There is a Difference Between Impassioned Play and Showboating

Yesterday, Emma Span1 posted an article on Sports on Earth entitled “Style Points,” which addressed the recent criticism lobbed at the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic team.

1  If you are a Yankee fan and have not read her book 90% of the Game is Half Mental, you are sorely missing out.  The book is a collection of essays that document Ms. Span’s relationship with the game of baseball as she has grown up.

In case anyone missed it, the Dominican Republic put together a tremendous rally against the seemingly invincible reliever Craig Kimbrel to beat the USA by the score of 3-1.2  The game was tremendous and had all the earmarks of a late October nail-biter.  More than anything else, the game was just flat-out enjoyable to watch.

2  To put  into perspective how impressive scoring two runs off Kimbrel was, Kimbrel had not given up two runs in an inning since 2011.

However, as Ms. Span notes in her article, some purported fans took umbrage with the Dominican Republic’s over-the-top celebrations during and after the game.  The players poured out of the dugout when Erick Aybar slashed a single to drive in the go-ahead run and then again when Jose Reyes delivered another hit:

The jumping and hollering did not seem to end until long after the game was in the books.

In her article, Ms. Span argues that the Dominican Republic players should not be criticized for showing that they care and for displaying their emotion.

Overall, I wholeheartedly agree with her point. There is no cause for criticism with the players celebrating after a big hit or for pouring out of the dugout before the game was over.  As Ms. Span explained, “they are explicitly showing their fans that they care.”  Whether or not one thinks that the reaction is “over the top,” I would like to believe that most baseball fans would appreciate seeing such passion.3  Even the players’ “gesturing in disbelief at umpire calls” – while not necessarily couth – reveals that they care and are desperately trying to win the game.  I find such emotional displays to be refreshing and think the criticisms are very misplaced.

 3  I would think that any fan of baseball would be especially excited to see players in the World Baseball Classic caring.  The World Baseball Classic is a relatively young event and in order to obtain legitimacy in the complex sports landscape, fans have to believe that the players truly care about the tournament.

However, I think there is a difference between, on one hand, such emotional reactions and, on the other hand, showboating and grandstanding.  For example, Hanley Ramirez’s absurdly slow home run trot or Fernando Rodney’s “signature move” of shooting imaginary arrows after recording a save scream “look at me” and reek of self-promotion.4  These actions are not the effect of overflowing emotion and excitement.  They are calculated and manufactured acts designed to cast the spotlight on the individual player, which is something quite different from “advertising emotional investment” in the team’s success.

4  And, yes, I am fully aware that Rodney claims that his arrow shooting maneuver is a tribute to his late father.  That fact, however, does not make the gesture any less showy or obnoxious.

Therefore, I hope Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, and all their teammates continue to exhibit their emotions during the remainder of the World Baseball Classic.  True fans of the game and those who wish to see the sport’s popularity grow certainly appreciate the impassioned play.  I just hope people realize that admiring your home run or having intricate post-game theatrics are not examples of enthusiastic play.  In sharp contrast to the idea of passionately playing for your country, these acts are simply selfish ones.

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