The subject of major league players having the freedom to let it go and express themselves emotionally on the field came up in our coaches' locker room this spring. Understand, nearly all of us are old school, having played in a time when even the slightest out-of-character display was construed as showing up the opponent.
We all came through an era where respect for the opposition and a high level of decorum was normal. None of us ever knew any different. We emulated those who preceded us. From my era, it's easy: Johnny Bench, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, George Brett, Robin Yount and Cal Ripken.
It's easier to name a few exceptions. My era had a few. Pascual Perez, who pitched for the Braves, was hated because of his antics on the mound. Al Hrabosky had his post-warmup ritual that drew attention. And remember Willie Montanez, he made every play with an added showboat touch.
The most intimidating and emotionally gifted player ever probably was Pete Rose. No one ever incited the opponent and ignited his team more.
Why do so many players today feel the need to embellish their success with some sort of hand signal to the dugout? What got more attention in last year's postseason than a bat toss by Jose Bautista? Pointing to the sky is child's play compared to that moment in the postseason on national TV. A flagrant disrespect of the opponent like that would have gotten somebody hurt back in the day.
As for me, the most emotion I ever displayed on the field was a little running in place out of the box on my 500th home run. My home run trots were over quickly. I hit a lot of them and couldn't afford to draw extra attention. I wasn't stupid, last thing I wanted was to disrespect any pitcher.
That's the problem with on-field displays, it shows a lack of respect for your opponent and the history of the game. But today there is a faction of players that say damn respect — that guy on the mound gestures to the dugout when he strikes me out, so why can't I flip my bat on a home run? That's a good point, I guess it does go both ways. But who wouldn't agree Bautista crossed the line?
Today more pitchers, like hitters, are letting emotion loose. But where is the line and what or who determines crossing it and the penalty? The players used to settle issues themselves. Cross the line and someone had to pay. Nearly always the players got it right and settled it themselves. Umpires are now the police, which has made the game safer but also softer.
Baseball demands a certain level of dignity toward the opponent. It's part of its charm. Sure, you have to be tough and stand up for yourself, but only when the line is crossed.
Today's players are free to display their passion and emotion with certain boundaries, and many do. But let it be noted, there are still those who subscribe to the notion of respect, so be mindful. The game is hard, very hard, and being disliked by the opponent makes it even harder.
The greatest confrontation I ever saw on a baseball field involved Pete Rose and another warrior, Nolan Ryan. In 1981, the final game before the midseason strike, Pete needed one hit to tie Musial for the all-time NL hit record, two to break it.
Pete got that hit in his first at-bat, but Ryan struck him out in his next three plate appearances. After the final one, Pete tipped his hat to Nolan as a gesture of respect. Passion, emotion, the crowd into every pitch, two of the game's greatest leaving it all out there. No pointing, gesturing, or bat flipping was needed, just competition at the highest level. That's how you get the crowd involved, that's how baseball creates its legends.
Guys, what say we try to preserve one of the standards the game was built upon. You can have your colored bats, fancy shoes, bright batting gloves and display all the emotion you desire without crossing that line.
Be the kind of player you want kids to emulate by playing with dignity and class. Baseball demands it. — AP