ESPN The Magazine has a lengthy feature story about Bryce Harper and there’s plenty of interesting stuff for people who love or hate the reigning National League MVP, but one particular excerpt figures to draw the most attention.
From a section in which Tim Keown writes about how Harper wants to change the perception of baseball players, the Nationals outfielder says “baseball is tired … it’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself.”
You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.
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.
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.
There’s a large and very vocal segment of baseball fans and media members who simply hate Harper and the above quotes will surely add fuel to that fire, but in general I agree with him.
Sports are about entertainment and fun. Athletes doing great things are exciting and impressive. And yet baseball, far more than other sports, seems obsessed with the way things used to be and maintaining some standard of buttoned-up decorum that, frankly, has never been consistent and never will be consistent.
Harper celebrating a home run is treated far differently than a similar celebration from a 15-year veteran deemed a “good guy” by reporters covering his team. Young players don’t need to be demonized for not behaving like old players any more than the average kid needs to hear another story about how his grandfather walked to school up a hill in the snow.
Young players should be celebrated for being great and exciting and vital to the sport’s growth. Harper represents much of what old fans dislike about sports, but he also represents much of what new fans enjoy about sports and his presence as a young, exceptionally talented superstar behaving how a young, exceptionally talented superstar chooses to behave will lead to more sports fans falling in love with baseball.