A new game of baseball
December 7, 2022
Baseball instills itself in American culture, as its roots run deep in American history. Finding its origins in the mid-19th century, America’s pastime now faces a war of culture in today’s society. The sport evolves to fit modern standards including new technology and changing attitudes. As the years go on, tensions and emotions arise with the changing game; anywhere from clothing or even a player scoring a run for their team can spark debate among audiences. Newly implemented rules and Major League Baseball’s push for the “Let the Kids Play” movement also create debates concerning the game’s more modern take to keep the game more exciting for audiences. The additions of new and improved marketing tactics improve the game’s stale image and bring younger audiences to watch the action and enjoy players’ styles.
To Americans, baseball represents their history and showcases American values. Baseball’s origins since the Civil War and portrayals in popular culture illustrate the game’s imprint on within the American public. Baseball also shows a melting pot of cultures where players from all over the world flash their talents on the American big screen. In 2022, MLB announced that they drew in 64 million fans and generated $11 billion in revenue. While baseball contributes to American history and culture, the sport creates a culture and history within itself. With record-breaking plays and mixing with modernism, the history continues as new players make their mark.
As playing seasons go by, new and younger players make names for themselves in the big leagues, especially youthful, big dreamers from other countries. Several players, like Carlos Gomez and Roberto Clemente, come from Latin American countries where they experience low socio-economic lives and an impoverished background. They turn to baseball for a chance to start a career and provide for themselves and their families. Baseball culture can contrast in parts of the world compared to how Major League Baseball (MLB) conducts itself. Latino players mix their culture of living life with passion and enthusiasm into the ancient game and make the game fun and enjoyable for fans With this, increasing Hispanic viewership went up 77%. Latino players, such as Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Miami Marlins’ Jazz Chisolm create their own signature celebrations and dances to flash their personality while running the bases after a home run or gaining a hit. All of this does not come without criticism of course. Former Houston Astro now retired pitcher Bud Norris, who played from 2009 to 2018, commented on foreign players, especially putting an emphasis on Latino players needing to show respect for the game.
“If you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years. There are players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.” Norris said.
When players hit a game-tying home run or bat in a run to give their team the lead, impulsive roars of excitement and expressive body language occur. The playing environment mixed with competition energy can lead to players doing actions based purely on emotion. In a decisive game of the American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays player José Bautista displayed an infamous bat flip after he blasted a home run to earn the lead. Afterward, he proceeded to face backlash and was deemed disrespectful to the baseball world for his passionate flip, with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage describing the act as a disgrace.
“When the pitch came in, I turned it on. It was just a natural reaction, just like I’ve done hundreds of times before. There’s no sound in the world like the crack a baseball makes on the sweet spot of my maple Marucci. You blink on contact. The immediate roar of the crowd lifts your sights to see where the ball is going. Imagine the feeling of watching it land in the seats. How would you feel? What would you do? There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. I flipped my bat,” former Toronto Blue Jay player José Bautista said.
The introduction of the “Let the Kids Play” movement shows the fading old-schooler’s efforts to keep baseball culture conservative while shining on new players celebrations. When White Sox Tim Anderson celebrated his home run blast, MLB tweeted a video of him celebrating with the hashtag, #LetTheKidsPlay. MLB marketing caters to younger audiences after declining viewership over the years. This approach contrasts the reputation of baseball as an old, boring game. Marketing tactics such as the endorsement of expressing emotion can show efforts of trying to grow the game for new generations, instead of the same tedious game. Teams have also implemented aspects of the game where palmers can show their personality through walk-up songs and wearing cleats with fun designs.
Cleats have evolved to become a representation of the team spirit and has allowed players to illustrate their personality in their custom cleats. Formly, black cleats became a part of the uniform etiquette. Philadelphia Phillies player Bryce Harper wears bright green to represent beloved Phillies’ mascot the Philly Phanatic while old school cleats sported all black cleats.
“I used to be a little nervous about how other people would feel about that but it’s a game with ups and downs and there are so many downs it’s good to celebrate when things go well. You’re supposed to have fun and sometimes I cringe when I see guys celebrating a little bit, but it’s good to see them expressing joy because the game is supposed to be about that, it’s a kids’ game.” NC baseball coach Tom Callahan said.
