The NFL have touchdown celebrations, right down to the celebratory get-togethers in the end zone and the elaborate sack dances performed by on rushing defensive linemen. In the NBA, the mere act of sinking a free throw is occasion for high-fives and back slaps, and a slam dunk brings a full on-court party. Baseball, by contrast, has been different. Over-the-top demonstrations and preening are considered bad taste, and while baseball has no set rules, players have successfully curtailed such acts. Hitters who take too long circling the bases after a homer or otherwise show up the opponent are likely subject to a fastball in the ribs in their next at-bat.
But recently, things have begun getting out of hand. More than a few teams now hold elaborate welcoming parties at home plate following a walk-off hit. The New York Yankees have taken to scrambling for the homecoming hero's batting helmet, like so many bridesmaids going after the bouquet at a wedding. The new low point, undoubtedly, came last weekend when the Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder belted a game-winning homer against the San Francisco Giants. As teammates gathered around home plate, waiting for Fielder, they toppled backwards, like so many bowling pins when the hulking first baseman stepped on the plate.
The clip was shown virtually non-stop on ESPN and other highlight packages, but the Giants - and others - were less than amused. "What he did was unacceptable," fumed San Francisco reliever Bobby Howry. "It's not only a lack of respect for the other team, but for the game. It won't be forgotten, I guarantee you." Added the Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford: "To create something like that, it makes a mockery of the game. It's embarrassing for the Milwaukee Brewers."
"If someone did that against us and we played them again," said the Los Angeles Angels' outfielder Torii Hunter, one of the most respected players, "trust me, he'd get crushed and we'd try to fight him." A certain amount of joy and celebration is to be expected on the field of play. These are games after all, and it is refreshing to see highly-paid, professional athletes demonstrate their boyish love for competition.
The last thing baseball wants to ape is the NFL's staid No Fun Allowed approach to player conduct. But there is also such a thing as too much of a good thing. A spontaneous expression following a dramatic win should be welcomed, but when players act out choreographed routines like contestants on a reality show, clearly things have gone too far. Part of the blame could rightly be placed on TV outlets which glorify such displays, thus encouraging more copycats in search of their 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame.
The NFL has gone so far as to outlaw pre-scripted celebrations, with penalties applied on the ensuing kick-off. Baseball would have a difficult time penalising such end-of-game gatherings.. The sport has always policed itself quite nicely. Players have a way of maintaining integrity and respect, whether it be by example or intimidation. As younger players, exposed to showboating and self-glorification, take over the game, it may be harder for tradition - and decorum - to rule.
Young players could take note of the example set by Derek Jeter. In the same week that Fielder and Co staged their routine, Jeter broke the Yankee franchise record of Lou Gehrig for career hits. After the record-breaker, Jeter stood on base, acknowledging the fans, his teammates and opponents with class and understatement. If only more would do the same. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org