Love him or hate him, Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper is unquestionably one of the best players in baseball. He just had one of the greatest seasons by a 22-year-old ever, hitting .330/.460/.649 (195 OPS+) with 42 home runs. That earned him the NL MVP unanimously.
And yet, it seems the majority of baseball fans don't like Harper. He's brash, he's arrogant, and he's been in the public eye since high school. Harper should be celebrated. Instead, many fans don't like him, all because he doesn't "play the game the right way" or some silly nonsense like that.
In a recent ESPN The Magazine feature, Harper called baseball a "tired sport" because players can't express themselves without getting the third degree. From the feature:
"Baseball's tired," he says. "It's a tired sport, because you can't express yourself. You can't do what people in other sports do. I'm not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it's the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that's Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig -- there's so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.
"Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn't care. Because you got him. That's part of the game. It's not the old feeling -- hoorah ... if you pimp a homer, I'm going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot ... I mean -- sorry."
"If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I'm going to go, 'Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.' That's what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players -- Steph Curry, LeBron James. It's exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton -- I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It's that flair. The dramatic."
There is very much an old school mentality still prevalent throughout baseball. That "act like you've been there before" mentality, where any on-field gesture is considered showing up your opponent. It is tired. This is a game. It's supposed to be fun.
Over the last few years MLB has made an effort to attract younger fans to the game. You know what attracts young fans? Players acting like kids and having fun. Puig's bat flips and Harper's hair flips and Fernando Rodney's arrows take a pretty monotonous game and make it exciting. No young fan is going to appreciate a player with a business-like approach.
Harper is going to catch grief for calling baseball a "tired sport" because he catches grief for everything he does, even when he's in the middle of an MVP caliber season. He's right though. Expressing yourself is frowned upon in baseball and that's a damn shame.