Compared to sports like football and basketball, baseball is far more straight-laced.
Excessive celebration is discouraged. Flip a bat or take too long enjoying a trot around the bases after a home run, and a player will likely be pelted by a pitch in his next at-bat and face criticism afterward.
However, with younger players coming into the league and entering their prime, some of those unwritten rules seem to be changing.
In a profile of Bryce Harper by ESPN’s Tim Keown, Harper addressed baseball’s rigid opinions of celebrating, and he provided an excellent takedown of the culture.
“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself,” Harper began. “You can’t do what people in other sports do.”
Harper then elaborated with a long, interesting analysis about relaxing baseball’s culture:
“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.
“If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
Of course, the players Harper names all receive their fair share of criticism for celebration — none more so than Cam Newton.
But most times, in other sports, players won’t face retaliation for celebrating. Meanwhile, Keown points to an incident last season when Harper called baseball’s code “tired” after Nationals reliever Jonathan Papelbon beamed Orioles third basemen Manny Machado for celebrating a home run.
Blue Jays slugger Joe Bautista was widely criticised in the postseason last year for an excessive bat-flip after a series-deciding home run.
After that game, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, who gave up the homer, said Bautista needs to respect the game more. Dyson is only 27 years old.
So, while Harper may be onto something, this kind of relaxing of the culture isn’t going to happen overnight. Players who are deemed excessive celebrators will likely be hit by pitches or face some retaliation.
Over time, however, Harper and other players could gradually ease the opinions about celebrating in baseball — and it wouldn’t be harmful for the sport.