“The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played Rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f— they went and they thought they figured the f—ing game out. They don’t know s—.” – Goose Gossage
Ah yes, the ‘New School vs. Old School’ face off. The classic argument of what WAS good versus what WILL be better. Of course, baseball is a game that has seen more than two centuries of significant impact on the American culture, so that river runs deep, and the bridge that hovers over it is ever shaking in the winds of change. The above quote is that of a hall-of-fame pitcher, who had not only choice words for the ‘nerds’ that are ruining the game that gave him purpose, but also for players that exude emotion on the field, more particularly, Jose Bautista and Yoenis Cespedes.
“Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes, same thing.”
In an interview with ESPN, Gossage decided to sound off against Bautista in particular, based on his bat flip of epic proportions during game 5 of a contentious ALDS. Bautista tossed his bat about a mile in the air and began a triumphant march around the bases, knowing he had just put a resounding exclamation point on a playoff series that was as exciting as it was tense. The Goose squawked about how this form of showmanship was bad for baseball, and went even further to say that Bautista was disgracing the lineage of the latin players that came before him.
THE GOOSE IS WRONG
Baseball has ever been a sport that has provided the nation with a litmus test into it’s own culture. It has been both far ahead of civil rights (Jackie Robinson), and had drifted behind (Think Al Campanis in 1987). When Goose Gossage began his career in 1972, it was still a white man’s game, where emotion was to be kept in check, and showmanship was checked by a set of rules that have never been written, but somehow always underlying. You want to stare at your home run? Prepare for a fastball high and tight… REALLY high and tight. You want to pump your fist on the mound? That’s ok, your teammate will pay for that. Try it again? You might just have a brawl on your hands….
Context is a beautiful thing, and Gossage should take some time to remember that before he goes on a rant about how the ‘nerds and showboats are ruining the game’. In 1972, his rookie year, about 10% of all MLB players were Latino, and Roberto Clemente (arguably the greatest ever), had just been lost to a plane crash. The game was still a white mans game, and Latinos were playing by their rules. When he retired in 1994, 17.8% of players were Latino. In 2012, 26.9% are from Central or South America (According to SABR). Anyone who has observed games in these areas would see the emotion, passion, and fire that these people play the game with, and would be able to see why it’s great for this game that has such a hold on us as a nation. Bat flips, fist pumps, yelling and screaming from the dugouts, it’s a beautiful thing to watch, and creates such a level of investment in the fans, that it gets them in on it too. It’s more than that, though, it’s an injection of life into a game that can at times feel stale or “tired” (To Quote Bryce Harper). Of course Gossage isn’t used to seeing these things because they weren’t a thing when he played. If you were outnumbered 10 to 1 you certainly wouldn’t pop off or flip a bat as a show of emotion would you? Now we see the Latino community gaining more and more leverage as more and more stars begin to take over the headlines and lead their teams to victory, so it’s only natural we would see these displays of emotion find their way into the game.
I don’t blame Gossage for the overall message, because there is some validity to the ‘softening’ of the game, with rules on how and where to slide, analytics taking a bit of the ‘soul’ from the game, and i’ll admit sometimes the showmanship can get a little much (Carlos Gomez anyone?), but I do blame him for the visceral nature of his comments (really just out right racism) and the ham-fisted way of lumping the two most prominent surging trends in the game (analytics and latino players) and just simply trashing them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, for sure, and Gossage has earned some space to give his honest thoughts on the game and it’s direction, but there’s a good way and a bad way to go about it.
The fact of the matter, is that the game is leaking African-American players (from 18.4% in 1984, to just 7.2% in 2012), due to a lack of representation in the mid to upper levels of the game, and if we continue to stifle the Latino community to play the game “our” way, then we will begin losing them too, and the sport simply cannot lose the largest growing demographic in the country because they’re not doing things exactly the way they “should be” doing it. I’ve often opined on the sluggish pace Baseball embraces change, and how at some point, we just have to acknowledge that guys like Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, or Fernando Rodney have no desire to make the mound any higher, the bases any further apart, or the ball any different (Two of those three have actually happened). They just want to be able to play the game the way they want to play it, and honestly, who are we to stop them?