Rules Have Changed in Sportsmanship
Alesia, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Mark Alesia Daily Herald Sports Feature Writer
Milwaukee manager Phil Garner, whose nickname is Scrap Iron, sat in his office and chewed a cigar as he lamented the loss of bygone days when pitchers still threw at hitters.
"We're a kinder, gentler game now," Garner said.
He didn't mean it as a compliment.
But even Garner has a soft spot for the feel-good sports story of the year, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race. Not only has it captivated the nation, it seems to be writing its own rules in regard to what's acceptable behavior between opposing players and between home fans and a visiting player.
Fans cheer Sosa and McGwire wildly on the road, often booing their own team's pitcher for not throwing strikes.
When McGwire hit his record-breaking 62nd home run against the Cubs, first baseman Mark Grace patted McGwire on the rear as he rounded first base. Third baseman Gary Gaetti hugged him. Catcher Scott Servais hugged him. That's not to mention Sosa joining the Cardinals' celebration and being lifted into the air by McGwire.
When Cal Ripken Jr's consecutive games played streak ended Sunday, the opposing New York Yankees players came out of the dugout to applaud him.
"There was a different etiquette when I played," said Garner, whose playing career ended in 1988. "You didn't dance after a home run, either. But I don't find that offensive. Grace congratulated McGwire. You can do that and remain competitive."
Others aren't so sure, including radio commentator Jimmy Piersall, who said it "made me puke" to see so many Cubs - in the middle of a wild-card race - making such gestures toward McGwire. And, by the way, they lost the game.
"To me, it would have been a little tough in the Cubs' situation, trying to win a pennant," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "If I'm (pitcher) Steve Trachsel, I have a problem with everybody hugging him while he's running around the bases."
But Trachsel hasn't complained, and Grace certainly wasn't apologizing.
"I was caught up in it, I'll admit it," Grace said. "If people didn't like it, the hell with them. I did what I did, and I'm proud of it. I've known Mark McGwire since 1985, when I played against him in college. He's a great guy and a great ambassador for the game. Sammy's doing the same thing."
In the NBA, the sports marketing success story of the '90s, superstars come together on Olympic teams and the fans see them winning and having fun together. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and others are perceived as being happy members of the Superstars Club.
A little bad blood never hurts fan interest. But McGwire and Sosa are showing the effect of grace and humor.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said it's healthy for the game.
"It's the most potentially significant part of the whole summer," La Russa said. "What they're doing every day is historically significant. But they're also showing other players there's nothing wrong with connecting with the fans and having some interplay. I think a lot of players are taking notice, at least the ones who aren't surly and arrogant. …