When Dave Trembley managed the Orioles he put a large emphasis on professionalism and respect for the game. As a fan, analyst, or whatever you’d like to call me, I have to say that I agree with him 100% in that regard. No one player, coach, or even fan is above the game, regardless of the sport. “Respect for the game” transcends playing well or even winning and losing; it means that you try your best to play the game the way it was supposed to be played, have respect for the opponent, etc. All games have unwritten rules, however none moreso than baseball. You’re not supposed to steal if you’re up by five or more runs after the seventh inning, you’re not supposed to bunt during a no-hitter, you’re supposed to always maintain the image of professionalism in that baseball’s a stoic game, etc. As bad as they were early in the season, the Orioles generally did that and thus showed respect for the opponent. However, did they do too good a job of that?
I’m a firm believer in the above-mentioned unwritten rules, along with those of the other sports as well. (As an example, if the Patriots are killing someone and Tom Brady’s still in the game come the fourth quarter, I see no problem with telling my middle linebacker that I want Brady out of the game…) I would never suggest that professionalism be sacrificed, however can that be taken too far? I routinely see teams that in my opinion break those unwritten rules or throw professionalism to the fishes succeeding in sports. The Tom Brady example is valid in that sense; Bill Belichek has often said that it’s not his responsibility to stop his offense. I routinely see the Boston Red Sox stealing bases and moving runners into scoring position when they’re up big in later innings. Furthermore, the Red Sox seem to enjoy jumping and celebrating every little hit or run that they score. I suppose I’m cut from the “act like you’ve been here before” ilk. Either that or I’m just a party pooper. However as I said, baseball’s always been a stoic game. If you win a game in walk-off fashion or you’ve won the World Series, it’ acceptible to act like that. Not after a run is scored. (Message to Kevin Youkilis: perhaps if you didn’t celebrate like a school girl when your team scores people wouldn’t throw at you and you wouldn’t have to get all bent out of shape when that happens.)
Instead, teams such as the Orioles are extremely professional in how they go about their business. Even in losing efforts, you’d never see much difference in when players would do something good or bad. I’d see players hit home runs or drive in RBI and come back to the bench with a blank stare on their faces after going through the routine high five line. Let me be clear…I respect that kind of attitude. Baseball’s always been about putting your head down and doing the job at hand. However, does that have a negative effect on players? When I look at players such as Ted Williams, I see people that love the game they play and that play it with a passion. However Ted Williams also violated that “stoic game” concept almost everytime he ran the bases. To use a more contemporary example, I would point to Maryland’s Grevis Vasquez. Granted that in basketball showing emotion is more accepted than it is in baseball, however I would suspect that if you asked Vasquez to just play the game without all of the antics, he wouldn’t be the same player.
To use a further example, look at the “battle of the beltways.” As I said, the Orioles are a very professional team in terms of how they behave on the field. The Nationals are a bit more emotional in their demeanor during games. Prior to this season’s three-game sweep of the Nats at Camden Yards, most of the “moments” in the series belonged to Washington. Ronnie Belliard hit a walk-off homer against the O’s one year, the Nats swept the O’s at Oriole Park another year, and of course earlier this season Josh Willingham hit a walk-off homer against the Orioles. Instead, when the O’s beat the Nationals they sort of plug through nine innings and outscore them; so the Nationals’ flair for the dramatic could well endear casual fans to them moreso than they would the O’s. (This is all part of why the sweep of the Nats this season was so sweet; watching the few Washington fans that came to the series walk out of our stadium with that blank stare on their face knowing they had been punked was priceless.)
Ultimately, I suppose there’s a difference between being bush league and wearing your emotions on your chest in sports. I still respect teams that just handle their business and move on, but I suppose that if celebrating a bit on the field is going to help a team to win, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. However I would caution teams such as the Boston Red Sox that tackling and wrestling in the dugout after something positive happens isn’t the way that baseball’s supposed to be. When ESPN ran their special a few years ago on the greatest football game ever played (the 1958 NFL championship game), they made a point of talking about how Johnny Unitas turned and calmly walked off the field after Ameche scored the winning TD. When asked why he didn’t even raise his hands to celebrate, Unitas said that the game was over so he just turned and walked away.