Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper is one of the flashiest and most exciting players in Major League Baseball, and the reigning National League MVP is hopeful his style will become more commonplace.
In an interview with Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine, the 23-year-old superstar called baseball a "tired sport" and stressed the importance of allowing young players to show their personality:
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.
Harper specifically pointed toward Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez as the type of player whom others should emulate in order to make the game more 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.
To bolster his argument that baseball is behind the curve when it comes to excitement, Harper provided examples of athletes in other sports who draw people in and make them want to play their particular sports rather than baseball: "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."
San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo didn't agree with Harper's comments, saying, "Don’t put your foot in your mouth when you’re the face of the game and you just won the MVP. I’m sorry, but just shut up," per Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group (via Bill Baer of NBCSports.com).
Harper's theory seems to carry some weight, as an April 2015 article by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, citing the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, reported that youth baseball participation dropped by three percent in the previous five years.
Baseball—perhaps more so than any other sport—operates largely on tradition. It is a big reason why it took instant replay such a long time to be instituted.
There is also a set of unwritten rules that results in players getting punished for showing up their opponents, and that likely plays a big role in why more players aren't as brash as Harper.
Baseball has long been known as America's favorite pastime, but there is no question it has been surpassed in popularity, especially by football.
Harper's theory about more excitement leading to more viewership and participation makes plenty of sense, but it may take a total culture change within the sport to break through the glass ceiling that is currently limiting it.
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