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Baseball Fans Don’t Mind Players Being Friendly But NBA Fans Do

by Wendy Thurm on May 12, 2011

Last weekend, Buster Olney reported in his Sunday column (sub. req’d) that new MLB Vice President Joe Torre was working hard on a plan to clamp down on player fraternization before and during games.  It’s the ever-elusive “some folks in the game” who apparently think it’s a no-no for fans to see players chatting it up during batting practice or while sharing a base during the game. The comments left on Olney’s column suggest that at least those fans don’t care a whit about whether players act friendly to each other on the baseball field.


On Monday’s Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra provided his usually witty and sane take on Torre’s “Don’t Love They Neighbor” vision for major league players:

I can’t think of a single reason why this would be a priority for anyone in Major League Baseball. What, you don’t want to show fans that it’s OK to like and respect their competitors? That it’s more than a game and extends into personal rivalry? Isn’t that the exact opposite that the Dodgers and Giants players tried to demonstrate back when they had their first series following the beating of Bryan Stow?


Much like Olney’s readers, most (if not all) of HBT’s commenters agreed with Calcaterra’s view, expressing disbelief that Torre and MLB would spend energy on this “issue” much less make it a high priority. Calcaterra visited the issue again the next day, in a video chat with SI’s Joe Sheehan, who roundly criticized Torre’s plan. A quick spin through the inter-webs didn’t reveal much concern at all by anyone that pre-game high-fives and in-game chit-chats by major league ballplayers on opposing teams were undermining the integrity or competitiveness of the game or upsetting even the most passionate and loyal fans.


As I reflected on the issue, I found myself in agreement with this prevailing view (a not too common thing in my life). But something was gnawing at me. I seemed to remember bloggers and columnists and fans recently expressing the contrary view, taking players to task for pre-game hugs and post-game laughs with guys on the other team. But it wasn’t baseball players on the hot seat.


No, the criticism was directed at the NBA. “Are some NBA players too friendly,” asked a fan on a Toronto Raptors blog? “Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal Should not hug after games,” quipped an Orlando Sentinel sports columnist. Cleveland fans went berserk when Cavaliers players hugged LeBron on the court before his first game against his old team.


And that got me thinking. Why do baseball fans and the baseball commentariat think it’s just fine and dandy for opposing players to show their friendship on the field–even while the game is on-going–while their basketball comrades take the completely opposite view? Is it simply the closeness, the physicality of basketball that drives fans to demand a more warrior-like mentality from NBA players? Or is something else going?


As much as it may make us uncomfortable, I think race has something to do with it. And I don’t mean racism, but race. In large measure, the NBA is a league of African-American stars and non-African-American (i.e. white) fans. It’s not a secret. It may not be discussed widely because we’re not good at talking about race in this country, but we see it, we know it. Maybe basketball fans don’t like to be reminded how far outside the NBA players’ fraternity they really are. How unattainable their skills and stardom are. How “other” these NBA stars are.


We don’t have these feelings about baseball players. Maybe because the “we” is not just white, but all sorts of colors, creeds and ethnicities, just like the players themselves. The ballplayers seem approachable. They remind us of people we’ve met or known or heard about. When we see players from opposing teams talking on the field during BP or during the game, we get it. We understand it. And we’re not threatened by it.


I love this about baseball. I love the “everyman” feeling about the game and the fans. And I don’t want Joe Torre to take it away.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

AGirlintheSouth May 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I really hope that Torre lays off this. I love to see the baserunner chatting with the second baseman. It’s one of the great things about baseball…it’s still quite a gentleman’s sport. Can’t we have one sport where the athletes are actually role models while playing their game?


Jason Herman May 13, 2011 at 9:20 am

I once got picked off while taking a lead from first because I was busy chatting with the first baseman. Compounding the embarrassment was the long wlak back to the third base dugout, where my manager was standing and complaining to the umprie that he didn’t even want to let me come back to the bench.


Jason Herman May 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

sorry for the typos.


ReadingSox May 14, 2011 at 10:58 am

Seriously, of all the issue that could use MLB executive attention they’re wasting time and energy on this? I also love to see players sharing a friendly word before and during games. There are plenty of other sports where opposing players treat each other as sworn enemies – one of baseball’s many fine qualities is that it isn’t one of these.


Drew May 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

Baseball and basketball are two different games. In basketball, when you are on the floor you are competing against all 5 players of your opponent. It’s not just the player you are guarding, your battling for rebounds, running through picks, etc

In baseball, the competition is really just the pitcher against the hitter. If two RF want to yuck it up before the game, or two relievers want to talk about how they hold their slider, it’s not taking anything from the competitive nature of the game.


bardin May 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

What about NFL football? After every game, there is plenty of hugs, friendly words, and general fraternization between opposing players with each other and even players and opposing coaches! There doesn’t seem to be any problem with this, and by the way, the NFL has lots of racial mixture, so race doesn’t seem to matter. Soccer also seems to have no problem with this; in fact it is even encouraged, with exchanges of jerseys and whatnot (a rather disgusting practice, in my opinion, but I digress…).

I think the simple point is that those who frown upon this friendliness being shown after basketball games are just plain wrong, period. There really shouldn’t be any problem with it whatsoever, and those who do have a problem with it really should find something better to do with their time.


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