The Handshake – It’s All About Respect

Bob Brenley said it best on page-9 of The Baseball Codes: “Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, respect the game.” That really does sound simple. Brenley did forget the most essential part of the baseball scene – respect the fans.

However it is not as simple as it seems – easy to say, not so easy to do. Sportsmanship has a code of its own – fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing. Since the basic tenet of sportsmanship is respect, the most effective way to show respect is with a handshake.

The post-game handshake is a pretty simple concept - and kids love it. (Photo courtesy of

The post-game handshake is a pretty simple concept – and kids love it.
(Photo courtesy of

Baseball has more than its share of handshaking. After each victory the players on the winning team go onto the field in a line and shake hands with – themselves. Now there is nothing wrong with that but it is a strange ritual carried on by the Dodgers over 90 times in 2013. Baseball might be the only team sport in which opposing players do not offer a hand in congratulations to the winner or in compassion for the loser. One obvious reason for it might be that when the baseball game ends only one team is on the field, the other is in the dugout.

Football players after pummeling each over a three hour span can be seen talking with each other after the final whistle, shaking hands, tapping helmets, putting an arm around a shoulder. The opposing coaches meet and extend a hand to each other. Basketball players following the game also usually are seen mixing and mingling, shaking hands, embracing. Often opposing basketball coaches chat briefly after the game.

On to hockey, perhaps the most vicious of all the team sports. Players spend an hour of playing time racing up and down the ice, colliding, falling, getting checked into the boards. After a game they too just go to their own bench and on to the dressing room. But, following the last game in a playoff series, they line up and shake hands with all of those in the opposing line. Is it easy? No – it most likely isn’t. Yet they do it series after series, year after year.

It’s something all sports fans can appreciate and hockey fans expect. After a long hard fought series comes one of the sports world’s greatest shows of sportsmanship and respect. Players line up to shake hands, putting the pride and integrity of the game and of their franchise above their own. The winning team takes some time to celebrate while the losers simply wait out of respect until the celebration is finished.

“Win or lose,’’ said Bruins center Greg Campbell, “the comments in the handshake line are usually gracious. You tell a guy he had a good series, wish him luck. It’s pretty basic.”

Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton has won the Cup twice, with the Ducks in 2007 and last year with the Bruins. Nothing better than four rounds of happy handshakes. But he also knows the disappointment of the losers in that line, having been here for three seasons of playoff runs that fell short prior to last year’s Cup. “Is it easy to do sometimes? No, it’s not,’’ he said. “When you lose, it’s pretty emotional. But it goes to show the mutual respect guys have for each other, despite how hard everyone’s playing all the time.”

Defenders of the handshake, like Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, say that’s the entire point. “The post-game handshake should be an opportunity to show mastery over one’s emotions, and to set an example for younger players. It’s showing good sportsmanship. I think at the college level … it’s the proper thing to do. It sets an example for everybody watching. You either humble yourself and do it properly, or you suck it up when you’re on the other end and do it properly, too.”

How is it then that baseball doesn’t have a handshake after a playoff series? I understand none after regular season games when teams play each other three or four days in a row, but why not after a post season series? I expect it is an unwritten rule. I also expect it was an unwritten agreement that kept black players from playing in the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson crossed the line in 1947. Unwritten rules can be over turned.

Baseball has had at least two instances in which the handshake had a Dodger connection On April 18, 1946 – “A Handshake for the Century.” George “Shotgun” Shuba extended his hand to Jackie Robinson who had hit a home run with the Montreal Royals. It’s known as the first interracial handshake in a professional baseball game. George Shuba broke an unwritten rule and helped pave Jackie’s way to the big leagues. He offered the greatest respect publicly that he could.

'Handshake for the Century' (Photo courtesy of Mike Shuba)

“A Handshake for the Century”
(Photo courtesy of Mike Shuba)

One of my favorite Dodger moments came following their elimination from further playoff contention by the St Louis Cardinals in 2004. The Dodgers came out to greet, congratulate and shake hands with the Cardinals. Although it was not spontaneous it was done so willingly by both sides. Apparently the idea originated with Cardinal outfielder Larry Walker, a big hockey fan from Maple Ridge in British Columbia. He asked his manager Tony LaRussa to do so regardless of the outcome of the series. Dodger manager Jim Tracy agreed to the suggestion. “It was a class act,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said of the gesture, which he had never seen in more than 40 years in baseball. “Tracy led the way.”

