Column

Is freedom of expression such a bad thing in baseball?

By weighing in on the Great Bat Flip Controversy, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper fundamentally changed one of the most heated arguments in sports.

Trout said he would not flip his bat after hitting home runs, placing himself on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum from Harper, the reigning National League MVP from the Washington Nationals.

The racial undertones of the debate have subsided because both sides are now represented by popular and dynamic players who are young and white. Now the dispute is at its core, which is whether tossing a bat to celebrate a home run is disrespectful to the opposing pitcher.

Trout thinks it is; Harper thinks not.

It wasn't always this simple. When Yasiel Puig was the face of the pro-bat flip contingent, arguments sounded like veiled referendums on Latin American culture. Harper's skin color and birthplace spares him from that kind of sociological analysis.

And with Trout entrenched in the so-called old school, the anti-bat-flip camp also will be viewed less suspiciously. Trout's motives won't be questioned, unlike those of older players raised in less diverse environments.

It's unfortunate Trout and Harper had to inject themselves into the dialogue to make it civil, but it's not surprising. Sports is a reflection of society, and this is where society is.

Regardless of whether Trout intended to, he branded himself as the anti-Harper when he told Bill Shakin of The Times, “I don't try to show anybody up. Whatever somebody else does, that's what they do.”

Characterizing Trout's low-key personality is a challenge for reporters covering him. Comparing him to the fiery Harper will take care of that.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with a player flipping his bat. That's a celebration, not a gesture to demean the opposing pitcher.

Flipping a bat and standing to admire the flight of a baseball? Pushing it, but still OK.

Flipping a bat and staring down the pitcher? Not OK.

Yes, the USC basketball team blew it Thursday night, but how much criticism do the Trojans players deserve when they weren't paid a penny to play? They aren't professionals, you know.

The subject of underpaid athletes reminds me of the words of the ever-wise Rickey Henderson: “If they want to pay me like [Mike] Gallego, I'll play like Gallego.”

There's a big NBA game Saturday at San Antonio between Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.

While the Warriors remain on pace to break the Chicago Bulls' record of 72 victories in a season, the Spurs are uncomfortably close to them in the Western Conference standings. Only four games separate the teams.

If the Warriors and Spurs meet in the Western Conference finals as anticipated, home-court advantage will be a significant factor. The Warriors have won their last 50 home games, including 32 this year. The Spurs are 34-0 at home.

Chicago White Sox Executive Vice President Ken Williams presumably wanted to eliminate potential problems when he asked veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche to stop bringing his 14-year-old son into the team's clubhouse.

The irony is that by addressing an issue that didn't exist — LaRoche's son is said to be well-liked by players — Williams has created a very real distraction. The less-than-productive but popular LaRoche decided to retire, which enraged White Sox players.

The incident is now dominating headlines. Regardless of whether Williams was right to make that request of LaRoche, this couldn't be what he wanted.

The anticipated Leicester City implosion hasn't happened.

The Foxes, who started the season as 5,000-to-1 longshots to win the English Premier League, are still in first place with only eight games remaining in their season. They are five points clear of second-place Tottenham.

If Leicester City holds on to claim the league title, the club will have to decide whether to sell or hold onto its best players, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

A former factory worker, the fleet-footed Vardy was playing in England's seventh division only five years ago. He is the Premier League's co-leader in goals.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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