Bryce Harper should excessively celebrate baseball’s uniqueness

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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper says baseball is “a tired sport.’' (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In his crusade to be different, Bryce Harper wants to be like everyone else in sports.

That’s the paradox of his statement that baseball is “tired.’’ The Nationals superstar says his sport has no room for on-field exuberance, for suggestions of personality, for individuality. But earthiness, tradition and, yes, respect, are exactly what set it apart from football, basketball and lots of other sports.

I’m not saying that watching a baseball game will ever be mistaken for a three-hour sugar buzz. I just appreciate that it’s different. I like that it has curious customs that seem to date back to the Middle Ages. I don’t want every sport having the same practices, with players acting the same way.

Harper does.

“Baseball’s tired,” he told ESPN The Magazine. “It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.’’

Harper thinks baseball takes away from his Q rating. If his personality were allowed to blossom publicly, perhaps more corporations would offer him big money to hawk their products.

But what this comes down to most immediately is that Harper doesn’t like that celebrating a home run too much can lead to a plunking the next time he steps to the plate. He doesn’t mind pitchers who are demonstrative, and he wishes they would let him fly his baseball freak flag.

“(Marlins pitcher) Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist,’’ Bryant said. “And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn’t care. Because you got him. That’s part of the game. It’s not the old feeling — hoorah … if you pimp a homer, I’m going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot … I mean — sorry.

“… If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? 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.”

If baseball’s long-term viability is based on whether a hitter can flip his bat and admire the flight of his home run, the sport is in real trouble.

Baseball’s roots are rural. “Farm system” and “bullpen’’ did not come out of nowhere. They hark back to a different time and place, when much of the country was farmland and when being reserved was considered a positive attribute. Showboating was for the circus acts that rumbled through town.

There’s nothing wrong with sedateness, just as there’s nothing wrong with a basketball player pounding his chest after making a three-pointer, though why hitting a shot in the first quarter shows heart, I’ll never understand. But it’s in baseball’s DNA. It doesn’t want flashiness beyond what the game offers.

Baseball isn’t alone in worrying about the encroachment of others sports. Soccer players often act out a Greek tragedy while feigning injury, hoping to draw a penalty card against their opponent. The NHL was so afraid of that infiltrating its sport that it added a penalty for diving (embellishment) in 1992.

“Respect the game’’ has become a cliché. But there’s something admirable about the way baseball players think it important to make sure their game is played the way it historically has been played.

Baseball is known for its unwritten rules. You don’t take your time running the bases after a home run. With a big lead late in a game, you don’t steal bases. Many of the unwritten rules have to do with not showing up the opponent. It’s a respect thing. Nothing wrong with that.

Watching the Cubs’ Kris Bryant swing a bat or the White Sox’ Chris Sale throw a fastball is entertainment enough. If you can’t see greatness without it being wrapped in a bat flip and a dig-me home-run trot, you might want to get your eyesight checked.

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