Is “Etiquette” Holding Baseball Back?

America’s number one pastime is still playing as if it is stuck in past times.

Baseball is America’s sport. It was created here and thrives here, but in recent years, baseball has lost much of its popularity. There can, and are, many reasons for this and I won’t get into the statistics of revenue, ratings, polls, or anything of the sort, but I am here to share my perspective.

In my generation, going on twenty in 2020, I have witnessed baseball at the top of the American sports world, and year after year, slowly seen the sport lose its appeal to the next wave of athletes. I see this decline through social media, mainstream media, baseball culture, community engagement, and simply through the games themselves. Sports and leagues such as basketball and football have simply exceeded baseball, by a large margin, in overall popularity. Some may even say soccer is “catching up” to baseball in the U.S.

The issue is also recognized by Major League Baseball itself as they have made moves to attempt to gain popularity by implementing controversial pace-of-play rules to speed up games and shorten overall game-time along with trying to become more of a global market, expanding its games internationally to Asia and Central America. Although these moves may bring about the intended outcomes, I believe it comes down to the players and teams that actually take the field every game, on how baseball continues evolving.

I believe the “unwritten” rules of baseball, along with “baseball etiquette,” and the believers in these very real concepts, have the biggest part in holding baseball back. To elaborate, baseball has many unwritten rules about play and etiquette such as not stealing bases when you have a large lead, not bunting to break-up a no hitter, not walking in front of the catcher when going to bat, and the two most popular and controversial, not celebrating when you hit a home-run or when you strike someone out. These are a handful out of a list of “rules” traditionalists believe baseball should still abide by, yet those same “rules” aren’t black and white, they have a large grey area, and that grey area has started to show more and more in today’s generation of baseball.

Before I get started, understand that I am not against etiquette, sportsmanship, or respect for your opponent, instead, I am sharing a perspective where I believe baseball, specifically, is so tied up in playing with etiquette that it’s denying the sport to grow with newer generations.

Jose Bautista’s legendary bat flip in the 2015 MLB playoffs

From a competitive standpoint, (some of) the “rules” make no sense and they are causing baseball to lose appeal with newer generations of athletes. Sports such as basketball, football, and soccer all have their own unwritten rules yet those rules don’t interfere with the competitiveness of the game and the want to defeat your opponent, which is the entire point of playing the sport. Baseball has been stereotyped as boring and I don’t believe it but I can see why. For example, in baseball, the two people in the most competitive spot on the field are the hitter and the pitcher. Everything that will happen depends on the outcome of their play as they are locked in a battle. When a pitcher and hitter duel for ten minutes and one of them comes out on top, are you telling me they are not supposed to feel accomplished? Every player is different, yet if the player is the type to show his passion and emotion when he plays, like many athletes in other sports, why is he not supposed to show it in baseball? When a hitter in baseball hits a home-run, they are expected to politely put their bat down and run around the bases without showboating, also not being too slow around the bases as that is also seen as disrespect. The pitcher is also “supposed to” respectfully walk off, or around, the mound when striking a batter out. This is respected, but it is what is keeping baseball “boring,” and causing the sport to be passed up by the more entertaining options available.

The sport has changed from this mindset to an extent, and we see it now today more than ever. Pitchers getting hyped up when striking out a batter, hitters bat flipping after a home run, and players showing more overall passion and competitive emotion while playing the game. The issue lies in the aforementioned grey area, where not everyone is on the same page. You have many players with the traditional “baseball etiquette” mindset, while many want to show off and show out while they play. There have been many instances where I have seen a batter bat flip a home run, and then next time he goes up to the plate, he gets a 95 mph fastball thrown at his back or head, or even one thrown at his teammate, because the pitchers feelings got hurt. On the other hand, I have seen pitchers strike a batter out in a high pressure situation and the batters feelings get hurt and he talks back to the pitcher, at times starting full on team fights on the field.

Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland 2017 fight that had more than just pitches thrown (Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Sports)

Not every player will be a player that shows his passion through bat flips and trash talk, but if they are the type, why don’t we let them play the way they want to. In my opinion, it adds a level of entertainment to the sport that is refreshing, it’s new, and it is something that may just put baseball back on top. In sports such as basketball, football, and soccer, players are able to play the way they want, they can show off and show their passion, they are allowed to want to beat their opponent, so obviously younger children finding a sport they love will gravitate towards the “more fun” one.

I have watched baseball my entire life, and will continue to do so for my entire life. I am sharing my perspective on why I believe baseball may be losing its overall popularity. Allow the hitters to bat flip, allow the pitchers to get hyped up, allow teams to celebrate how they want to, because at the end of the day, the game is about winning and having fun while doing it. You shouldn’t have to worry about how you may rub off on your opponent, you want to defeat them. Of course there is a limit to it all, but if you are playing within the bounds of the game then I say why not. Baseball will always be present, yet if the game wants to take that next step on popularity with the newer generations, let the players show out and show off as long as they show up.

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