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March 31, 2017

It’s been a while since the US won the World Baseball Classic, and I’ve had some time to sort of figure out how I feel about the matter. Of course, as a US citizen, I’m pretty happy with the result. But I felt, throughout the entire game, that I wasn’t super pleased with the team the US sent out to play. Not because of talent, of course. This was, by all measures, the best team the US has ever trotted out to defend the ol’ stars and stripes. This team just wasn’t fun. There were no bat flips, no exuberant dancing sessions, no signature hairstyles to get behind. The US is good at baseball, but unbearably boring. And along comes Ian Kinsler, saying that he hopes American kids see this brand of workman-like baseball and want to emulate it. And that was when I figured out my beef with the US team.

We play boring baseball. The old boys’ club of unspoken rules makes baseball boring. Conform, the sport says, or get a fastball to the back. Don’t buy that? Ask Goose Gossage what should happen after a bat flip. Ask local doofus Curt Schilling. Ask any old-timey pitcher. Or, if you want a better perspective, go look at the comment section any time Deadspin celebrates a bat flip. Inevitably, someone will say “if someone did that to me, I’d bean ‘em,” or something similarly stupid. That, my friends, is American baseball. So afraid of self-expression that we are willing to endanger a person to preserve a pitcher’s hurt feelings. You go to work, hit some balls, and go home and ice yourself. No fun allowed. Save that for your free time. Meanwhile, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and basically every other nation with MLB-level talent in the WBC danced, flipped, and dyed their way in and out of the tournament. Go take a look at the Korean Baseball Organization’s highlight bat flips. One guy flipped his bat on a single, for crying out loud! That looks way more fun to watch.

Baseball is a game, and the US is at a crossroads. As baseball becomes more international, and MLB considers an international draft, the unwritten rules will have to be put to the test. Ian Kinsler is fine with playing boring baseball. And, I’m sure, parts of America is too. But eventually we’ll have to treat baseball like a game and let the players make the choice whether or not they want to be loud and rowdy, or we’ll watch baseball fade. It’s already far from the most important sport in the US, though the Cubs will have you believing otherwise. There’s no need to doom the sport to irrelevance or a third-place finish in the hearts of the people who made the game because we are inflexible. Baseball needs bat flips. It needs the weird dancing thing the Red Sox outfield does. Pitchers need to be shown up, sometimes. So do batters. Baseball needs more fun. Especially at the highest levels.

Basically, more Bryce Harper, please.

Anthony Adams
Sports Columnist

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