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Baseball’s “unwritten rules” are holding the growth of the game back

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Baseball is a constantly evolving game. If it is going to grow, those who get paid to talk about it must embrace this.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With every new generation, there comes changes, and with these changes come criticism from the generations that came before. Young people are told by their elders constantly that things were better “back in their day.” This applies to just about all aspects of life, from music, to television, to clothes, and everything else in between. The “back in my day” mindset has also unsurprisingly made its way into sports, and baseball is perhaps the worst example. Most often, this takes the form of baseball analysts talking about the sport’s “unwritten rules.” There are apparently a lot of unwritten rules. Don’t celebrate a home run by flipping your bat and pumping your fist. Don’t bunt to break up a no hitter. Don’t swing at a 3-0 pitch when your team is ahead by several runs. The last of these three “unwritten rules” has been in the news for the past several days, after Yermín Mercedes hit a home run off a 3-0 pitch from Willians Astudillo on Monday night to make it 16-4.

Among one of the prominent people to take exception to Mercedes’ home run was the Twins’ color commentator that night, former Minnesota shortstop Roy Smalley. For the rest of that series with the Sox, it seemed to me like every time Mercedes came up to the plate, either Smalley or Dick Bremer brought up his 3-0 swing in a game that had been long over in the top of the 9th. After Tyler Duffey threw behind Yermín in the next game, Bremer remarked, “if this stokes the flames of the rivalry between the Twins and White Sox, this could be a good thing.” This is an example of another unwritten rule. If you disrespect the game, as Yermin apparently did by hitting a home run in a blowout, you may get hit by a pitch, and this is a good thing.

I love watching baseball, and I always have. However, when broadcasters insist that baseball must adhere to the way things were done decades ago rather than adapting to changing norms, it takes restraint for me to avoid muting or turning off my television. Major League Baseball has the oldest audience out of every major pro sports league in North America, and the league has been futilely trying to figure out how to get younger people back into baseball.

A number of changes were introduced to the game to speed up the pace of play, because they wondered if the problem might be the kids’ attention spans. If you ask me, though, the real reason why baseball is perceived by so many in my generation as being a boring sport for old people is because far too many of those who are in baseball insist so many of the things that make the game exciting are “disrespecting the sport.” Don’t flip your bat, don’t yell after a big strikeout, don’t wear a chain. All those things are too flashy, they say. As a young baseball fan, I guarantee you that seeing old timers complain constantly about the way the game is played nowadays is a surefire way to make sure more of my generation doesn’t fall in love with baseball the same way I have. It’s a bit like yelling “get off my lawn,” and then later wondering why there aren’t kids coming over to play on your lawn. If Generation Z and those that come after it are to get into America’s pastime, we ought to drop these archaic unwritten rules. Let the kids play, and there’s a good chance more kids will watch.