By Bryanna McDermott | The Duquesne Duke
“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport,” Bryce Harper, the 23-year old outfielder for the Washington Nationals, told ESPN The Magazine for a feature story on how he plans to change the game.
Harper’s comments stirred up a frenzy among devoted baseball beat writers, but the guy has a point: It’s time to change the unwritten rules of baseball.
The reigning National League MVP wants to make Major League Baseball more exciting by emulating the expressiveness of other professional athletes like Cam Newton and Steph Curry.
Baseball may be America’s pastime, but that’s exactly where it’s going to remain if things don’t change – in the past.
According to Nielsen ratings, an audience measurement system, over 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older. Kids ages 6-17 made up just four percent of the TV audience for playoff games last season.
Even scarier, youth baseball participation numbers are dropping each and every year. A study by the National Sporting Association found that only 5.3 million kids between the ages of seven and 17 played baseball in 2013. That’s a drop of over 3 million from the 8.8 million who played in 2000.
This is why Harper is campaigning for a little more pizazz.
The sport runs on nostalgia and an old-school “gentlemen’s code.” It’s a sport where not running the bases fast enough after a home run can earn a player a hit-by-pitch their next at-bat, and fist pumping after pitching a strikeout makes a player disrespectful.
In June 2013, David Ortiz topped off a monster home run against the New York Yankees with one of his signature bat flips. The incident blew up ESPN as a debate ensued on whether Big Papi’s theatrics belonged in the sport.
Well, they do.
Younger generations are not content with the gloriousness of a baseball hitting a bat’s sweet spot or the popping of a catcher’s mitt. Baseball needs something more. It needs more David Ortizs. It needs more Bryce Harpers.
Harper believes that it’s time to take advice from other professional sports leagues.
“Look at those players – Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton – I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles. He laughs,” Harper said. “It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
He’s especially right about the NBA. The league generates over 5 billion dollars in revenue during a season, with an average viewer age of just 37, and basketball remains the top sport for youth participation.
The NBA’s success can be attributed to league officials turning competition into more than just games. They are full-blown events with music blaring throughout the stadium almost continuously as t-shirts are shot from air cannons.
The players are bold and unafraid to show their personalities on and off the court. The fans love it because it makes the game more exciting and memorable.
Baseball needs more excitement. With 162 games in a year, no regular season game means more than the next.
Let baseball players pump their fists and flip their bats. It’s not about disrespecting the game; it’s about keeping the game alive.