Johnny Bench Comments on Bryce Harper, Bat Flipping, Retaliation in MLB

Mike NorrisFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2016

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper bats against the St. Louis Cardinals in a spring training baseball game, Sunday, March 13, 2016, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Washington Nationals superstar outfielder Bryce Harper ruffled some feathers earlier this month when he called baseball "tired" in an interview with Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine and said it is a sport that makes it hard to "express yourself" (h/t's Mike Axisa). 

Many former players shot back at the 23-year-old. Perhaps the loudest was former closer Goose Gossage, but Monday, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench took umbrage as well.

"You can flip your bat. We had guys do that...and the next time up there was chin music. And if you want to play that way, that's fine," Bench said on Rich Eisen's DirecTV show (h/t Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media). "Bring back the excitement? OK, we'll bring back the brushback pitch, the knockdown pitch. That's all part of the excitement."

Bench's comments aren't quite as harsh as the 64-year-old Gossage's, who said Harper has no respect for the game while speaking on Chicago's ESPN 1000 (h/t the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg).

The 68-year-old former catcher seemed to focus on the fact that if Harper and the other young players want to showboat, pitchers should be allowed to retaliate. He reiterated that later in the conversation with Eisen:

I know a lot of the old-timers and a lot of people who watched baseball forever would love to see somebody have a little chin music (as retaliation). If you want to do that, fine. Flip the bat, run around any way you want, but just expect the next time you come up to the plate, you better watching how much you dig into that batter's box.

Harper won the National League's MVP award last season after smashing a league-high 42 home runs while knocking in 99 runs and hitting .330. He's also a brash, hard-nosed player who rarely adheres to baseball's unwritten rules and is poised to be the face of the game with his monster home runs and outspoken personality.

In reality, Harper has a point. MLB has been slow to attract the young viewers the NFL and NBA have reeled in, and the length of a 162-game season makes it hard for a casual fan to stay engaged.

No matter the sport, there always will be an older generation that thinks its style of play set the standard. But if Harper, who has 97 home runs in 510 career games, continues on the path to becoming one of the best players in the game, it's not going to matter what anyone thinks.

Instead, Harper will be calling all the shots.