It's tempting to blame all of baseball's problems on San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson, the chuckling, inescapable tryhard who seems to have mistaken the drain-circling Charlie Sheen for some sort of meth-toothed prophet. Very tempting, in fact, but not entirely fair. There are many reasons why baseball currently ranks below the NFL, college football, and talking-in-the-first-person-plural-about/making-crude-blog-comments-concerning NFL and college football among so many sports fans. Brian Wilson delivering six-year-old Chuck Norris jokes with the unblinking conviction of a Paultard trashing the Fed is only one, terrible reason. Another reason is that baseball's unspoken rules of conduct more or less force players to be expressionless, humorless jock-droids.
To be fair, some of this stolidity is just baseball being baseball. Basketball, football, soccer, and hockey all break up their stretches of standing around, posing, ref-beseeching, and traumatic brain injury with explosions of sudden, shocking physical grace. Baseball, as even those of us who love the game will acknowledge, is just different. This isn't to say that baseball doesn't offer its own blips of transcendence, but it's also fundamentally pretty static, and those who can't get into the rhythm of the game could be forgiven for seeing its copious negative space as nothing more than thick-set dudes spitting, squinting, and engaging in the occasional public genital rearrangement. The fact that the people playing the game are not allowed to display any outward indicators of enjoying themselves, though, doesn't help much.
For every closer who performs a goofily elaborate deity-thanking ritual—like, for example, Brian Wilson—there are dozens of ballplayers who spend every on-field moment with a facial expression somewhere between just-got-in-a-car-accident and have-to-go-to-the-bathroom-immediately. For every team that (like the otherwise meh New York Mets) has its own elaborate celebratory semaphore, there are teams that only act happy during the weirdly, instantly mandatory jump-on-the-plate/get-smacked-on-the-head ritual that follows walk-off homers. This isn't so much because baseball players are boring, or jerky—although the least boring players are often un-boring by virtue of being assholes—as it is because of a tradition that sees any display of emotion as an offense.
And not offensive in a "would-you-please-pass-the-jelly" sense, either. Offensive in a "because you did that, I or someone else will throw a baseball into your lower back at 90-odd miles an hour" sense. Your more conservative baseball types—broadcast booth crustaceans, veteran newspaper columnists, tough-guy managers with permanent cases of bitter beer face—treasure this sort of thing. Whether that's because they love saying "no" to things or because they're not at risk of getting their kidneys ruptured for celebrating doing something good (or both) depends on the hardball conservative in question.
But it's always ridiculous. Allowing players to display emotion without fear of retaliation isn't going to win over people for whom baseball will always be too sleepy-slow, but it's not going to tarnish The Greatness of the Game or turn it into an X-Gamesian energy-drink-hellswamp, either. It's telling that every time someone tries to verbalize anything having to do with baseball's unwritten retaliation rules—whether it's ulcerous Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa burping out some high-handed incoherence on purpose pitches or some talk-radio yob using it as an opportunity to break out the bigot stick—it comes out sounding unspeakably stupid. If an unspoken rule is unspoken because it sounds ridiculous every time you speak it aloud, it's worth entertaining the possibility that it could just be dumb.
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