The Denver Post
Please conduct yourself with class
When’s the last time you heard anybody use that word? TheMerriam-Webster Dictionary defines it this way: “Conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”
Hall of Fame quarterbackWarren Moon put it more simply: “Sportsmanship is making sure you have respect for the guy you’re playing across from.”
I bring this up in the wake of an essay that Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt wrote last week for The Associated Press. Schmidt took strong exception to the infamous bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista in an American League playoff series last year.
“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.” Schmidt is exactly right. Bautista’s bat flipwasn’t simply a celebration of his dramatic home run, it was flipping off the opponent. Itwas a look-at-me moment. Itwas contrived. I can hear some of you now. “Get over it, Mr. “Get OffMy Lawn” Saunders. “It’s a new era, catch up to it.” “Baseball’s dying because it’s married to a boring past.”
I’ve heard all of those arguments before, and they’re bogus. There are some absolutes in life, and sportsmanship should be one of them.
I thought the same thing at the end of the Super Bowl when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton acted like a 6year-old kid after the Broncos kicked his behind. All of the end zone prancing, prime-time bravado and showing up opponents during the regular season disappeared in a pout.
Newton didn’t credit the Broncos or congratulate them. He pulled on his hoodie, mumbled and hid from the fact that his team got outplayed.
There are, or course, plenty of contemporary athletes who play the game the right way. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado comes immediately to mind.
He hit 42 home runs last year, and never once did he try to show up the pitcher. Every night he makes a highlight-reel play. His joy for the game, his exuberance, is contagious, and it comes naturally. Arenado doesn’t have to flip his bat to celebrate his love of the game or revel in a victory.
Yankees Hall of Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle, hardly a choir boy, once said: “After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.”
Schmidt’s essay contained this wonderful anecdote:
“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 (Stan) Musial for the all-time National League hit record, two to break it. Pete got that hit in his first at-bat, but Ryan struck him out his last three plate appearances. I’ve never seen a hitter and pitcher more consumed in a confrontation. After the final strikeout, Pete tipped his hat to Nolan as a gesture of respect. Passion, emotion, the crowd into every pitch, two of the game’s greatest ever 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.”
I understand that we live in an era of selfies, self-promotion and self-expression. I understand that the good ol’ days weren’t always so good. But some things should pass the test of time; some things are worth holding on to.
The late Dean Smith, the revered Hall of Fame basketball coach, put it best: “A lion never roars after a kill.” Patrick Saunders: psaunders @denverpost.com or @psaundersdp