Sunday, March 20, 2011

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

Baseball is a game of tradition. It’s a game of hard work and respect. Even the best athletes in the game fail at their craft the majority of the time.

With today’s announcement that Kendrys Morales will begin the 2011 season on the Disabled List, I’d like to take issue with some of the changes that have occurred in the game in an effort to make it more “commercial” and “media friendly”. While fans can argue about the east-coast bias in the national media, and how that affects the game, the bigger bias in the media is for promoting showboating. Whether it’s football, baseball, or basketball, if an athlete showboats in some way, he’s far more likely to make it onto the national coverage than if he didn’t. And national coverage means bigger contracts—so there’s every incentive to do it.

I don’t like it.

I understand that baseball can be a very frustrating game. I don’t like defining success as failing 70% of the time, (check out MLB Odds) but, that’s the nature of the game. I understand why players want to believe that there’s “luck” or “divine intervention” in their play, but in reality, there isn’t. If G-d really cared about baseball, He would have made all the steroid users turn into glass and suffer horrendous side effects effectively ending their careers. Instead, they all got fat contracts and tarnished an entire generation of the game as they cheated their way into unsightly statistics.

Once upon a time, if a batter showed up a pitcher, the pitcher had a way to send a message: he could throw a fastball high and tight—maybe just a bit too tight and hit him. By and large the game policed itself, and showboating was kept for truly dramatic events, like homeruns to clinch a playoff spot or to win a championship.

Unfortunately, the umpires have taken away the inside pitch, and batters have had an unfettered license to showboat. For many batters, every minor event in the game is worthy of some kind of grandiosity. Get a base hit, do the na-na points. Hit a homerun in a blowout, flick the bat in a dramatic fashion, watch the homerun, and then go into your homerun trot.

Even pitchers have joined in the act. Come in as a closer with a 3-run lead, get a strikeout, do the obligatory fist-pump. Get the save, bring out the na-na points. As a father, with a son about to start T-Ball, how am I supposed to teach him good sportsmanship when he sees that?

Players have gone to great lengths to grandstand in other ways, beyond their actions on the field. With the exception of the late ‘60s through the 70’s, baseball has always produced players who were well groomed and well dressed (seriously, what were people thinking back then?). Even the great Don Mattingly was benched for a game in 1991 for running afoul of the Yankees’ grooming standards when he sported a mullet in uniform.

However, now, players like Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are given a free pass on those types of traditions. They relish in their unkempt ways. Again, as a father, how am I supposed to tell my sons that appearances matter when teams like the Dodgers sell “Manny hair” and the Red Sox love their “caveman”?

As for uniforms, there have been plenty of flaps over how to wear the uniform. The Angels’ own Fernando Rodney has run afoul of the traditional look by tilting his cap off to the side. Other players, such as Arthur Rhodes, have had issues for wearing too much bling on their uniform, and interfering with the batters playing the game. When my sons put on a baseball uniform, I want them to wear it with pride and respect, not with a low-class attitude.

All of this leads me back to Kendrys Morales. I wish I would know the joy of hitting a walk-off grand slam in a Major League game. At this point, it’s safe to say that I never will. But, with all the emotion and drama from the event, was it really necessary for the entire team to swarm him at home plate, dog-pile on him, and whoop it up, all for winning a game on May 29th? That win improved the Angels’ record to a mighty 24-27—good enough for third place, 3.5 games behind Oakland.

Yet, that one event, not only completely changed the dynamics of the 2010 season, thanks to today’s announcement, it’s going to affect the 2011 season. I hardly find it worth it. It’s time that owners held the players more in check. It’s time to reinstate the tradition of the game. When a player gets a hit, he runs hard. He doesn’t point to the sky. When a player hits a homerun, he puts his head down and does his trot. He doesn’t flick his bat, watch it go out, and then do a lazy jog. When a player puts on a uniform, he’s well groomed and wearing the uniform correctly. Like it or not, they are looked up to by fans and kids, and should be held to higher standards.

And, no matter what, no more dog piles and swarming during the season. Unless it’s a no hitter, an unassisted triple play, or the final game of a playoff series, it’s just not worth it. And even then the revelry should be held in check. It’s bad enough that 2010 was lost on May 29th. Hopefully that same event won’t cost the Angels the 2011 season.
Love to hear what you think!

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