The great divide between baseball’s traditionalists and its new wave of younger, more progressive constituents came to a head on Oct. 14, 2015. With the American League Divisional Series tied at two games apiece and Game 5 between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays knotted 3-3, Jose Bautista strolled to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. On a 1-1 pitch, Bautista launched a ball deep into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer, propelling the Jays to their first playoff series win since the mid-90s. As the ball traveled through the Toronto night, Bautista admired it, then launched his bat toward the dugout in one of the most epic bat flips you’ll ever see.
RELATED: Watch Jose Bautista’s Epic Bat Flip From Three Different Angles
This, of course, upset baseball purists who think that showing a player up in any aspect of the game is morally wrong, and part of baseball’s unwritten code. On the flip side, it ignited an already frenzied Toronto crowd, and the Vine of Bautista’s bat flip became MLB’s most-watched piece of media ever.
Which brings us to Bryce Harper, the firey young star of the Washington Nationals. Harper has no tolerance for baseball’s traditional approach, and he loved Bautista’s bat flip. Harper despises the unwritten rules of the game so much that last year he got into a dugout fight with his own teammate, closer Jonathan Papelbon, after he scolded Papelbon in the media for throwing at Manny Machado after Machado admired a home run he hit off him.
Harper is the cover boy of ESPN The Magazine‘s latest issue, and he finally says what many new age fans of baseball have been thinking for a long time.
“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. 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—hooray . . . 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.”
Whatever you think about its unwritten rules, it’s hard to deny that baseball is struggling to attract fans, especially younger ones. Letting its players show more personality wouldn’t be the worst thing it could do, and Harper appears ready to lead the charge.