There was a time, not that long ago, when kids would spend hours watching a pro baseball game on television. Before smartphones and cable TV and video games, we watched sports on television constantly and marveled at the players and their skills.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, our summers were spent outside, playing endless games of baseball, whiffle ball, stickball and multiple versions of "three flies," also known as stoop ball. Having spent a fair amount of time glued to WPIX watching the Yankees and WWOR watching the Mets, we knew, and often tried to replicate, the batting stances of the pros like Dave Winfield, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, and even Felix Milan with his hands choked up about eight inches on his bat. But it was about much more than just the batting stances and the game. There was a reverence with which we held the game, and the players who played it, that we felt and took very seriously. Today, we call it being "old-school." We played our hearts out, running out every ground ball and every routine pop-fly. We took nothing for granted, including the equipment we played with, be it the last whiffle ball or our glove or bat. We never wore out hats backwards or even tilted, unless we were catching, and we never showed up the pitcher when we took him yard. Our home run trots, like our batting stances, emulated our heroes and were done with purpose and pride but never with provocation.
So what happened over the last 30 years? Where is that reverence? Did the steroid era run it out of town? Did baseball go "Hollywood"? Am I the last of a dying breed of old-schoolers that cringe every time they see a player grandstand around the bases during his home run trot, or slam his bat and helmet to the ground after an inning-ending play? And the latest craze of players wearing their hats tilted almost sideways... Some say, "as long as he keeps pitching like that, who cares what his hat looks like?" I say different. I understand the need for individualism but perhaps the baseball uniform isn't the forum to express one's individualism, hence the name "uniform." Baseball, as a game, is more steeped in tradition than any other game we know, with its roots connected to the game of cricket dating back to the 1700s. How we carry ourselves on the field before, during and after the game are all a direct reflection of our respect for the game itself and all those players who came before us. Every current pro stands on the shoulders of previous generations of players and owes them -- and the game -- their respect and gratitude.
So where does it end and what's next? Is the next step allowing players to let their pants droop around their butts? Perhaps letting them wear their jerseys unbuttoned? I hope not. The game deserves better. The game deserves the respect and dignity of a player's pride and earnestness. After all, if one earns their living playing the game, they owe the game at least that much. More importantly, the world is watching and as players, young and impressionable kids are paying attention to your every move... maybe not as many as when we were kids, but enough to make a difference.
As a fan, I appreciate those players that have played with that level of respect and earnestness: guys like Craig Biggio, David Wright, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Jr. and of course, Derek Jeter, among others. Even though it's a game, the game itself represents an ideal and a rich history that deserves its due respect with a touch of reverence.