“BASEBALL WAS MADE FOR KIDS, AND GROWN-UPS ONLY SCREW IT UP” – BOB LEMON
It’s hard to get baseball people to agree on just about anything, especially these days. Whether you’re a student of the new school, or a guardian of the old ways, something always has one side upset, and the other relentlessly defending its honor. Consensus is hard to come by, but at times like these, it’s much needed.
As a pastoral game that once reveled in it’s lack of clock or blistering pace, baseball is trying to keep up with the times, and stay relevant in todays breakneck paced society. This has resulted in a few minor changes on and off the field in order to keep fans as interested in the action on the field as the screens in their hands. Change is slow, though, as it always has been, so MLB was put in a very interesting position: What Next?
Then, it seemed, someone woke up from behind the wheel for a second, and this happened..
It’s brilliant. The one thing resource that baseball could use to appeal to its younger audience. It’s inclusive, it’s fun, and it’s young. It’s the players.
It seems obvious, right? How could they have missed that? Let these young players speak their native languages, flip bats, trash talk, get crazy (or even a little weird) and even better yet… have FUN! This level of acknowledgement is pretty revolutionary for the game of baseball, because..
Players Weren’t Always Allowed to Do This
It wasn’t exactly a secret in baseball (and it still isn’t, if you are playing the Pirates). You take a little long to start your home run trot? Expect one in your ear next time. You decide to boast a little after a game? You’re going to be labeled a “hot dog” or “arrogant”. Of course if you happen to be a player of color, you might get the all-too-familiar racist trope of “uppity“. If you were a baseball player, you were expected to conduct yourself in a sort of gentlemanly manner, limiting emotions and celebrations to only when things were a certainty, and as long as it didn’t disrespect the opposing team. Of course, the game was mostly white during these times too, both in the stands, watching in the living rooms, and playing on the field, so it’s only natural that the product would reflect the culture. Over time, as more and more latin players would join Major League clubs, they were taught to repress the raw emotion they were used to showing on the field in their home countries, where they were literally playing for a better life. Thankfully, the game has progressed past the death threats that Hank Aaron used to get on his way to breaking Babe Ruth’s record, or the veiled condescension in calling Roberto Clemente “Bobby”, despite his rejection of the name. Just as in most institutions that have progressed past much of that style of racism though, the scars remain, and for a long time, players (especially those of color) were taught to play the game “as if they’d been there before.”
So what’s Changed? Well…
Today’s Players Reflect Today’s Fans
It’s a different time now. Across all aspects of society, young people are concerned about representation for people of color, and access to the people who lead public lives. Musicians, politicians, and now, athletes are expected to have a level of interaction not just on the field, but off it was well, and who better to lead that charge than the players themselves? In today’s social media driven times, players that can show a level of awareness that yes, they play a game for a living, but can use their immense platform for a positive impact tend to attract those fans we’ve been talking about this whole time. Players like Marcus Stroman, Yasiel Puig, and even the so-called “villians” like Trevor Bauer or Madison Bumgarner that actively engage on social media with fans, and other players alike keep baseball as a relevant culture point among a youth that tends to discard them as quickly as they come about. It’s key for baseball players to engage fans with honesty and a raw emotional enjoyment of the game because…
It’s Fun… And it’s Needed.
Baseball has been around for over 180 years because of one reason: Fans. Fans buy the tickets, fans support the teams, fans keep the game alive and well. Part of that is the players reflect the fans that do all of those things. At the turn of the century, players were rough, hard nosed, and relentlessly foul mouthed. In the middle part of the century, they were wholesome kids who were just thrilled to be on the field every day. In the 90’s, they were bulked up business minded sluggers who were focused on driving baseballs and winning games. Today? They’re both loose and intense. Outspoken and unafraid of confrontation, especially with authority. They stay informed to the world around them, but keep their profession in perspective, all while being a helluva lot of fun to watch.
Let’s let them play, let’s let them have fun. After all, the kids are the future, right?