I went on SportsDash on the NBC Sports Network this afternoon and talked about how, as long as players aren’t being truly rude and in the face of the opposition, there is nothing wrong with celebration. Bat flipping. Exuberance. Some occasional strutting. The sort of stuff I’ve been going on about for a couple of days here. As soon as I came back upstairs from the little studio in the basement of my fortified compound, however, I got these two messages:
— Michael Dern (@Gosh_Dern_Mike) April 22, 2014
Setting aside the ridiculousness of a couple of La-Z-Boy warriors telling me that I can’t opine on the game if I didn’t play it at a high level, I am just so taken with that last bit. The bit about how Carlos Gomez must “respect the game.”
Like so many sports topic and phrases that seem to exist only in the world of talk radio and “Around The Horn” — whether someone is an “elite quarterback” or whether a basketball player is “coachable” spring to mind — the phrase “respect the game” is as ridiculous as it is meaningless. It’s a cliche that allows its user to pour in any amount of subjective criteria, smatter it with a healthy helping of bullcrap armchair psychology and turn a matter of opinion or aesthetics into some quasi-objective assessment. I sorta messed with the hashtag #RespectTheGame on Twitter earlier today, but if you scroll down past my shenanigans, you’ll see a lot of self-serious (and almost exclusively young, white male) baseball fans speaking about how important it is to respect the game. Repeating that phrase more like a religious incantation than an actual idea.
Of course, when asked to explain those concepts, it’s hard for their proponents to avoid tautology. Johnny Utah is an elite quarterback because he has won Super Bowls and that’s an elite accomplishment. Joe Shlabotnik respects the game because of the way he goes about his business. How does he go about his business? Well, respectfully. Tyrone Shoelaces is a coachable NBA player because he has not yet physically assaulted his coach. Utah, Shlabotnik and Shoelaces are all one failure or gaffe away from losing their elite, respectful and coachable status, of course. Suggesting that these concepts are conveniently malleable.
I actually played football at a higher level than I ever played baseball, so I suppose by some people’s logic I can talk more intelligently about football, but we know that’s not true. I can talk about baseball, though, and I’ll observe that, in baseball, there are a lot of players who have disrespected the game before Carlos Gomez came along. At least in what I presume to be the judgment of guys like my Twitter correspondents up there. Even some guys who, when it’s convenient for the speaker, are held up as examples of Game Respecters Par Excellence. Guys like this:
Pete Rose. There’s a guy who would never toss his bat and strut out of the box. He totally respected the game. Or how about the Lords of Baseball during its Golden Age?
More recent Hall of Famers?
Greater baseball legends?
Even greater baseball legends?
The greatest baseball legend of them all?
The fact of the matter is that baseball is a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters. I adore a straight-shooting player like Al Kaline, but I thank God for Mark “the Bird” Fidrych. I have nothing but respect for the eternally polite and accommodating Harmon Killebrew, but Rickey Henderson made baseball exciting for my entire childhood and beyond. For every upstanding player that the Respect the Game crowd can point to, I can point to another one of those clowns, rogues and rakes. And I can point to people who find that stuff a lot of fun. Or, even if it’s not intended to be fun, somewhat interesting.
Baseball is in no more need of being respected by any one player than the sun is in need of being respected by cosmic dust. Baseball is way bigger than any of these guys and can survive — or even benefit from — these guys who are alleged to be so lacking in respect. Guys who don’t take everything so damn seriously all the time. Guys that sometimes lose their cool. Guys who use baseball as a vehicle for humor or for ego or for showmanship. Guys who do these things to get butts in the seats or their faces on magazines. Baseball has always survived them. At times, it has even embraced them. The game has never been weakened by them. Indeed, it is often made stronger.
So color me unimpressed with the latest calls for Carlos Gomez or Yasiel Puig or whoever the talk show warriors’ next punching bag happens to be to respect the game. The game has been disrespected by way better and way more disrespectful than the likes of those guys and will be disrespected by many more in the future.
And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.