The three unwritten rules baseball should get rid of today
I’d decorate my house in flipped bats if I could.
I’d line the doorways, use the barrels for crown molding. I might buy a baby tree just so I can use flipped bats as support stakes.
Because the bat flip is a thing of joy. It’s a product of unadulterated baseball love. And it pisses off every mothballed curmudgeon who would see their favorite sport wither and die before they’d see a batter express outward joy at his handiwork.
Much of this stagnant, primordial anger stems from the MLB’s oldest bogeyman: the unwritten rules of baseball—a slate of invisible commandments brought down from on high long ago; the same commandments Bryce Harper took a bandsaw to in Tim Keown’s ESPN feature on his rise to MVP status on Thursday morning.
In the feature, Harper laid out plainly the biggest thing holding baseball back from its full potential. It’s not steroids or monster contracts or the DH. It’s dusty, pointless stodginess. It’s moral fatigue.
"Baseball’s tired," Harper said. "It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do."
Stop fighting, baseball. Or more accurately: stop hitting yourself. Because that’s what you are literally and figuratively doing by holding onto this waterlogged sense of tradition.
Just let some things go, man. Not everything. I know allowing base runners to cross the mound would raze your malt shop sensibilities to the ground.
Let’s just start with a few, sensible things we can all live with. Let’s start with three unspoken rules baseball can drop this year, and the league, its players and fanbase at large will all be the better for it:
Thou shall always retaliate
Headlining the Petty-Palooza of baseball’s troika of indefensibly stupid unwritten rules is the retaliatory plunk, which almost always follows some sort of innocent exhibition of joy or accidental hit-by-pitch.
Ditching the retalitory plunk makes sense for many reasons, not the least of which being that purposely hitting someone with a hard object moving 90 mph is attempted murder in almost any other worldly context.
That being said, the chief reasons for getting rid of the retaliatory plunk are purely common sensical:
1) Most of the time, the supposed provocation for retaliation was a complete accident.
2) In the case when the provocation is genuine, the dude who started it all isn’t even the one who gets hit in return!
I understand this dissonance is founded on the team-centric "You hit my guy, I’ll hit your guy" mentality. But look at it this way: if someone keys, say, your sister’s car—you don’t just key their sister’s car!
Sandra had nothing to do with this! At all! But when transmuted through the Machiavellian, reptile-brain of baseball morality, logic states "Well, she might’ve not done anything, but you love her, so I will strike her down. Eye for an eye. Ear for an ear. I am a Westerosi boy-king."
So yeah—down with plunking.
Thou shall not pimp home runs
"Bautista is a [expletive] disgrace to the game. 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."
This hot potato comes to us courtesy of MLB Hall of Famer and walking steak burp Goose Gossage, who went on a tear to ESPN’s Andrew Marchmand on Thursday about how all them NERDS AND YOUNG LATINS are ruining the game.
This a dumb and bad opinon.
Players like Bautista and Cespedes are, objectively, some of the most absurdly entertaining players in the game, and it’s almost inconceivable that an argument has to be made as to why censoring their personalities is counterproductive for the MLB as an entertainment product, but here goes:
Bautista, Cespedes and Harper are characters. Characters are why we read books, go to movies and enjoy any form of entertainment. We want a compelling story, but most of all, we colorful personalities to cheer through the ordeal.
Almost every sport has figured this out. Meanwhile, the MLB continues to hang on to the Spartan sensibility that acknowledging a good thing you did in front of thousands is some kind of unseemly act.
After hitting a go-ahead, three-run homer in Game 5 of the ALDS, Bautista shouldn’t have to worry about reprisal or reverb from Sam Dyson. In that moment, he is the hero of a story. He is Will Smith in Independence Day. He should be able to explore the Milky Way with his bat flip and round the bases without any static. Because this is a game, and he just won it with a single stroke.
So, again: let the hitters hit, let the flippers flip, and let them do it without fearing physical reprisal.
Thou shall respect your elders
Insanity is blindly doing something just because someone older than you told you to do it.
Because sometimes that older person is Jonathan Papelbon, and they are one sideways look away from jangling their genitals like a coin purse in public.
And that’s the rub with many sports—seniority is alwas an absolute point of respect, regardless of said respect is always merited. Veterans and their hand-me-down decorum must be regarded as sacrosanct, which isn’t necessarily wrong, as wisdom does typically come with experience.
But as in some cases, being older doesn’t necessarily mean being wiser. Sometimes it means being crankier and more in need of a nap. And if baseball wants to not only survive, but compete with the NFL, NBA and UFC for the next generation of American sports fans, it’d do well to mold its sensibilities to the next generation of young stars.
Because the sport is getting younger by the year. The top six of the top 10 MLB jersey sales in 2015 belong to players 26 years old or younger.
Harper’s No. 34 jersey is sixth on that list—a not-insignicant figure in a sport that’s come to uphold numbers as gospel.
So maybe, just maybe, they should hear the top-selling generation out when the men inside the jerseys say it’s time for baseball to change.
Dan is on Twitter. His bed frame is 90 percent flipped bats.