The Emotionless Downfall of America’s Pastime

Last week, when Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a lead-off home run against the Miami Marlins in Game One of the National League Divisional Series, the Atlanta Brave celebrated with a bat flip. However, at his next at bat, he was plunked with a 98 miles per hour (mph) fastball straight to his backside.

Last week, when Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a lead-off home run against the Miami Marlins in Game One of the National League Divisional Series, the Atlanta Brave celebrated with a bat flip. However, at his next at bat, he was plunked with a 98 miles per hour (mph) fastball straight to his backside. Though he wasn’t injured, this wasn’t the first time Acuna had been punished with a fastball for celebrating a good play. The play reeks of baseball’s ridiculous and out-of-touch culture that punishes players for expressing emotions. Many fans often attribute the mediocrity of baseball to the length of the game or the time in between plays, but no matter how many minutes Major League Baseball (MLB) docks of the clock and how many more home runs the players hit, baseball will always be held back by the frustrating culture that accompanies the sport. If all the sports gathered for a Christmas dinner, basketball would be a vibrant teen opening presents, football would be a hardy father smiling at his children, and baseball would be the grumpy scrooge in the corner complaining and trying to control everything he could.

Unwritten rules in baseball strip players of emotion by reducing earnest and frequent celebration, which thus eliminates baseball from creating stars. What makes watching sports fun is not just the games itself, but the emotions of the players. Oftentimes, fans cannot relate to posterizing someone in basketball or hitting a home run, but we can relate to the enthusiasm and joy that the athletes feel when they accomplish something worthy. Celebration unites fans and athletes, further humanizing a sport by encouraging those in the stands to experience the emotional journey similar to that of an athlete. Yet when athletes are unnaturally restricted from expressing themselves, the sport ruins opportunities to unite fans through the emotional aspect of the game. Unlike in other sports, baseball culture’s tendency to downplay the emotions that come along with a big play render the sport uninteresting and disheartening for rising players. When Cam Newton scores a touchdown and dances, he starts a cultural trend; when Deandre Jordan dunks on somebody, his facial reaction becomes a meme; when Cristiano Ronaldo scores a goal, he’ll run up and down the field before jumping and spinning in mid air. These moments of celebration are what unite the audience with the athlete and make the sport interesting to watch.

As Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox “pimps” a home run by chucking his bat, the pitcher will try to hit Anderson with a 90 mph fastball at his next at bat for “breaking the unwritten rules.” Though not all celebrations are reprimanded, ball-watching and bat-flipping are still looked down upon, and pitchers will regularly reprimand celebrators with a fastball straight to the midsection. These unwritten rules were at one point instated to keep the game “gentlemanly,” but the sport has clearly evolved from that. It’s not tennis or polo or golf, it’s baseball; the players chew tobacco in dugouts, wear oversized chains in the batter's box, spit sunflower seeds in the grass, and slap each other on the butt after a good play. Unwritten rules are not conducive to likeable athletes, nor do they create gentlemanly players. Ken “the Kid” Griffey Jr. brought the sport to new eyes by dawning the backwards cap and pounding flashy home runs, yet the sport is still held back by a buzzkill culture that looks down on celebration and emotion.

The MLB has acknowledged such aspects of the culture in the past with a campaign called “Let the Kids Play” and a video ad titled “Rewrite the Rules.” As a company, they’ve opened up to bat flipping and celebrations, but clearly the culture has not. Perhaps the MLB is on the right track, or maybe all it needs is the right star. But instances where Tatis Jr. and Acuna Jr. are reprimanded for scoring points reflect that if America’s favorite pastime wants to keep its audience, it must lose its scrooge culture of unwritten rules.

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