Of bat flips and trump

For the past 24 hours, the baseball media has been in a whirl about Goose Gossage’s comments about demonstrative celebrations in baseball. The Hall-of-Fame closer for the Yankees called Jose Bautista a “fucking disgrace” for flipping his bat after hitting a decisive home run in last year’s playoffs. Gossage also took exception to the celebratory antics of Bryce Harper, who himself has railed against the stodginess of baseball.

While my sympathies lie with Gossage (maybe the only time this Red Sox fan will ever say that), he might as well save his breath. Celebrations are in baseball to stay. We can only be thankful that at least the players are still only celebrating great plays, unlike in the NFL where there is a celebration by someone at the end of almost every play, even though the celebrants have only just done what they are paid to do. But don’t worry, it is only a matter of time until that kind of pedestrian chest thumping will work its way onto the diamond.

I played interscholastic football for five years. One game I intercepted a pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown — the only time I ever scored in any way on the gridiron. When I crossed the goal line I just dropped the ball. Suddenly I was swarmed by teammates who wanted me to spike the ball or otherwise celebrate. Even though I was young at the time, I thought to myself, “I just scored a touchdown on a 60-yard interception return. Doesn’t that accomplishment stand by itself without me having to add a little dance?”

As I see it, this is precisely the problem with celebration. It attracts attention AWAY from your achievement. Ask ten baseball fans if they remember Bautista’s bat flip and I’d bet at least nine will say yes. But ask them the situation when the bat flip occurred and I’d be surprised if half of them could tell you. A year from now, while the flip will be remembered, 90% of those asked won’t know exactly why.

It would be easy to blame young people for this change, but I think it is part of a larger societal shift away from content and meaning to attitude and gesture.

It’s why so many divas strain the lyrics and melody of the National Anthem before games. They are not concerned with the words or music, but only with demonstrating their powerful vocal gymnastics.

That’s why Donald Trump can run a successful campaign without making one substantive policy statement. Instead, he’s risen to the top of the GOP candidate list by saying one outrageous thing after another. This is an extension of the sound bite media culture, but taken to another (lower) level. Formerly, sound bites at least had some actual, if abbreviated, meaning. Now Trump can build his lead in the polls simply by promising to “Make America great again” without defining what “great” means or how he will actually achieve this goal. The Trump campaign is so reliant on empty gestures, it’s like playing a football game without the plays and only the celebrations.

So, if you’re a baseball fan, brace yourself for more whoops and hollers and flips of bats. The game is America’s past time after all.

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