By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Nine years of constant accompaniment in a closed space with 20 to 35 adolescents at a given time has taught me something I knew as a teen but that we all lose somewhere along the college/early workforce blur like a prehensile tail.READ MORE: Red Cross Day Of Giving: Here's How You Can Help!
Telling young people that the expressive things they have a passion for or even just enjoy is wrong, bad or worthless. It’s counterproductive and makes you anything but a student of the game you’ve chosen Be it Kanye West as he applies to a reading of Shakespeare or bat flips in baseball. Dismissiveness negates you as an educator. That kind of “teaching” doesn’t work.
Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper told ESPN the Magazine this week that, “Baseball’s tired — it’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself.” Regarding bat flips and admiring homers and pitchers fist-pumping, he added, “That’s what makes the game fun.”
So emeritus stuffy professor Goose Gossage is no student of the game, because he isn’t about these youngins going all willy nilly with a very serious kids’ game. He has no time for Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
“Bautista is a f—ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage scolded to ESPN before sending back his soup. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. (Yoenis) Cespedes, same thing.”
Gossage presumably stepped away from the interview for a moment to break a child’s participation trophy and question the kid’s sexuality before waxing on how Harvard fantasy baseball players made it so that vulnerable catchers can’t get blown up at home plate and pitchers who often don’t have to bat can’t use the baseball as a weapon. (Seriously, that’s the illogic Professor Goose proposes.)
“He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista responded diplomatically, according to ESPN. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today’ is my first game (of the spring,) getting ready for a new season, hopefully, we will whoop some more ass.”
Then Bautista changed the radio station away from conservative talk.
“You want kids to play the game, right?” Harper asked in ESPN The Magazine of the honking, pooping Geese of the baseball world. “What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. 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. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
So what he’s saying is sports is — wait for it — entertainment. And entertainment is expressive, emotive, passionate. And when a retiree tells an active player he’s wrong with how the player chooses to express himself (and in the process kind of broad-brushes Latino players because he’s that guy who labels Dominicans, Cubans and other players from different nuanced Spanish-speaking cultures as “Latins”), you turn off those kids you supposedly want to play your favorite kid’s game.
Remember, too, that Gossage made his hay as a reliever at a time when the position went from a cleanup job to a starmaker. The game’s generations before him surely grumbled about pitching going to the birds and becoming too socialist or something. But whatever.
The good news is the Geese of the world are slowly but surely flying south to die, and their raspy squawking will become a humorous footnote in baseball history. Call my enjoyment in that harsh, but if you invoke a terrible opinion into the conversation in which you demand to dictate a person’s self-expression — and when called out on it you don’t think to maybe do some self-inventory and consider a progressing game in a progressive world — then I have no use for you.READ MORE: California, North Carolina Now Off Chicago's Travel Advisory, No New States Added But 38 Remain
If given the opportunity to better your worldview and you don’t take it? Peace, Geese.
Or you can be the scruffy old dude who doesn’t necessarily 100 percent understand “the kids these days” but does get that allowing some personal wing-spreading is a good thing.
Take Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Considered a student of the game and a great teacher of it, he lets his players’ freak flags fly, if not directly cultivating that and participating in the less-than-seriousness.
“Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure” is a mantra Maddon brought to Chicago last year, and he walked that talk with clubhouse disco parties after wins and visits from magicians. Couple that with the social media culture established by the team’s official Twitter account and the players’ social media hilarity and silliness, and the Cubs surprised many with 97 wins in 2015 and have made themselves NL pennant favorites on their way to ruining the flat earth theory of baseball.
The highfalutin rotisserie and sacrilegious sabermetrics that Gossage has built his Benghazi shelter against (for good measure, he told ESPN Radio on Thursday afternoon that the Boston Red Sox ran out Theo Epstein and his World Series titles because they didn’t like all his numbers nerdery) don’t translate to fun on the diamond itself. But it’s pretty safe to assume Epstein and Co. have a genuine understanding of that. Hence, building an advanced analytics-centric front office to crunch the numbers of a young, uber-relaxed (John Lackey-excepted) clubhouse.
You think Maddon knows the artists who play any of his players’ walkup music (besides that of David Ross)? Doubtful, but he’s a fan of goofy team costume days and not showing up to the park too early and calling out other teams for invoking Gossage’s garbage unwritten rules of the game. Maddon’s a professor of player psychology as much as he’s a baseball manager and one that would have the backs of all the Bryce Harpers in the game who are only helping it, not hurting it.
And the scariest part for the Geese fussing their feathers against the dying of the Ken Burns soft light is the wide-birth teaching approach of a Joe Maddon? A fun young group of Cubs students? A Jose Bautista bat flip?
(I’m sorry, but I just have to.)
A Pedro Strop fist pump? A Bryce Harper nugget of whipper-snapper wisdom?
It all works.MORE NEWS: Red Cross Honors 16-Year-Old Hero Blair Holt, Who Lost His Life While Shielding Classmate From Gunfire
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.