MLB changes the game with new rules. After implementing a test run of the rules in the minor leagues of baseball, the Joint Competition Committee voted in three significant rules September 9 to implement starting in the 2023 season. The additions include a pitch timer, a limit on the defensive shifts and larger bases. MLB cites these rule changes as aiming to improve the pace of play and action while considering the safety of the players. A pitch timer would create faster games, making pitchers throw to batters on a time limit. The limit on defensive shifts can put an end to audiences sitting through long, uneventful nine innings of baseball. This new limitation allows an increase of balls put into play and creates increased action by putting players on base and keeping innings alive with action. Increased capacious bases introduce the idea of an increase in stolen bases. By decreasing the distance of bases, runners can become encouraged to make risky plays and steal a base.
Other players and coaches also take offense to what they think of as breaking a set of invisible, unwritten rules. When Padre’s young superstar, Fernando Tatis,Jr. hit a grand slam against the Rangers, people began to feel anger over his actions. As Tatis faced the pitcher, he secured a count of three balls with no strikes, 3-0, in a bases-loaded situation. With the Padres leading 10-3, and Tatis missed the sign to not swing. Apparently, an unwritten rule stated if the team that bats already gained a sizable lead, swinging at a 3-0 pitch deems distasteful. The opposing team’s manager, Jayce Tingler, as well as Tatis’ manager also expressed their dislike for the swing. Learning the arbitrary rules makes the players receive backlash for reasons unknown to them. This nature of do’s and don’ts make the game makes the sport look fruitless and unforgiving for athletes playing to win.
Competition-driven players and veterans can become outspoken with their anger and try to enforce the unspoken rules of baseball. Anger and agitation naturally occur for a pitcher when letting the opposing team score off a mistake pitch and it remains hard to mask the emotions. Pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s well-known outbursts represent the conflicting attitudes between players. In a game between rival teams Dodgers and the Giants, Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy admired his homerun off of Bumgarner. The pitcher proceeded to shout at Muncy and angrily tell him to run faster out of the batter’s box. In this new era where an increasing amount of on-field celebrations happen, remnants of traditional ideas plague the sport.
Not all players dislike the cultural shift and welcome the emotional celebrations, as well as defend players who break the unspoken rules of baseball. Pitcher Amir Garrett defended players celebrating hits with bat flips and criticized the backlash given to them. Although opinions of emotional inclusions exist within the league, distinguished players such as four-time all-star Pitcher Madison Bumgarner and team managers still push the persistent idea of breaking unwritten rules in the big leagues. Opposition can result in managers reprimanding their own players, bench-clearing events and pitchers intentionally injuring players.
Expressing irritation and retaliation can become bottled up in a pitch. Pitchers who express anger at a certain player’s celebration possess an advantage by intentionally throwing the baseball to hit the batter. This type of retaliation can severely hurt players, resulting in serious injuries. Pitchers go on record, verbally threatening players who choose to celebrate their plays by hurling 70+ miles per hour toward the player in the future. Punishing players with dangerous stunts can make the game seem like the connotation of joy pointing negatively or taboo. Though debates whether a hit-by-pitch aim intentionally presents itself, hitting a player with a pitch happens frequently over the years. A variety of reasons can result in hits by pitches like the pitcher experiencing trouble with control over the baseball.
Change can seem inevitable, as innovations and technology advances society. Through baseball, the act of passing on viewership to new generations requires new additions. Catering to the marketing tactics of an exciting game instead of a boring reputation includes supporting celebrations and letting players show their vibrant emotion. Players receiving backlash push back against the goals of modernizing the game.
“A lot of the older and more traditional baseball fans will say it’s [celebrations and emotions]not good for the game, but I really do think that it adds a flare to baseball that a lot of us younger players enjoy. I know I get pumped up really quick during the game and it’s unfortunate that coaches and former players are so critical of something that has been a major part of every other sport like football, soccer, basketball, and hockey.” NC baseball player Nathaniel Jordan.