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The Last Bastion of Class in American Sports Is Under Siege and About to Fall
First, some definitions
Class (klas) noun. A set or category of things having some property or attribute in common differentiated from others by kind, type, or quality. adjective: showing stylish excellence. Synonyms: classy, decent, gracious, respectable, noble.
Thug (THeg) noun. A violent person, especially a criminal. Synonyms: ruffian, hooligan, vandal, hoodlum, gangster, villain, criminal. From the Hindu and Urdu thag meaning literally thief; Sanskrit for "he covers up, he hides".
Tradition (tre diSH(e)n noun. The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.
Disrespect (disre' spekt) noun. Lack of respect or courtesy. Verb: Show a lack of respect for; insult. Synonyms: contempt, scorn, disregard, disdain.
As you can see, these words are words with strong meaning behind them. Class. Tradition. Thug. Disrespect. Why do I mention them in an article about Baseball?
Because the Tradition that is Baseball, the Class sport delivered to us intact, as is, carried forth for over a hundred years, is under attack. It is under attack by the same sort of persons that have attacked and brought down Football and Basketball.
All in the name of having athletes show that they are having fun, that they have passion, that they are excited.
Don't get me wrong, I like excitement in the game too. However, my excitement stems from seeing a game played per the rules and traditions that extend back to the beginning, back to When It Was A Game. As a young man, I loved to watch all three of the Big 3: Football, Basketball, and Baseball. This allowed me to enjoy sports virtually year 'round. However, at some point in the past, things began to change; they began to exhibit conduct on the field I would never have done personally simply due to the fact that to do so would have disrespected my opponent. Players began to taunt one another, to act in what was to me, unprofessional. They would scream in each others face, pound their chests like animals, jump up and down in celebration of some minor achievement. In football, a good (not great) catch would result in a player acting out as a child would, flaunting his act at the expense of the defender. When a defender made a good (not great) play and knocked down the opposition, he would stand over him, shaking his fist as if to say "you're not man enough to take me on and win", gloating and showing blatant disrespect for the opposition.
In Basketball, which of all of the sports I played as a young man was the one I loved most, rather than playing hard and high five-ing one another after a good play, suddenly it became chest thumps and screams, standing toe to toe with another player and literally spitting in their face as they screamed their insolent and degrading insults.
What happened to acting in a quietly celebratory manner as you played the game? What happened to class? What happened to restraint?
When athletes pound their chest, this is what I see
Act like you've been there before
This quote has been attributed to Vince Lombardi; it has also been attributed to Bear Bryant. Both are legendary, Hall of Fame coaches. Lombardi is so prevalent in the sporting world that the championship trophy in football is named for him. It doesn't matter who first said it, the truth behind the intent is the same: act as if you have done this before and do not act like an unprofessional idiot. By acting almost bored, you show the opposition this is no big deal, I have done this before and I will do this again.
Today's athletes cannot let a moment pass without telling the world they matter more in that moment than any other person on the field or watching: it is either an offshoot of the civilization as a whole or a leader in how to act in the civilized world today; that they matter more than any other single person. No more Golden Rule; only who has the gold rules the moment.
It is unbelievably sad to me. Where did the game go?
A spoof of how athletes act when they do something right
I am writing this because after football and basketball have been ruined for me, Baseball is under attack. It wasn't long ago that Football was under this same attack, being called the No Fun League (NFL) by punsters and media "leaders" in the heyday of ESPN and other sports channels. So things got looser and looser, there was more and more "celebrating" done on the field for these minor accomplishments like catching a ball, making a run for a first down, tackling a person. Am I wrong, but aren't the players paid to do this? Is it suddenly so spectacular and amazing that they actually do what they are paid to do that it calls for a selfish display of disrespect?
Some will say that because sports are now a business, that they have to inject fun and celebration into the game to keep it from being stale and boring. Okay, I'll buy that: sports is a business. And where I work is a business too. Where everyone works is a business as well. Does that mean when I do what I am paid to do, I should jump up and down, whooping and hollering like an idiot for doing what I am supposed to do?
Now Baseball is under attack. Those who desire this same "celebration" of "fun" on the field are saying that it is "old school", "boring" to not allow things such as bat flips after home runs, that is is old school to retaliate by throwing at someone for show boating on a play such as this. That the "unwritten rules" of baseball need to go, to be banished to the past from whence they came. Today's "fan" demands these things, and more. Apparently, there is not enough skill on display while playing the game to keep and maintain the fan's interest.
