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Yoenis Cespedes on Goose Gossage’s comments: Hitters can have fun, too

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets swings

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets swings at a pitch during the third inning of a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Tradition Field on March 10, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Credit: Getty Images / Stacy Revere

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.

Yoenis Cespedes listened intently Thursday as Goose Gossage’s comments were relayed to him through the Mets’ interpreter at Tradition Field.

Earlier in the day, Gossage told ESPN that Cespedes and Blue Jays masher Jose Bautista are a “disgrace to the game” for styling after home runs, particularly their bat-flipping antics.

In the middle of the conversation, which was short, Cespedes was asked if he knew who Gossage is.

“No,” he replied.

Cespedes did have a pretty good idea, however, what position Gossage probably played to be ripping him like that.

“He’s a pitcher, right?” Cespedes asked. When told yes, he shook his head.

No wonder. As long as this sport is played, the people who throw the ball for a living and the people who try to hit it will continue to go at each other like cats and dogs.

But what eventually will change, as we move further and further away from the Gossage generation, is how that 60-foot, 6-inch battle is staged.

This isn’t about demonizing Gossage. The guy’s a Hall of Famer. He got my Cooperstown vote. It’s about the evolution of baseball itself, the unwritten rules becoming outdated, and turning the game over to the next generation, one that is growing bored with the old-school way of doing things.

Gossage was a bullpen icon in his 22-year career, frequently throwing three innings to earn a save before the job description required only one inning. He also delivered his final pitch in 1994, which was so long ago that the only cellphones were in Captain Kirk’s hip pocket.

By most standards, baseball is the same. But the players wearing the uniforms, and the fans watching it, are not.

This look-at-me generation needs to be entertained, and more than anything, it wants to do the entertaining. So if players can posterize each other in the NBA and choreographed dances are applauded in the NFL, then why can’t Bautista or Cespedes or someone else flip an occasional bat?

We’ve seen plenty of fist-pumps on the mound, Fernando Rodney shooting arrows, others leaping off the rubber after a huge K. That’s humbling for a hitter, too. But Bautista and Cespedes have to be concerned about hurting their feelings? Or getting a fastball in the rib cage for being fired up?

“Whenever a pitcher strikes someone out, they get to celebrate,” Cespedes said. “They get to have their moment and revel in it. So why can’t the batters get a chance to enjoy their success too? And I’ll stick by that.”

It’s a fair question.

This isn’t saying what happened during the Gossage years, or way before then, was wrong. That was the code, and it was enforced vigorously. But times change, and sports are a reflection of that.

Gossage was way out of line in saying that Bautista is “embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. Cespedes, same thing.”

But playing the race card in this is plain ignorant.

Just this week, Bryce Harper complained to ESPN the Magazine that baseball is a “tired sport because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do.”

That’s the reigning National League MVP and, like it or not, Harper, 23, is the future of baseball. This is a generation of players that wants their home runs to go viral, to blow up on Instagram. And the next wave of fans wants to be invited to the on-field party, to feel the attitude. One player’s triumph doesn’t have to be taken as an insult to the other. And we’re talking small doses here. Not cartwheels around first base or twerking on the mound. Just an organic display.

“It just comes out in the moment when you’re playing,” Cespedes said.

Gossage had better get used to it. Even Terry Collins, a hard-liner himself, acknowledges that the tide has turned. He expects to see more flying bats again this season.

“It’s not just one or two guys,” Collins said. “The old-timers, that’s something that wasn’t approved of years ago. Today it’s different.”

Some, like Gossage, still don’t approve. But it’s 2016, and the revolution is coming, if it’s not already here.

New York Sports