Why do you watch baseball? I watch it because it brings me joy. I don't take life lessons from it. I don't look for meaning. I don't revere heroes (Jackie Robinson excepted). No, for me baseball gives me a little bit of joy day in and day out during the season. I have to imagine that you experience something similar.
The other day, Michael Bradburn wrote about how baseball is, at this moment, the best it's ever been. I happen to agree with him. But that doesn't mean it can't be better. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't try harder.
That's why, for me, the most important thing baseball can do is increase the amount of fun I have as a fan. I don't mean by adding more sausage races or music cues between innings or at bats, although if that makes people enjoy their time at the ballpark more, then I'm all for it. No, for me, I want to see the best possible players on the field and I want to see them having fun. I get that they're competitive and that baseball is a serious business to many of them. I don't want to take that away. But ballplayers should be able to enjoy and celebrate their successes the same way the rest of us do. It brings me more joy to see them experience it as well.
And that's why I'm glad for Commissioner Rob Manfred's foray into the sport's unwritten rules. Manfred told the Associated Press,
"I think to the extent that you believe, and I actually do, that Bryce Harper is a spokesman for this generation, I suspect you will see more exuberance from our players on the field. I think it's a good thing. I think to that, to the extent that you're trying to market to a younger audience, our younger players taking control of the definition of those unwritten rules is a lot better than some guy who's 67 years old saying I did it that way and you ought do it the same way."
Yes! That's so damn refreshing. Especially coming from the man who ostensibly runs the league. Baseball needs more Bryce Harpers, not fewer. Guys who will turn the game into a celebration of excellence. And, beyond just needing to have them, it needs to embrace them. To welcome them. Rob Manfred's blessing and approval here is especially important. Unlike the NFL, nobody is going to be disciplined by the Commissioner for exuberance or for style. Nobody wants to turn Harper, Jose Bautista, Carlos Gomez, and other demonstrative players into robots.
Now, it also needs those hardasses like Chase Utley who play with a fire and intensity. It needs goofballs like Bert Blyleven to keep people loose. It needs everybody because baseball should appeal to everybody. Nobody should have a monopoly on the game.
Bryce Harper is good for baseball, both because he's so damn good at it and because he knows it. It needs more players who bring more joy to the game and to more people. It needs, if it's going to survive in the long term, to continue embrace the ethos of its youngest generation, the same ethos that guides the fans the game needs to court. Especially as that younger generation increasingly comes to dominate the sport. And it needs the Commissioner who understands that to stay in charge for a long, long time. Bryce Harper isn't the only one who is good for baseball.