The New Color of Baseball

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The game of baseball is often criticized for being too slow, too boring. But lately, players like Yasiel Puig, Carlos Gomez, Brian Wilson, and a few others have something to say about that. The sport is in the middle of a full-fledged cultural revolution, and the fans are loving it. For well over 100 years the baseball authorities — who Tomas Rios of Sports on Earth referred to as “the Great Council of Old Dudes Who Care Too Much” — have always been strict about players showing off. The unwritten rules of baseball, that dictate how the game must be played, have kept a stranglehold on the sport’s flair and energy. The players have always had ample passion but until recently they did not let it show. I sat down with SHC baseball coach, Steve Franceschi, and asked about his thoughts on the changes in baseball.

The Save

Coach Franceschi said that during his five year minor league career, relief pitchers had to stay in line if they wanted to make it to the major leagues, but this has definitely changed. Of all the players in baseball, the reliever is the most iconic. Brian Wilson, Francisco Rodriguez, and Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky are perfect examples of this. The bullpen comes in for the last few innings of a game and, between the intense looks into home plate and the crazy routines, relief pitchers show a different kind of flair. In the “good old days” of baseball, relief pitchers meant very little to the heart of a big league club, but today they are the face of the team. The hottest of this cast of characters always comes in to shut down the ninth inning; the role of the closer originated with the save and took flight from there. A save is when a reliever comes into the end of a close game and finishes it off. The first great closer was Dennis Eckersley, who really showed the world that the closer was a force to be reckoned with, not only did he record 390 saves as a closer after throwing 100 complete games as a starter, Eck would “shoot” the last batter of the game if he struck him out, according to Coach Franceschi, who knew him personally. Eckersley was the boost that the position needed going forward. The novelty of a “gas” throwing madman standing atop the mound seems to excite the fans more than anything. The small incentive of the save inspired relief pitchers to become entertainers more than just ballplayers. Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.49.18 PM

The Home Run

Unlike the save, the home run has been around as long as there have been fences. But what has changed? When you see the grainy black and white footage of Babe Ruth hitting one of his many home runs all you see is a chubby guy swinging the bat and then trotting for a bit. Compare him to Yasiel Puig hitting a homer, a wild thrash of the bat, a crack, and then glory. What is the difference between the two? The HD color camera? It’s nice but that isn’t it. Was it Puig’s monster season, when he hit 19 homers in 104 games, Close, but no cigar. What was that thing that Puig did that Ruth didn’t, that little thing at the end: swing, drive… bat flip. The bat flip delights the fans who have been watching big guys trot around the bases then tip their caps respectfully for ages. It seems that a batter releasing the bat like a turtle dove and watching the ball fly was enough for us to snap out of the bland cycle of history.

The Imports

Latin culture has always been more vibrant and visible than white American culture. The traditional American culture that came from the simple, spartan culture of the puritans who abhorred showmanship, has had a profound impact on America and its ball players. In Latin culture, it is much more acceptable to show emotion and put on a show as is evident in their many traditional celebrations. The flair of the culture increases exponentially when you step onto a diamond. In the game of baseball south of the border, everyone is a Puig; every player is intent on putting on a spectacle for the crowd. Every game is composed of two lineups of guys running fast to stretch out hits and moving slow on home runs; every pitcher is a madman. That’s just how it is in paradise. The change I have been talking about stems from an infusion of Caribbean culture in the major leagues and they’re not going to stop. As the man in the spotlight (Puig) said “That’s my game. I’m going to play my baseball the way I play.”

Is it Good?

To be short, yes, it is very, very good. Baseball is a series of matchups: between the batter and the pitcher, between the fielder and the runner, and between both teams. Until now the matchups have merely been a game of chess, but I see no reason for them not to evolve into a full on war. Would baseball be hurt if the consequences of any given swing could result in a bench clearing brawl? You can have three guesses at my answer, and the first two don’t count. Major league baseball is at war between the old and the new; between the reserved and the show; each side is exchanging taunts, fists, and baseballs. So let’s throw the unwritten rulebook out the window and take me out to the ballgame!