There were a lot of mixed feelings among major league players when the Dodgers shook hands with the Cardinals after Game-4 of the 2004 NLDS - and it hasn't happened since. (Photo credit - Chris Carlson)

There were mixed feelings among major league players when the Dodgers shook hands with the Cardinals after the final game of the 2004 NLDS. It hasn’t happened again since.
(Photo credit – Chris Carlson)

No doubt the ultimate respect, the handshake, will never become a tradition in baseball as it is in hockey, an unwritten rule in the National Hockey League. Unwritten baseball rules that young eyes and minds do not understand but see as aggressive should not circumvent sportsmanship. Young athletes emulate the actions of their heroes. The greatest sign of respect for those youngsters to witness would be extending a hand to an opponent in humility after a victory and in congratulations after a defeat.


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8 Responses to “The Handshake – It’s All About Respect”

  1. OldBrooklynFan says:

    You got a point there BD, A very nice article. Sometimes, especially after a loss, a handshake between both teams would make fans feel a lot better.

  2. ebbetsfld says:

    I’d love to see teams exchange handshakes after every game or at least at the end of a play off round. It bothers me that teammates exchange handshakes among themselves after a win which seems to be an affront to their opponents. We always exchange handshakes after a softball game.

  3. MFGRREP says:

    One of your best articles ever Harold, and I couldn’t agree more.

    I think the marketing people have some role in why it’s not done. Selling the brand becomes even more enhanced when it’s a rivalry out of control. And presumably to put pleasantries in the mix would only diminish the return. Having said that and given the resent events like that poor Giants fan Brian Stow and then again just this last weekend in Huntington Beach where some idiots dressed in Dodger gear attacked a lady in Angel gear and then stabbed some off duty Marines trying to help is just out of control. Bad people exist and that will never end but maybe just maybe if MLB had the balls to simply require a handshake after the last game of a series fans might learn to co-exist a little more in life and in the friendly confines of the Great American Pastime.

  4. Ron Cervenka Ron Cervenka says:

    It’s kind of hypocritical that rarely is there a hockey game in which there isn’t at least one fight (and usually several) for which there is a written rule (“five for fighting”), yet this written rule gets far less attention than the unwritten handshake rule in the NHL. (By the way – most hockey fans absolutely LOVE the fights).

    By contrast, there are very few benches clearing brawls that actually end up with punches being thrown among the 30 MLB teams and when the game is over, the players simply go their separate was – just as they have done for 145 years.

    You neglected to mention the frequent hugs and handshakes between MLB players (usually former teammates) that occur everyday during pre-game warm-ups.

    I’ll make a deal with you, Harold, – I’ll be in favor of handshakes in baseball when you are in favor of fighting in hockey.  photo lol.gif

    BTW – This really is a great article – especially the graphics.  photo icon_eek.gif

    • Bluenose Dodger Bluenose Dodger says:

      As you know – I absolutely abhor the fighting in hockey as much as I hate pitchers deliberately trying to hit batters or runners trying to injure fielders.

      I didn’t neglect to mention any hugs among players because I simply don’t see them. Of course former teammates would still have affection for each other. They are still friends.

      Can’t make a deal. A handshake doesn’t hurt anyone but a fight quite often does. The handshake is the universal sign of respect, perhaps second only to a smile.

      • Bluenose Dodger Bluenose Dodger says:

        For me the difference is, after all the hard play in hockey, even fights, the players freely give respect knowing the opponents played as hard as they did. In baseball players seemingly have to demand it by punitive measures if they think it hasn’t been given. Example: drawers in a knot because someone admired a home run for one second too long or didn’t run the bases properly on a home run.

  5. Great article Harold. I have long felt that one should go over and shake the hand of the opposing team win or lose. It establishes respect. I am one of those odd birds who have made it a habit (and still do) of going over to the other side after a game and shake everyone’s hand whether my cohorts followed me or not.

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