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MLB players talk about celebrations and the changing culture of the game

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Celebrations are becoming more prevalent in baseball, breaking what used to be an unwritten rule. So we asked the players what they thought.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- Baseball can be boring. Not because of the game itself, but because of the traditions that try to keep it so formalized. Its diverse cultures have become such a significant part of the game, that to ignore it is to disrespect the game and a large portion of its players. To strip away how emotions are expressed means to deny players a part of their culture, and what makes the game so unique.

The 2015 season is comprised of 230 players born outside the United States, or 26.5 percent, more than a quarter of the players on major league rosters. And that's not counting players in the minors. Players like Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz are examples with a particularly recognizable style of play. Yet, their personalities can be met with criticism on occasion, and sometimes that criticism can be enough for players like Puig to tone down the very aspects that make them who they are.

That doesn't mean everyone has to celebrate every little thing, from hard-hit ball to a run scored to a key strikeout. There is a right way to play the game, and players either know what that is or they learn. But it does mean acknowledging this isn't the same sport it was in the 1950s, and that some of the unwritten rules need not apply today.

"Some of us have that flare, because of our culture, because of how we were raised," said Rajai Davis, outfielder for the Detroit Tigers. "It's good to have some diversity, I think diversity's good. You don't want everyone doing the same thing, I think that would get boring if you get everybody doing the same thing. We're not created that way. We're not all created to act the same, we're not all created in the same environment, don't have all the same cultures."


The MLB game hasn't changed just because time has passed. Players who spend time in winter ball during the offseason immediately notice a stark contrast between the crowds in the states and those in countries like Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic. And any player who's spent time in Japan knows how different the atmosphere is there.

By comparison to other regions that enjoy baseball, fans in the United States are dull. That's not a knock on fans themselves, there is simply a marked difference. During pretty much any part of the year leading up to the last month of the season, the crowds are moderately participatory at best, with many fans leaving well before the game is over. The direct opposite is the case overseas.

"I think the fans are more passionate there, in reality," Davis said. "They're just more passionate there. ... They don't have a sign that says ‘OK it's time for you to cheer' like we do at Comerica (Park, in Detroit), the billboards. You don't have to tell them to make noise, they just make noise. We gotta give instructions, they don't need instructions. I guess it's just more a part of their culture, baseball is more a part of their culture than it is ours."

Baseball in Japan or Korea is on a different level as well. Unlike in the United States where intro songs are played only for the home team, every player has his own song that is played continually, home and away. Every game is an all-out event. Bat flipping is akin to the Renaissance.

If fans think they travel well for their team, they pale in comparison with fans who follow their teams on the other side of the Pacific. Cheering is continuous. When the respective team is batting, the fans for that team cheer non-stop, complete with coordinated clapping, trumpets, and chants. The other side is silent. Vendors walk around with kegs on their backs, serving fresh beer. Each player has a unique cheer, even on the same team. No two are alike.

Fox Sports Detroit analyst Rod Allen, who spent time playing baseball in both the major leagues with the Tigers and Japan with the Hiroshima Carp, noted the difference between the way the players approached the game then as opposed to now. But where baseball in the U.S. was more reserved decades ago, Allen sees how much it has changed in today's game.

"I think it's kind of gone to the extreme now with some of the bat flips and guys jumping on home plate, guys getting water dumped all over them," Allen remarked. "Every interview at the end of the game is a Gatorade bath, that's new stuff. But that's OK. We played the game a little differently, we channeled our emotions more so inside the clubhouse, whereas nowadays, social media and everything, it's out there for everybody to see what goes on."


Baseball players are entertainers. It comes with the territory. That's a big part of the reason fans come out to watch their team, to cheer and be entertained. Hitting a three-inch wide white ball at 95 mph for a 400 foot home run is one of the more difficult things in life. Fans love it. Opposing teams, not so much for obvious reasons. And players have to take that into account.

If a batter strikes out in a bases-loaded tie game, in extra innings, at the end of the season, with standings hanging in the balance, you can bet that pitcher isn't going to walk calmly back to the dugout. And for some, as a pitcher you shouldn't get upset if you didn't do your job and the batter celebrates instead.

"No, never. No. I would be hypocritical, obviously," said Tigers relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who has been on both sides of the equation. "If you do your job and hit a homer off I don't care if you (show emotion). You did your job, I didn't do my job and you hit a homer. I think, as long as you're not staring at me and all that other stuff, but that's part of the game, for me, personally.

"Some people aren't that way, but I'm an emotional guy and if something goes right I'm gonna show emotion. I can't get mad at somebody if they hit a homer off me or walk. They did their job, I didn't. I can't say anything about it."

Where one pitcher might not take offense to a player flipping his bat and staring at a majestic home run, for another it might flip a switch. These are some of the factors players are referring to when they talk about playing the game the right way. For the most part, though, the feeling goes both ways.

By his own admission, Indians reliever Zach McAllister's demeanor on the mound is more laid back. He's also not been the recipient of a batter who set him off, and he doesn't have a problem with Puig's style of play, nor anyone else in the league.

"I don't have a problem with that," McAllister said. "It's hard to say that about a guy. Like I said, people know how to play the game the right way and if or when you don't, it definitely gets noticed, but at the same time it's part of the game. As the game evolves and all that, it needs to be done the right way."

It can be difficult to relate that to an everyday situation, though. Appropriately done relative to the situation at hand, sure, but there might be the right place and the right time for a certain kind of emotion. Baseball has become increasingly diverse, and thankfully so, but that also means players and fans alike need to adapt to and be respectful of each others' cultures.

"I do think that part of it, the younger crowd, is everybody loved Puig because he went and did his thing and had fun," Chamberlain said. "The younger generation sees that, and the older generation, it's a different game than it was 20 years ago. I think it's two different eras with two different mentalities of the game (trying to coexist)."

Not every batter feels the need to be flashy. Indians outfielder Michael Bourn, for example, tries to keep a low profile at the plate when he finds success.

"I'm always (trying to be) a humble guy if I hit a homer or something like that," Bourn said. "I'm not a fan of bat flips cause I feel like I don't like to show up the pitcher. It's probably a celebration from you, but sometimes pitchers (take) offense to that. Every guy's different, and that's probably it."


The game is significantly more flamboyant than it was decades ago, and many fans love seeing bat flips and wild walk-off celebrations. There may be a time when bat flips aren't appropriate or a pitcher should hold in his emotions, but that's for the players to decide. Tradition is interwoven in MLB, and the cultural differences of international players has only enriched the game.

Baseball should be celebrated, not stifled. And those who play generally respect each other while understanding different cultural backgrounds. Those who don't, learn to play the game the right way through trial and error. Like Puig. Emotions on the mound and at the plate are accepted because it's an emotional game. The game of baseball isn't static and players shouldn't be asked to leave their personalities in the clubhouse.