Hot doggin’ it!
By Lisa R. Neilson
When Jordany Valdespin yelled excitedly and clapped his hands excessively after tripling in Citizens Bank Park earlier this week, NY Mets manager Terry Collins turned his back. It wasn’t because Collins was unhappy about the hit – his team was down six runs to the Philadelphia rival. But showboating just isn’t Collins’ thing. Despite becoming accustomed to witnessing the theatrics of players like former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes with his infamous chest thump/finger raised to the sky, Collins remains old school about players’ dramatic demonstrations of their successes. But should the Mets skipper update his response?
Naturally, celebratory self-expression is not new to the game. Pointed fingers in the air and animated gestures have always been present. In the early days, however, these were highly frowned upon. A bat-flip following a homerun meant immediate payback by the pitcher when rules allowed them to throw inside. Retribution to the hitter or the hitter’s teammate was almost guaranteed. In general, players displayed respect; it was part of the unwritten rules of baseball. So what’s happened to these unwritten rules?
Paying homage to baseball’s unspoken “code of conduct” seems to have taken a backseat in recent years. Some folks see this as a generational change. Young players have grown up with the notion that it’s okay for men to wear their emotions on their sleeves; they are no longer required to remain cool and impassive most of the time. It’s become a world where rappers like Jay-Z and Eminem chant openly about their hard-knock upbringings and their struggles handling the ‘boo’ they’re ‘busting grapes with’ (translation: the girlfriend they’re fighting with). The inexpressive male has retired, and so, too, has the more reserved ballplayer.
He can throw a fist-pump after a strike-out and perform a little dance hop after a home run. It’s not so much in disrespect to his opponent but because he is pleased with his performance and his contribution to the game. It’s what he’s feeling, and he shows it.
Some players don’t seem to find celebratory self-expression insulting. Former Major League pitcher Tommy John believed that if pitchers didn’t like it when guys celebrated on them after hitting home runs, then they should learn to be better pitchers.
But what about the fans? Naturally, the home team’s crowd doesn’t like it one bit when a visiting player showboats a successful performance, producing loud reverberating boos throughout the ballpark. When it’s our player, we appear to be somewhat divided about it, schizophrenic even. We pass judgment on players when they are poker faces and show no emotion, but when they do express themselves, we don’t like that either. Former Mets relief pitcher Aaron Heilman was consistently criticized by fans and the media for sporting a deadpan mug night after night, yet when Yankees Joba Chamberlain fist pumps or bumps after a strikeout, we take issue with it. We cannot seem to decide which we would rather have: passionate players? Or robotic drones?
Certainly, taken to the extreme, acts of excessive celebration are garish and present a poor example. They detract from the game and highlight the theatrics of the idiosyncratic personalities. Most baseball celebrations, though, have yet to be taken to the extreme of those seen in other sports.
Showboat. Hot dog. Fancy Dan. Call it what you want. Sorry, Terry Collins. Excessive celebration isn’t going away any time soon.