March 29, 2016

Bat flip causes controversy

Bottom of the seventh.

Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series at the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada.

Two men on for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Up steps Jose Bautista to face Texas Rangers right hander Steve Dyson.

Bautista, one of the most feared hitters in the game, digs in and fouls off the first pitch from Dyson for strike one.

Bautista steps out and adjusts his batting gloves as Dyson gets the signs from the catcher.

Bautista steps in and takes a 98 mph, two-seam fastball low for a ball.

Bautista steps out of the box, readjusts his gloves as the crowd is buzzing a low hum.

He steps into the box and awaits the pitch.

Dyson sets, checks the runners, then hurls a 97 mph fastball toward home plate.

Bautista takes a cut at the pitch, makes contact and drives the ball deep into the left-field seats. As the bat hits the ball, the crowd goes from a loud buzz to an epic roar faster than a picture flash.

In a moment of euphoria, Bautista watches the ball clear the fence and tosses his bat aside like a gladiator tossing his sword aside after defeating a fierce lion.

This is where it all began, a toss that would set the baseball world ablaze with controversy. And Bryce Harper’s comments in ESPN the Magazine led the barrage.

Harper told the magazine baseball needs more personalities in it, yet the game has become “stale” because guys cannot express themselves as they can in other sports. The culprits he said, are the “unwritten rules of baseball.” These unwritten rules underlie the game, but the one at the top of the hypothetical list is: “Don’t show up the pitcher or you will have your reflexes tested with 90 mph.”

Mostly the older generation of players see it as their job to keep these rules around the game they cherish so deeply. The prime example is Hall of Fame pitcher Richard “Goose” Gossage, who was a reliever for the New York Yankees, among other teams.

A pitcher known for testing reflexes of opposing hitters and being the keeper of one of the world’s finest mustaches (everyone plays for second behind Rollie Fingers), Gossage, in a profanity ridden ESPN interview, said, “Bautista is a (explicit) disgrace to the game. He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, who ever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto.”

This sent major shockwaves through baseball, causing everyone from Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench to Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey to comment. It also started a conversation from fans of all ages.

“Baseball has a difficult time getting the younger generation due to its nature. It’s a relaxed and drawn-out game,” said Dan Burke, a law student at Cleveland State University and Boston Red Sox fan. “But that relaxed and drawn-out game leads to drama that no other sport can bring, and when that drama comes to a head you can’t help but express it.”

Some of the biggest moments in the sport have resulted in a player‘s spontaneous outpouring of emotion, and fans react and share in the experience.

“Baseball is extremely expressive. Think of the Kirk Gibson homerun in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series,” said Nick Wilson, host of The Nick Wilson Experiment on 92.3 The Fan. “Gibson hit a home run and rounded the bases pumping his fist. It has become an iconic moment in baseball history and he never saw a ball get thrown behind his ears. Goose needs to get over it and quit telling kids to get off his lawn.”

The older generation sees it a little differently.

“I hate it when guys celebrate after doing their jobs, and I feel like baseball is the last place that doesn’t happen,” said Kevin Biven, a 50-year old father of four. “How am I supposed to teach my kids to show respect for others and act like you have been there before when you see players dance around after doing their jobs?”

The majority of the younger generation sees the side of Harper and Bautista because of Ken Griffey Jr., who played from 1989 to 2010 with a level of enjoyment and marketability the game has yet to replicate.

“Growing up, I idolized Ken Griffey Jr. not only because he had the smoothest swing in baseball, but because of the person behind that swing,” said Joe Biven, a business student at Cleveland State. “I looked up to the smile, the backward hat, the earrings and the all-out defensive plays. Harper plays the same way as Griffey did back then and that brought me in.”

This not a new subject and the answer is not a simple one in the sports world. Everyone will have his opinion, and the argument has been taking place forever.

“In my days, the man who was responsible for having lost a game was told in a man’s way by a lot of men what a rotten ball player he really was,” Bill Joyce said in 1916.

“It makes me weep to think of the men in the old days who played the game and the boys of today. It’s positively a shame, and they are getting big money for it, too.”



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