The general public image of Major League Baseball has been one of a stale sport that plays at too slow of pace for to appeal to the young sports fan as it once had decades before. In the modern social media era we live in, where a person’s life could be summarized in 255 characters or less, the interest in a fan to sit through a game that takes over three hours to complete flies in the face of the current trending of sports and media consumption. There remains a dedicated core of baseball fans that remain loyal to their local teams; but the youth today have far more sport and entertainment options at their disposal. Attempts have been made in recent years to address the declining interest in “America’s Pastime”, each of which represents a small tactical adjustment to increase the pace of play. While each individually and collectively may improve how the game is played on a day-to-day basis, there is also a need to improve the current perception of baseball as an old, stale game that time has passed by.
There may be one person who could leverage his stature and revitalize a sport in need of a public perception overhaul. It only seems fitting that, in an election year, a representative of the Nation’s Capital has thrown down the gauntlet in an effort to address this very issue. Reigning National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals has been on a campaign of his own this season. Proclaiming to “Make Baseball Fun Again”, harper has the talent and public presence to possibly begin the perception shift necessary to revitalize the sport and bring it into the 21st century sports consciousness. His fire and passion are clearly evident when he takes the field; at times to his and his team’s detriment.
Harper’s 2015 season was one of the most impressive MLB fans have seen in many years; compiling a 330 batting average while slugging 42 home runs. Last season represented the first MLB season in which Harper did not miss significant time due to injury. This season started much the same as 2015 ended, with Harper hitting home runs at a staggering rate; but teams have adjusted their approach to pitching the 23-year old superstar. instead of pitching to Harper’s weaknesses, teams have quickly realized that he has few hitting weaknesses; and that intentionally walking the star slugger is the best approach. His at bats have become “must see television” due to the fact that anything could happen.
Make no mistake, Harper has the skills to be an elite marquee superstar, one capable of elevating the league’s image. But with the overwhelming positives, there are some areas of his approach that needs to be addressed. In 2015, Harper was ejected from games for arguing with umpires far too frequently for most pundits liking; demonstrating a temper that also carried into the dugout. In September of last season, Harper and Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon got into a heated exchange in clear view of the paying game attendees, as well as the television audience. Clearly that temperament will hamper his overall marketability should it become more of a common occurrence. His current stature in the sport is one of a polarizing figure; one that young fans love the talent and older fans despise due to his brash persona.
While there are aspects of Harper’s game and his approach that need to be altered, there are far more positive attributes that can and should be promoted to alter the long-standing declining perception of the sport. But could Harper be the cornerstone of a new MLB public image; one where brash behavior can be accepted so long as it does not interfere with team results. Should this prove to be the case, there could be more to look forward to over the balance of this season and beyond. Bringing baseball into the modern era is no small feat, and is something that would take more than one player to accomplish. But in Bryce Harper, the league has a young talent that can be build upon for years to come.