A day after National League MVP Bryce Harper called baseball a "tired sport" in need of more emotion and Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage railed against the showmanship in today's game, a pair of Orioles from distinctly different generations spoke out on the state of the sport Friday.
Manny Machado, Harper's peer in stardom at age 23, sided with the Washington Nationals outfielder, who called the Orioles' Platinum Glove-winning third baseman one of the players who brings a much-needed "flair" to the game.
Manager Buck Showalter, who turns 60 this year and has been in the professional game for nearly four decades, acknowledged the changing times and said players have celebrated themselves and acted out for years.
Both think there's an appropriate place for a bat flip, or a player to let his excitement and character show through.
Machado had a perfect example, not unlike the moment Orioles nemesis Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays enjoyed his go-ahead home run in Game 5 of last year's American League Division Series and the monstrous bat flip that ensued.
"There's a certain extent to doing it," Machado said. "Like Bautista's — Bautista is a different situation; Bautista hit a home run in a playoff game, a championship game. I would have done the same. Everybody in this freaking clubhouse would have done the same thing. It's part of it. It's part of the game. You can't get mad about that.
"Me personally? It's my freaking dream to freaking be up in the World Series or in a playoff game, bases loaded, hit a freaking grand slam to put your team ahead. I mean, I'm going to pimp the [expletive] out of it just like how he did. You do that in a regular-season game? I think that's a little too much."
Showalter wouldn't begrudge Machado of that fantasy, provided it's that meaningful for the Orioles. He said he'd be even farther up the third base line to congratulate Machado than Earl Weaver was in the fabled video clip frequently shown at Camden Yards.
"If he does, you'll see me in the same place Earl was in that tape we see every week, or every day, where he ran out of the dugout, met the guy and he shook his hand before he got to home plate," Showalter said. "I'll be right where Earl was. I might be in front of Earl. I might come out before he gets to third. It'll be the only time you'll ever see me move my feet backwards like Michael Jackson."
The topic came up Friday with Machado, who did not travel to the Orioles' game against the New York Yankees, because of an ESPN The Magazine article on Harper released Thursday. Harper, a teammate of Machado on the USA Baseball 18-and-under national team in 2009, cited him in a group including Los Angeles Dodgers outfielders Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and New York Mets pitchers Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey as the "guys in the game now who are so much fun."
Machado hadn't read the article, and isn't the flashpoint for criticism for his behavior the way Harper is. He and second baseman Jonathan Schoop have a "smoking gun" salute after some exceptional throws, but otherwise his flair is contained to the exuberant confidence of a generational player still approaching his prime.
That didn't stop Machado from speaking out about the written and unwritten rules he says are limiting players like himself from being expressive, rules he says take "out the fun of baseball."
"Just have fun with it," Machado said. "Respect the game, but at the same time you've got to have fun. Don't take away the fun. They can't take the fun away from our stuff. They're taking away a lot of things, and they've got to keep having fun. Let us wear whatever we want to wear — let us wear white cleats if we want to wear white cleats. If we want to wear something else, let us wear it.
"This game is about us. We like to play. We like to have fun. We play 100 percent every day. We go out there and grind every day, and people like that, people get excited when they see it. As much fun as we have, we've got to keep having fun and not lose that."
The game seems to be trending that way as the views of Harper and Machado's generation gain traction around the game. That stands in contrast to the Hall of Famer Gossage, who called Bautista's actions in last year's playoffs a "disgrace" in a separate ESPN interview Thursday.
Showalter said he believes there's more in common between the players of eras past and this one than either side thinks.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Showalter said. "I think the biggest thing is every little thing that is said and presented is seen and heard. I think sometimes we lose sight of how many things kind of went on back then that weren't always public."
"At the end of the day, it's just about having fun, doing it the right way — don't take it overboard," Machado said. "If you want to have fun, you have fun, but it's just you've got to find a happy medium in it and keep things loose. It's a long season. We go through ups and downs and there's a lot to it. I think the best way to do it is keeping ourselves loose, keeping ourselves happy, keeping ourselves playing. And I think that's what keeps us going and everything."