Lighten Up and Let Players Have Personality

Jenrry Mejia

This is an “issue” that crops up occasionally in baseball.

The word issue gets quotation marks around it because the idea of being offended by someone’s celebration on a save or home run as part of so-called unwritten rules shouldn’t really being an issue.

It happened again this weekend when Mets’ closer Jenrry Mejia emphatically celebrated getting a save over the Nationals. His celebration was pretending to cast a fishing line and reel it in before mimicking breaking something over his knee.

A day later, manager Terry Collins told Mejia to tone it down.

The likely reason for telling Mejia that was because of fear if retaliation. Even with that in mind, Collins acknowledged the changing times when he spoke to reporters Saturday at Citi Field.

“Years ago, none of that stuff was acceptable. When you were on the mound, struck somebody out in a big situation, you were expected to. That was your job. You walked off the mound. Today people watch home runs and react differently. Everybody’s got their own handshake and their own high five. Times have changed. You just got to turn your head to some of it.”

Even as Collins seems to get the evolution of celebrations in a game that can seem stodgy with some of its rules, why are others slow to adapt to the new times?

Okay, we get that in the old days this is abhorrent behavior but this is a new era and last we checked baseball is supposed to be fun, especially when you win a game.

This kind of discussion happens when David Ortiz drops the bat, stares at his home run, and begins a really slow trot around the bases. It also happened when Joba Chamberlain pumped his fist after getting a strikeout and more recently when the Angels mocked Fernando Rodney‘s arrow celebration after beating the Mariners.

It also happened during the World Baseball Classic which the Dominican Republic won. Along the way, they were dancing and harmlessly gesturing during many key moments with the backing of a loud pro-Dominican crowd, who were watching players such as Rodney, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez.

Of course who can forget Brian McCann serving as the so-called enforcer of those unwritten rules on Carlos Gomez last year. If you don’t remember McCann intercepted Gomez at home plate after the Brewers’ center fielder admired his home run.

Perhaps the best comments on this topic come from Brandon McCarthy, who is one of the more thoughtful athletes in terms of his comments. McCarthy was still pitching for Arizona when he gave these comments to the Chicago Tribune:

“I don’t see it being more prevalent or even an issue,” McCarthy told the Chicago Tribune in April. “When I was 5 or 6, Ken Griffey Jr. came into the league and (showboated). That’s something I’ve known as being part of the game almost my entire baseball life, and certainly my entire professional baseball life.

“If you haven’t adjusted to it now, then you are looking to be offended, or you’re looking for something else. If it’s something that is a part of you that you want to stand up for and you don’t think that’s the way (to react), then by all means, go ahead.

“But I don’t think that means everybody is going to be on your side. There have been hot dogs in every generation, and people who stood out as the ones who have an issue with them. But don’t expect everyone to follow suit.”

Baseball is a sport that, despite the recent successes, still lags behind football in popularity. Stuffy old rules that aren’t actually rules don’t help when you want to see players show some personality and actual enjoyment of the game they’re playing.

We get that not everyone shows that kind of personality and supposedly acts like they’ve been there before. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with the other side when a player demonstratively celebrates an achievement in a game.

If you’re looking for a solution for this so-called “problem”, it’s very simple. Get the player out. Get a hit off that closer.

You don’t want Ortiz dropping the bat and staring at home runs? Get him out.

You don’t Mejia celebrating, Rodney shooting arrows, or Rafael Soriano untucking his shirt? Get a hit off them and beat them.

It’s disappointing that such celebrations often become talking points. At a time when there’s a lot of depressing news throughout sports, having personality should be a reflection of someone having fun.

And even as politically correct as we get, purveyors of these so-called unwritten rules need to get over it and move on to pursing important issues.

Besides if these alleged unwritten rules were so crucial to the game, wouldn’t they have actually been written down by now and given some kind of section in the extensive rule book?

author avatar
Larry Fleisher
Larry Fleisher has covered sports in various capacities for nearly 15 years. He is a writer/editor for the Sports Xchange and has also worked for SportsTicker and Metro New York newspaper. Larry also has worked on many NBA broadcasts doing stats, on several TV shows as a background actor. He is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association and the Internet Baseball Writers Association.