Putting the Fun Back In Fundamentals

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It was a good baseball Friday night for the Chicago Cubs, powered by Javier Baez‘s four hits and baserunning magic:

I think players like Javy are great for baseball, particularly in a time when the sport, despite record revenues, is skewing older and is working to recruit new, younger fans.  It is fine to have fun in baseball, and Javy is certainly fun even when he is in a slump.  There are plenty of instances of fun in baseball every night, with bat flips after hits, fist pumps after strikeouts, and antics like this from a couple of greats:

I think that since baseball is pretty much a kid’s game, you would expect the elite athletes who play the sport to exhibit some youthful exuberance when they get to do this for a living.  There is a wide spectrum of celebration and emotion from each unique player, and while some of it might be arguably overboard, I don’t see how it could be bad for the game, especially when we enjoy these antics so much.

Perhaps some of the fans and players of baseball are secretly old men yelling at clouds, as there have been a few instances of unwritten rule-based shenanigans happening.  It wasn’t just the misunderstanding between Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and Javier Baez (former Cub Doug Glanville explains it well here), but there were at least three main storylines that we can look at, and April isn’t even over yet!

I would argue that we do not go to baseball games to watch robots play fundamentally solid baseball with no emotions.  I would also argue that players, fans, and managers who complain about on-field antics have put themselves in a double standard where it’s okay to celebrate a certain way but not another, or where a pitcher can pump his fist when he strikes out a batter, but the batter will offend if he flips the bat after hitting a home run.  Because these “rules” are unwritten, it gets really hard to keep track of what’s actually acceptable, and again, Doug Glanville’s take is a pretty good one as he talks about social norms in the environments where players grew up in.  Maybe there is a fine line between celebrating a positive for your team versus showing up the other team unnecessarily, but that’s so subjective that it’s probably impossible to define where that line lies.

The first story I can recall is probably Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins taking exception to his opponent bunting against the shift in a blowout.

To recap: Orioles rookie Chance Sisco batted in the ninth inning on Sunday, with Baltimore trailing Minnesota by seven runs. The Twins shifted their infield against Sisco, he bunted against the shift, he got a hit and he found out a half-hour later that by trying hard at baseball in a seven-run game he had violated something sacrosanct.

“When they didn’t hold our runner on [earlier in the blowout], they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal,” Dozier explained. “We could have very easily stolen and put up more runs, so therefore in return, you don’t bunt. That’s what everybody is missing in this whole thing.”

That one had me all exasperated Jaguars fan dot gif, because there was no no-hitter anymore, and ultimately the Twins won anyway.  If you weren’t trying, you don’t shift, right?  And if you really dig into it, it is almost as if Dozier made up the rule on the fly like Calvinball.  None of the logic here works.

Then, with the Twins playing the Cleveland Indians in Puerto Rico, Francisco Lindor found the need to preemptively apologize for something he didn’t really have to:

Was he apologizing because baseball has this big ol’ evil culture that tamps down fun and wouldn’t dare let him be excited in this moment? That’s a bit hyperbolic in this situation, no? Maybe he just thought afterward something like, “man, I was so fired up I don’t even realize how crazy I went” and wanted to make sure he didn’t look bad in anyone’s eyes? Maybe he didn’t think through it at all and just said it. Is it really that big a deal?

For their part, the Twins didn’t really find that offensive at all, and it’s just weird that Lindor even had to say anything.  In the game environment (his homeland of Puerto Rico, which has suffered so much in recent times and could use a spark of joy), his celebration and emotions were appropriate.

I’m sure I’m missing a few other stories, but Friday night brought yet another ego-bruiser:

Anderson lightly celebrated his fifth-inning hit – after all, they were in short supply for the Sox on Friday – and Verlander afterward gave his seal of approval for the excitement.

But Verlander apparently didn’t like Anderson trying to steal second base on a 3-0 count. Anderson celebrated with a hand clap when he reached second, though he didn’t receive credit for a stolen base because Verlander had walked Omar Narvaez.

“He steals on 3-0 in a 5-0 game, that’s probably not great baseball,” Verlander told Astros reporters after the game. “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. But he celebrated that, though. And it’s like ‘Hey, I’m not worried about you right now. It’s 5-0, I’m giving a high leg kick, I know you can steal. If I don’t want you to steal, I’ll be a little bit more aware of you. But I’m trying to get this guy out at the plate.’

Justin Verlander had, of course, recently won the World Series with the Houston Astros, and Tim Anderson is just a guy trying to make his living on a rebuilding Chicago White Sox team.  But here, I am inclined to say that Verlander seemed a bit petty here.  Stealing a base in the fifth inning down just five runs to try to spark the offense is not bad baseball.  In fact, because baseball has no clock (pitch clock notwithstanding, coming soon!), there is no reason to stop trying when there are outs left to play with!

I present to you the opinion that baseball should be as fun as possible, no matter which side you are on in a one-run game or a blowout.  I also present that as long as there are outs to work with, teams should always do their best to either record more outs if they are on defense, or generate runs if they are on offense.  That is the best baseball we can hope for.  To make up random rules about when you can or cannot score or celebrate or whatever is counter to that philosophy, and detrimental to recruiting new fans because honestly, that just isn’t fun at all.

Here’s to more antics, celebrations, and good fundamental baseball.  Emphasis on the fun.


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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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