I suppose that there are fans who cannot be entertained by anything less than a spectacle, one such as on display in Roman times in the Arena; that pure old fashioned skill and intrigue, gamesmanship and sportsmanship are insufficient in today's world. I am deeply saddened by this; to me, the single most exciting game is when virtually nothing happens: a shutout or perfect game. In games such as these there is often virtually no offense on one or more infrequently both sides of the game. Literally a single play can determine the outcome of such a game. A bad pitch, a misplayed hit, a poor throw or any of a thousand situations could raise their head and cause one team to defeat the other. I do not need games that are double digit runs on both sides to call a game exciting. After all, how many people pay for the privilege of going to see a slow pitch softball game where every other player hits a home run? To me, this is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Is this really what America wants? Apparently so, as MLB is considering changing the way the game is played in order to attract younger people to the game. As they perceive it, interest is lacking because the scores are lower. Sorry to tell you, but interest is lacking because the game is difficult and people are not as talented and able to play the game. If it's hard, they don't want to try harder to succeed, it's easier to give up and not attempt it. It is similar to the charge that college is difficult to get into, the entrance tests are too hard so we should drop the entrance exam levels to a point where more people qualify to attend. Sound familiar?
The article goes on to call this code tired, old fashioned, stuck in the past. It then goes on to say that "Only Baseball in America clings to its roots of playing the "right way", which is basically the "white way"."
Wait, did the author of this article just call Baseball racist? Of being too white? Really? Well, decide for yourself. Read the following direct quote from the article in question.
"The code needs to be less white."
Yes, I think this is what I would term to be a racist quote. How about you? Does that ring a bell regarding those college entrance exam thoughts?
"Watch a game in Latin America or South Korea, and baseball is a giant party. An MLB game can be a church service."
Really? I would think that in that wonderful film For Love Of The Game, when famed broadcaster Vin Scully tells the viewer that "The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel", that people prefer their game to be hallowed, to be treasured, to last on and on indefinitely. To be something they can keep, they can fold up and maintain then transfer to their children and so on and so on.
Perhaps change for change's sake isn't a good thing. Just because the world changes doesn't mean everything we treasure and hold dear has to change. Sometimes change is not good, or necessary, or welcome. Sometimes, tradition is what's best. In baseball I feel tradition is a good thing.
The comments attached to this article are a mix of feelings on this, ranging from total agreement to total disagreement. "I guess the white way is to have respect for your opponent." "So intentionally causing physical harm to someone by throwing a ball to hit them as a retaliation for not playing the game with "respect" is acceptable behavior..."
One thing that jumped out at me in the comment section was when someone brought up Sportsmanship. Saying that Baseball is trying to maintain a certain level of Sportsmanship in the modern game rather than allowing it to disappear as it has in other sports. This commenter goes on to say that this will trickle down to lower levels, that young aspiring players will mimic what they see in the professional players as being an acceptable way to behave. And they do; only this morning I saw a TV blurp about two high schools playing in a basketball game. One Catholic, one Jewish. The Catholic fans and team evidently began taunting the Jewish team by screaming: "You killed Jesus!". It is in this manner that professional athletes treat one another when playing the game, trash talking and screaming vile obscenities at their opponents. And our children are doing it as well and not only in their sports, but in real life situations. It is called bullying.
In today's world, in ANY world, should this is considered acceptable? It all goes back to Respect. If you have none for yourself, you will have none for others. If you have none for others, you cannot have any for yourself. Thus, the breakdown in our society in terms of civilization as well as sports. It all goes hand in hand.
Can a bat flip be considered disrespectful? Yes. Can excitement exist in this game without being disrespectful? Yes. Don't believe me? Take a look at the excitement in the video attached. David Freese, hometown kid playing for his favorite team growing up, World Series, pressure packed: lose and you're done. The Cardinals came back from two runs down in the 9th inning with Freese driving in the tying runs, and they come back again in the 10th inning to tie the game once more. The tension could not be any higher. Then Freese hits a home run to win the game leading off the 11th inning, sending Busch Stadium into the atmosphere with excitement. So what does he do after he hits this home run? He drops the bat and trots around the bases. No bat flip, no showboating around the bases, no disrespecting the opponent. Fans out of their minds with celebrations, scrambling for a keepsake. Team members jumping up and down in sheer joy, a player trotting around the bases and arriving at home plate before celebrating with his teammates.
