Max Muncy hit a homer into the water Sunday in San Francisco, a Barry Bonds-ian feat that a baseball player deserves to appreciate. Madison Bumgarner, the pitcher who allowed the homer, got mad and barked at Muncy, as he’s known to do when an opposing hitter takes even the slightest opportunity to enjoy his work.
We’ve seen this drama play out a number of times in baseball over the years. But each time it does this season, it happens under a new banner. Major League Baseball is now the game of “Let the Kids Play” — which is somewhat a mission statement for the league’s new generation of stars and somewhat a declaration that the unwritten rules of years past aren’t as important as they used to be.
Obviously nobody gave Bumgarner final sign off on the “Let the Kids Play” ad campaign.
The big conflict of the “Let the Kids Play” era isn’t the old traditional fans who romanticize the days of Bob Gibson. You figure it would be old baseball vs. new baseball, but the problem is new baseball isn’t all-in on “Let the Kids Play.”
The other pitchers we’ve seen in these types of situations this year are Chris Archer, who is known to celebrate strikeouts on the mound, and Brad Keller, the Royals pitcher who threw at Unwritten-Rules-Breaker-in-Chief Tim Anderson, who is just 23. This isn’t about the kids at all, actually. It’s an inner-baseball conflict that isn’t just going to sort itself out with another commercial or two.
Before we go any further, I’d like to make this much known: I’m all for a baseball player pimping a homer. You take a pitcher deep, watch it. Flip your bat. Trot around the bases. Go for it. If pitchers don’t want to see a home run admired, don’t give one up, right?
I also understand that’s easier to say from the sidelines, when you’re not the one throwing the pitch and watching it fly over the wall. That’s why I found Bumgarner’s postgame explanation of what happened Sunday interesting — and even enlightening.
Bumgarner called out the “Let the Kids Play” tagline in his postgame comments.
“My god, I can't even say it with a straight face," Bumgarner said to reporters, including NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic. "I was going to say the more I think about it, you've got to just let the kids play, that's what everybody is saying.
"They want to let everybody be themselves. Let me be myself — that's me, you know? I'd just as soon fight than walk or whatever. You just do your thing, I'll do mine. Everybody is different. I can't speak for everybody else, but that's just how I want to play. And that's how I'm going to."
We often think about this homer celebration issue in terms of old dinosaurs who don’t want to change vs. a new age of enlightened and free baseball players. But MadBum has a good point — this *is* him, this is letting this one particular kid play.
Isaac Newton has a law about this. It’s a physics thing, but baseball is pretty much physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Maybe the baseball version should be MadBum’s Law.
We can’t simultaneously want players to show emotion on the field by celebrating and not want them to show emotion when they’re upset. Emotion is emotion. You take the good, you take the bad. Unless we want to be hypocrites.
That opposite reaction just can’t be throwing at opposing hitters. It can’t be head-hunting. It can’t be revenge. Nobody gets hurt from watching a home run. Or flipping a bat. If barking from the mound and getting upset is the opposite reaction, so be it.
Quite honestly, the more conflict in baseball, the better — so long as nobody’s getting hurt. Baseball could use the boost of excitement these days. Sports, at their essence are about triumph and failure and the emotions that come with them. The more we suppress those, the worse off the game is going to be.
So if a pitcher like Madison Bumgarner angrily stomping and barking around the mound is what we get in exchange for bat flips and home-run celebrations, that seems like a worthwhile trade.
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