Players on board with have-fun mantra

Many fellow stars have no problem with showing emotion in big spots

March 10th, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bryce Harper was right. And he was wrong. Really, he was a little hypocritical. In an ESPN The Magazine story making the rounds Thursday, Harper lamented baseball's lack of emotion in one breath. Then, in the next, he celebrated that "there's so many guys in the game now who are so much fun."

"Jose Fernandez is a great example," Harper said. "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."

• Harper: Let ballplayers show a little flair

Many of today's players, particularly in a time where young talent is having such a big impact on outcomes, are legitimately unafraid to express themselves, be it Harper's hair flips or Andrew McCutchen's dugout dances. Or the mother of them all -- Jose Bautista's bat toss. And the faster people understand that baseball doesn't have to be a stodgy enterprise based upon unwritten rules that even many of the hallowed greats didn't embrace (have you seen Mickey Mantle's bat flips?), the better. Because fans en masse enjoy baseball with a side of harmless emotion.

"To me," Fernandez said, "that's the way I learned how to play baseball. I think it's great for the game, honestly."

• Lupica: We need more Harpers

Just as it's over the top to suggest baseball is tired or boring just because its athletes tend not to celebrate as excessively or aggressively as those in other major professional sports, it's equally silly to suggest that the game needs to be held to some strict standard of decorum. I can't tell you how many U.S.-born players I've spoken to after their first exposure to the Latin American winter leagues who are enamored with the atmosphere, the unbridled enthusiasm of the players blending with the animated crowd. We could use a little more of that here, and I believe, in time, we'll get more of that.

"It's kind of hard to just go about everything, especially exciting things, and just sit there with a poker face like nothing is happening," Bautista said.

"I think people do get a little too sensitive about how we show emotion and stuff," Rays ace Chris Archer said. "There's no problem. If you do something that genuinely gets you excited, maybe a late-inning home run or a strikeout, it's only human nature to be excited."

And yes, when you screw up or get burnt, it's only human nature to get mad. But let's be rational here. Pitchers ultimately dictate both the game's pace and its due process, and it is unfortunately not unusual for a pitcher to dole out barbaric justice on a batter who had the gall to celebrate his athletic achievement.

"Whenever a pitcher strikes someone out, they get to celebrate, too, and have their moment and revel in it," Yoenis Cespedes said. "Why can't the batters get a chance to enjoy their success, too?"

Amen. As long as said celebration isn't excessive (I certainly wouldn't recommend a post-homer point at the pitcher followed by some reckless words about his mother), and as long as it isn't grievously ill-timed (ninth inning and down 10 runs probably isn't a proper point to boast your solo shot), a victory lap knows no victims.

"It doesn't bother me," said Fernandez. "It doesn't bother me because, in a big situation, or any point, if you hit a home run, you did your job. You did what you work for. You did what you wanted to do. But if I get an out, I get a big strikeout, of course, I'm going to be on top. That's what you work for. You bust your butt all year to work for that."

This style of play isn't for everybody. Carlos Correa arrived last summer and was instantly one of the game's most mesmerizing talents because of his pure performance -- not necessarily his personality. As he said, you can play the game your way without taking offense to the way others play it.

"I just think that the priority should be on the team and not what we can do on the field," Correa said. "I have fun playing baseball the way I play it; I'm not going to change the way I play. If [Harper] has fun playing the way he plays like that, I'm fine with it."

Kris Bryant, Correa's Rookie of the Year Award-winning counterpart in the National League last year, had a similarly balanced take.

"I think the game's changing a little bit," Bryant said. "You can see it in the cleats -- people are wearing neon in their cleats. Ten years ago, that would never happen. Guys have their own ways of playing the game and there are guys who will go about it very calm and collected, and guys who will show it off a little bit. There's not one way to do things in this game, and that's what makes it so cool."

Harper's comments about baseball's need for more "flair" and more "dramatic" moments set off the sort of firestorm of social-media reaction (Harper was a trending topic for much of the day, perhaps proving his own point) and clubhouse reaction. It was timely, too, given the furor elsewhere in Florida over Goose Gossage colorfully bemoaning Bautista's famous flip nearly five months after the bat hit the ground.

The anti-Harper hard-liners need to understand the fundamental premise of sports, which is that they are supposed to be fun, and the standards for what is acceptable reactionary behavior are remarkably inconsistent, as evidenced quite notably by that above-linked Mantle clip. And get this: You can have fun and still be respectful. We've got quite a few guys in the game today who demonstrate just that.