Compare that to this. Jose Bautista's home run in game 5 of the ALDS. Freese hit his home run as a walk off in the bottom of the 11th inning, a game winner in the World Series. Bautista hit his as a go ahead home run in a Division Championship game. Not the League Championship, not the World Series but a division series. Not a walk off, only a go ahead. Both are at home, both against ironically the same team, the Texas Rangers. Yet with Freese's home run, nothing happened. In Bautista's home run, benches cleared. Why? The showboating, the disrespect shown to the opposition.
The announcer says the bat flip was to trigger the crowd, to get them involved enough to celebrate. Why? Wasn't the home run itself sufficient? Wasn't the crowd engaged enough to celebrate on their own?
Ultimately, I understand that the New School will take over from the Old School and carry on; it has been this way for generations. Roger Maris literally was losing his hair when he was chasing Babe Ruth's record in 1961 due to the pressure put on him by fans as he tried to do what no other man had ever done. Jackie Robinson had death threats made against him and his family for integrating baseball. Jose Canceso was deemed an idiot and a tattle tale for breaking the steroid story wide open. Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds will forever be tainted in the old school baseball fans mind, at least those with the mentality that it is wrong to be using drugs to cheat the game. Pete Rose may never got into the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball. Baseball is nothing if not traditional; I ask you: what is wrong with tradition? Football and Basketball have lost their traditions and become little better than a street game. When was the last time you saw traveling called in an NBA game? In the few games I have seen, I have literally watched as a player takes a rebound on one end, dribbles twice running down the court and slam dunks the ball on the other end after running some 90 feet or so. There is no way he didn't travel according to the rules of the game, but for the sake of the fans, what was illegal is overlooked.
There has to be some separation between amateurs and professionals: something beyond the pay aspect. Act like a professional. Be that professional. Follow the rules, both written and unwritten in order to continue to respect both the game and those who came before you. Remember: you are only a current participant in The Game, you are not the reason for the game. Others have come before you and will come after you. Do not come into the game and bring the hood with you as Football and Basketball have done. Please, leave America one game that is pure and simple, to be played as it was. As it was When It Was A Game.
I ask you: what's wrong with that?
UPDATE: MARCH 22, 2016
Johnny Bench has now said that "You can flip your bat. We had guys do that...and the next time up there was some chin music. If you played that way, that's fine."
This was in response to wunderkind Bryce Harper calling baseball "a tired sport because you can't express yourself."
Really? You can't? Or you can't in the manner that you feel is best? I see no one calling a player down for his excitement, for smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves. Never, not once. So I suppose it must mean, Mr. Harper, that you need something else to do, some other way of expressing yourself like, say disrespecting the opposition, playing the game in a more "street" manner, taunting and name-calling, bat flipping and such. And as the Hall of Fame member of the Big Red Machine said, that's okay: just expect some type of repercussion.
Today's person has come to expect an ability to express themselves as they wish with no response; after all, it's their right. They can act, do, say, be whoever and whatever they want without fear of reprisal. So, what does that say for the target of this bullying action? Don't we see ads for the reduction of bullying in schools almost daily, asking people to report bullying? How is this showing up your opponent anything other than a form of bullying? If you are going to show disrespect for your opponent, no problem; just expect a gentle rejoinder. It will be quick, it will be direct, it will be something you will have no trouble distinguishing as a direct counterpoint to your earlier point.
Some say we shouldn't allow such reactions, to which I ask then why is it acceptable to make the first action, to throw the first punch by showing such disrespect? Have we, a a society, become such a child as to feel it is acceptable to act as a child, to toss our bats high in the air, to jump around and beat our chests, to taunt one another with no fear of reprisal? All in the name of fun? How would we feel if the same thing were turned around and aimed at us?
Ultimately, this is a game: a game where people with a certain skill are paid exorbitant amounts of money to play. Yes, to some it has become a business but we do not have to act like its a business, nor do we have to act as though when we hit a home run, score a touchdown, tackle another person or put a round ball in a round basket ten feet off the ground that this is the greatest thing EVER! It's not, and you who do such things are just a bunch of boys playing a game. Try to remember this and act accordingly. Having fun is okay; showing up your opponent isn't. Humility is a life style, respect a life choice, and having both is a virtue. Pride goeth before the fall, and it grows tiresome seeing these people acting in such a manner; and for those who are currently playing the game, remember: many have gone before you and played with dignity: try to follow their example. The game isn't about you, you are playing The Game. Don't ruin it for those who follow, and don't disgrace those who have come before you.