NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, March 12, 2016, 12:00 AM
Nationals OF Bryce Harper is one of the big personalities in baseball and the MVP says the game shouldn’t frown upon displayed emotions, a notion that Mets 3B David Wright gets.
PORT ST. LUCIE — There’s a reason why David Wright was dubbed Captain America by his fellow teammates on the World Baseball Classic team three years ago. He’s a smart, likeable, funny man who is fiercely competitive but carries himself with the type of class that made Derek Jeter so revered around the game.
So he seemed like the right guy to ask about the topic du jour, as raised by Bryce Harper, who said “Baseball is tired” in an ESPN The Magazine story, essentially making the case the sport needs more emotion and exuberance, and less old-school policing.
In short: is it time for baseball to lighten up and embrace celebration?
Wright has a sensible take, and one I agree with: that honest emotion is good for the game but so is respect for the opponent, and the mano a mano nature of the pitcher vs. hitter confrontation practically assures conflict, which means nothing is likely to change all that much.
“It seems like each generation is putting their stamp on the game,” Wright was saying in the Mets’ clubhouse on Friday. “Guys feel more comfortable showing their personality. And there are a lot of big, bold personalities in the game right now.
“I don’t way to say that’s a bad thing. It’s good to show personality, to show you’re not a robot out there. But for me personally I don’t want to ever think I’m embarrassing someone else on the field because I know how hard this game is.
“That’s my point of view, not the way I think it should or shouldn’t be. I think both sides have a point. But it’s a very thin line between showing personality and not wanting to show anybody up.”
Wright himself admits to being a bit conflicted on the subject. As a football fan he says he loves celebrations in that sport — the more raucous the better.
“I am highly entertained by that,” he said with a laugh.
Yet he respects the tradition of baseball, as well as the personal battle with the pitcher that is always going to intensify reaction one way or another.
Indeed, though Wright can never recall flipping a bat in celebration, he admits there have been moments when he celebrated with payback in mind.
“I’m sure I’ve done stuff,” he said. “I remember a few years ago when (Tyler) Clippard was with the Nationals and he really buzzed me up and in. The next pitch I hit a ball off the second deck and I purposely slowed down and took my time going around the bases, just to try to prove a point. After we picked him up last year I kidded him about it all the time.”
Wright’s point: the competition is intense and personal, and there are always going to be hard feelings. On the other hand, spontaneous celebration shouldn’t necessarily be muted because of it, especially when the stakes are highest.
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 19: David Wright #5 of the New York Mets taps Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals on the leg with his glove after Harper’s triple during the third inning of their game at Nationals Park on August 19, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)
Because of the circumstances, then, Jose Bautista’s bat-flip heard ’round the world, especially by one Goose Gossage, in the playoffs last year, should be less likely to spark retaliation than a showy celebration in, say, the sixth inning of a game in June.
“I’m not saying Jose Bautista’s bat flip is right or wrong, because I can see it both ways,” said Wright. “The pitcher is obviously upset because he just gave up a big home run and the last thing he wants to see is Bautista standing at home plate, pounding his chest and flipping the bat back to the dugout.
“But for Jose it’s probably the biggest home run of his career; he just elevated the city of Toronto and he just kind of let go emotionally.
“So I understand the emotion in the game but I also understand that if a pitcher were to strike me out in that situation and he starts doing fist pumps or something, I’m not sure how I would react to that either.”
With that in mind, Wright doesn’t see dramatic change coming.
“The celebrations might become more and more of a spectacle, but you’re always going to have the debate over tradition vs. the new movement,” said Wright. “It just kind of depends who carries the torch for that next generation.
“You have Mike Trout who is probably a little more traditional. Whereas I could name a lot of players that show emotion, and they’re all great players.”
As for the player who reignited this debate, Wright spoke highly of Harper.
“He plays hard, it’s fun to watch him play,” Wright said. “He’s got a big personality, he’s got the hair thing going, but he plays the game hard, the way I think traditionalists like to see it played.
“But he also has no problem telling you how he feels. What’d he say — baseball is tired? That’s going to upset some people. Not that he’s the other side of it, but you’ve got him and Trout. You can make an argument for either way.”
And that argument isn’t going to be settled anytime soon.