Bryce Harper made headlines with these comments in an ESPN The Magazine story this week.
GODDAMMIT– HE’S RIGHT.
I know I’m typically the one calling Harper a douchebag, and, truth be told, I still think he’s a douchebag – or, “he’s still a dick,” if you prefer – but he’s 100% right that baseball suppresses personality. Jimmy Rollins once made similar comments with which I agreed. But his comments, I think, flew largely under the radar because they were specifically aimed at the league’s failure to promote black players. The media is typically less concerned with the gripes of a minority player compared to those of one of the game’s brightest stars. So they were brushed aside as “J-Roll™ is speaking his mind again” rather than being cast as some salient point made by a star.
The sport needs more excitement. Look at the Warriors in basketball. They’re great, yes, but what makes them such a huge draw is that they’re also fun and flashy, and not in an un-wholesome, un-family-friendly way. Steph Curry is a showboat, but he’s the kind of showboat you want your kid to be: he works hard at his craft, has fun, and is supremely confident in his abilities. No harm there.
Baseball has been the slowest sport on the uptake to new media. Almost by definition, social networks and online platforms depend on personality. What’s Twitter without some colorful remarks from celebrities and athletes? What’s YouTube without zany personalities? What’s Instagram without Maria Menounos? What’s Snapchat without DJ Khaled? MLB is slowly getting there. They’ve caught up to the other leagues – not including the stuffy NFL and their humorless social media efforts – and have recently begun tweeting images of Joey Bautista’s bat flip, Yoenis Cespedes’ cars (and horse), and Joe Maddon dressed like a hippie. Today, all 30 teams will be snapping with unprecedented access (we’ll see how organic it really is). It’s a start. Social media is a way to brighten stars. But Harper is right– baseball, as a culture, needs to embrace characters, not shun them:
“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 — hoorah … 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.”
This is all a much better way to engage fans and encourage personality than Jon Morosi’s horrible, horrible selfie idea.