Should athletes who perform well on the field be entitled to show off and taunt the opposition? Bryce Harper, all star outfielder for the Washington Nationals, believes hitters should be able to show their emotions and showboat — especially when coming through in key moments of big games. In fact, he notes how pitchers often show emotion after a big strikeout (like punching their glove and pointing to the crowd), but hitters are frowned upon when they do similar things. Jose Bautista is an example of one of today’s “new-school” players who wears his emotions on his sleeve, especially after following big home runs with his now famous bat flip (pictured). Are these types of behaviors “over the line?”
Baseball’s traditions hang in the balance
A lot of older generation players, including Yankees Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, don’t see a place for showing off, and frown upon some of today’s athletes who sometimes go as far as carrying out long, rehearsed antics that sometimes even hold up games and draw penalties. In their eyes, calling unnecessary attention to yourself is viewed as disrespectful, and has no place in the game. The message is clear — be humble, and appreciate the opportunity to play the game.
Times change, and views on sportsmanship have changed as well. Increasingly more players today develop their “brand” not only by their production on the field, but the personality they develop along with their success. Some brand themselves into heroes, others villains, and still others as free spirits, daredevils, and social activists. Many times these brands are parlayed into lucrative endorsement deals, further propelling the thought of individualism to create future opportunities.
What do fans want (buy)?
The debate between old (traditional) and new-school players about showboating is only part of the question — teams are interested in what fans want in order to produce an on-field the positively impacts the gate. Will future team owners hold strong to their value of humble sportsmanship, even if they could draw more fans by picking up more flamboyant, self-centered players who the fans want to see?
Are we losing the class and tradition associated with older generations of athletes, where showing off, taunting, and embarrassing the opponent were discouraged and seen as unsportsmanlike? Should we embrace the values of the players of years gone by, or welcome today’s new player longing to parlay his athletic abilities into a marketable personality brand? The final landing place will likely be somewhere in between, with future players showing more flair than past generations, but a full-blown showboating game-change held up because of influential former players like Gossage who still push for a more humble and respectful approach to the game.
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