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.
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.
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.”
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.