Position yourself for a moment as an old-school curmudgeon when it comes to baseball’s unwritten rules, a defender of decorum, issuing proclamations about how it was better back before the current generation took over and started flipping bats all over the field and celebrating June victories like they’d just won the World Series.
Now imagine your head exploding when you hear that commissioner Rob Manfred, the man at the head of the food chain, tasked with shepherding baseball into its next golden era, said this in response to a question about on-field celebration:
I actually think players being more demonstrative on the field is a good thing for the game. I think it’s exciting.
It came during a media conference on Saturday and was easy to miss, being sandwiched between questions about minority representation in the sport and replay implementation. It seems, however, noteworthy. Is baseball’s head honcho actually advocating for more showboating within the sport?
Before we answer that question, take off the old-school cap I asked you to put on back in the first paragraph, and instead position yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum, as somebody who decries baseball’s unwritten rules as outdated and without function, serving mainly to suppress individuality and fun within the sport. You’re pretty happy with Manfred about now, aren’t you? So how do you feel about the very next thing that came out of his mouth?:
Overall, baseball has always had unwritten rules that kind of govern what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. The way I think about the changes we’ve seen in the last couple of years, is that we have a really exciting new, young generation in the game. And just like the players 20 years ago, they are going to develop a set of unwritten rules as to what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Yep, it’s possible to walk both sides of the line without being in the least bit hypocritical. Manfred is absolutely correct in leaving it up to the players to determine what is appropriate and what is not. That’s been the rule since forever, and things have seemed to work out pretty well. Once, an act like digging into the batter’s box was considered retaliation-worthy. Then times changed. Now, bat flips are all but ignored, and occasionally encouraged. Because that’s the way the players (certain among their ranks—*cough, Bumgarner, cough*—excepted) want it.
It’s the very position I’ve advocated in this space from my very first blog post. My own feelings have little sway in whatever position I happen to be examining. The issue at question is about how a player’s actions mesh with the mores established by his peer group at large. If he’s in the mainstream, there should be little problem with whatever it is he’s done. Otherwise, let’s discuss it and, if need be, discuss it again.
Manfred closed his answer thusly: “I have great faith in our players; that they will use good judgment; that they will develop a set of rules that are respectful of the game, but also are reflective of the differences between these young players and the people that may be played a generation ago. I think we should all embrace that. I think it’s a good thing for the game.”
Honestly, no answer he could give to any question would convince me of his competence more than that one. At their core, the unwritten rules are about respect, and however the current crop of players ends up getting there is far less important than their getting there at all.
Ultimately, that’s all any defender of the sport’s code should care about. Manfred is about two years into his tenure; looks like we’re in good hands, baseball fans.