some more fun. I think as a lefty reliever; I might start using my quirkiness to get weird with it.”
Asked if that meant he’s on Team Bat-Flip in the baseball culture war that has been raging for decades, Doolittle confirmed.
If you don’t look at me, if you don’t flip the bat at me or my dugout, if you want to celebrate it, I guess that’s good: If people are hitting so many home runs off me that they hit a home run and they’re like, ‘ugh, I’ve got to jog around the bases again,’ just put their head down, that would be demoralizing for a different reason. I’m in the game in more high-leverage situations, late in the game, so things are close, things are tense — if I get a big strikeout in a big spot, I’ll show some emotion. I recognize that it has to go both ways, and I never do it at the guy, I never do it toward the other team’s dugout, I kind of do it towards our dugout as I’m blacking out on the way back from this inning, in this rage of adrenaline.
I really think somebody needs to write down all the unwritten rules, so that we know what’s OK and what’s not. Because I think one of the best things about the (World Baseball Classic) was just the raw emotion and the energy that the teams were playing with. And I know that’s not necessarily sustainable over the course of a long season, but seeing a guy fist-pump as he rounds first base after hitting a homer, I’m OK with that. That guy was jacked up that he came through for his team in a big spot. Guys in this game work really hard to try to come through in these spots, and when it pays off, and they do, I’m OK with showing some emotion.
Sean Doolittle is right, y’all.
This might be the millionth time I’ve covered this topic. It’s the subject of what I’m reasonably certain was the first thing I ever wrote about baseball, when I was in college back in 2001. And I wish I could say this marks the last time I’ll bother with it, except that I know at some point someone will put a microphone in front of Goose Gossage and revive the same tired discussion.
So here’s the point, in short: Baseball is for fun. At the big-league level, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry and certainly a fruitful endeavor for its best players and its owners, but the sport primarily represents entertainment for all those who follow it. We start watching baseball or playing baseball or writing about baseball because baseball is a great game and can be a massively amusing diversion from all the crushing realities of actual life.
Pretending otherwise is silly. Playing baseball and playing baseball well is not a Major League Baseball player’s solemn duty so much as it is an incredible circumstance he earned with outrageous natural ability and outlandish dedication to his craft. If you can hit a 450-foot homer off a big-league pitcher or blow a 100-mph fastball past a swinging slugger to get out of a late jam, you should absolutely revel in that. Yet again: Greatness is fleeting. Enjoy your home runs.
During spring training, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes mentioned multiple times his intention to win the National League MVP Award in 2017. But by late March, something inherent baseball culture — and it’s hard to know if it was backlash from fans or the media or a comment from a teammate or a coach that prompted it — Cespedes took it upon himself to clarify his statement and note that the team comes first. Think about how ridiculous that is: A guy gunning to be the most valuable player felt it necessary to specify that his primary goal is to do everything required to help the team win. Why? Just, why?
The 2017 Major League Baseball just started. There are more pressing concerns in our world than whether batter decide to show enthusiasm by flipping away their bats in triumph after awesome, awesome homers. People will grumble about it when they do, and people like me will then grumble about those people, and it will all be pretty stupid. It’s long past time we all chill out and enjoy baseball, because baseball is dope.