Don't Flip Out: Game's Young Stars Back Bryce Harper's Call to Play with Flair

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Don't Flip Out: Game's Young Stars Back Bryce Harper's Call to Play with Flair
John Raoux/Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Flip your bat, pump your fist, shoot your imaginary arrow and come sit down with us for a few minutes as we investigate exactly how tired baseball is.

Like, take-a-two-hour-nap-each-afternoon tired?

Gulp-a-Red-Bull-or-two-a-day tired?

Enter-a-dance-competition tired?

"I do agree with what Bryce is saying," Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley says. "Maybe his words were a little off. It's not tired.

"I think if he could change that word, he would."

Morry Gash/Associated Press

"Just growing up watching the game on TV and being a part of it now, it's changed," Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant says. "You see guys wearing neon on their shoes and on their gloves, you see bat flips, things like that. I think there's a time and place for it."

So after Washington Nationals superstar and National League MVP Bryce Harper said what he did about pumping some enthusiasm into the game, I enthusiastically set off to visit a few of the game's top young stars to seek their opinions.

Speaking to Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine, Harper endorsed Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez's mound exuberance, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig's on-field giddy-up and many, many other forms of in-game celebratory measures.

Next thing you knew, Goose Gossage was firing lightning bolts from Mt. Hall of Fame, decrying the excess exuberance he sees in today's game.

Here's the thing, full disclosure: I know Gossage. And I know Harper. They both have such a deep-rooted passion for this game, I guarantee you that if they met each other and sat down to discuss it, they would get along splendidly. Guarantee it.

So what do a handful of the game's top young stars think? Essentially, this:

"Honestly, I don't show very much emotion, but I have no problem with it either way," Los Angeles Dodgers rookie shortstop Corey Seager says. "You want to respect the game, but the game is evolving.

"People are showing more emotion. There are scenarios to everything. Times to do it. Times not to do it.

"Does it bother me? No. But there are certain times it does. When you're up by 10 runs, you don't need to keep abusing it. If it's a big moment in a game when excitement and adrenaline are going, that's when it's OK."

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Says Cubs shortstop Addison Russell: "I really don't mind it. If you come through in a clutch situation, I think you have a right to have a celebratory moment. It's not how you look at it from the outside. You're the one who has to go through the pressure moment and when you do something, it's like, Whew!"

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Not everyone is on board, of course. Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout preached humility earlier this week.

"I don't try to show anybody up," Trout said, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. "Whatever somebody else does, that's what they do."

The world changes. People change. Things aren't as stodgy anymore. The younger generation, generally speaking, is more accepting today.

Unwritten rules never have been easy to decode then or now ("It's like walking on eggshells," Arizona's Bradley said), but the current reading of them veers more toward this:

If you're celebrating yourself and your team in a big moment, cool.

If you're celebrating to rub the other guy's nose in something, or you're doing it because you just schooled an opponent whom you dislike, not cool.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

"I don't mind some of the flair," Bradley said. "You still give respect, but a little here and there isn't bad.

"You don't want to step on the toes of the guys who played the game before you did, but things evolve and change. There's a process.

"I think one reason is technology. There are multiple platforms now. With social media, the game has changed. I definitely respect Harper for saying that stuff. He has a huge platform."

No disrespect to the grumpy Goose, a personal favorite, but the only platform he's accustomed to is whatever platform he stood on when his New York Yankees won the World Series in 1978.

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Bradley, who is competing for a job in Arizona's rotation this spring, said some of the most fun he's had playing baseball came in the Arizona Fall League in 2014.

"We did some bush league, summer ball-ish, excessive celebrating," he says of a team that also included Minnesota's Byron Buxton, Colorado's Trevor Story and Arizona's Peter O'Brien. They would chant at opponents from the dugout and even rag on the left fielder from the bullpen.

"Our bullpen talked trash the whole game, and I still remember Darnell Sweeney [of the Philadelphia Phillies organization] in left field tipping his cap to us," Bradley says. "The fans enjoyed it."

Obviously, Bradley said, they carried it further than they ever would dare in a major league game, but "we were being free. We were having fun."

It's a man's game, but it takes a little boy to play it, the old saying goes. And maybe we're seeing more little boy break through in some of this, but fun is a good thing. Especially when baseball is criticized for being too slow and vanilla to hold its footing in today's high-def world.

"It's exciting for the fans, it brings excitement and energy to the crowd," Seager says. "From that standpoint, it's a positive.

"You want the fans to be excited. That's why we play."

Five months later, I can't tell you how many times Jose Bautista's bat flip during the playoffs last October has come up in clubhouses this spring. Most of the time, it's been with amusement and chuckles.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

"Obviously, you play a big playoff game like Bautista last year, it's a really cool moment," the Cubs' Bryant said. "I don't think any pitcher is going to get upset if you do that in that type of situation.

"Certain guys do it. I don't. It helps certain guys play. I think that's part of the appeal of the game; you never know what to expect, certain guys are going to celebrate, certain guys aren't. I've never been that type of guy."

Adds Bradley: "In the Bautista situation, I thought if ever there was a time to flip a bat, it was then. That game was insane. You look at how Toronto reacted, people will remember that for the rest of their lives."

Conversely, we sure seem to be seeing more fist pumps from pitchers after key outs than ever before. Ever so slowly, even hitters are accepting it.

"I think if something happens to my teammates and it bothers my teammate, then it's going to bother me too," Bryant says. "I'm going to have his back whatever it is.

"But if a pitcher is doing that, more fuel to the fire next time. You won't see any reaction out of me. That's not the way I've ever done things. I've been the calm player, go out there and keep everything internally. That's the way I do it."

Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson took a wider-lens view. "You look at football, you look at basketball, there's a lot more celebrating," he says. "When someone does something well, they celebrate.

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"They dance and shimmy in soccer. I played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and when you struck out, the pitcher would showboat. When you hit a home run, the hitter would bat flip, pimp it. In that culture, people will accept it."

It isn't Pederson's style, and he says he doesn't agree or disagree with it.

"I'm not a judge of that," he said.

Bottom line is, within reason, how can passion be a bad thing?

Why should it be a bad thing?

"I love the way Bryce plays the game," says Bryant, who, like Harper, is a Las Vegas native who knows Harper's family well. "It's entertaining to watch. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, but that's who he's always been. It's not like he's changing who he is just because he's a superstar in the big leagues.

"I watched him when he was eight years old and he had so much intensity playing this game. That's what got him going. I think he played football too growing up, and he has some of that football player's mentality. Some guys have it. I just played baseball growing up, so I never got into that whole side of things. But there's nothing out of the ordinary. And I don't think Bryce ever takes it over the top either."

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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