Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Country Club
2008-04-14 10:30
by Alex Belth

Shortly after Shaq Fu was traded to Phoenix a few months ago, the Suns were playing a nationally televised game against the Spurs. At one point, Shaq was lying on the ground and Tim Duncan offered him a hand. Shaq ignored him. Hey, just like the olden days, I thought. Which brought to mind a story that Jeff Pearlman wrote for SI on the changing nature of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry back in 2002:

Like many notable encounters, this one was accidental—a simple, unexpected meeting of...well, rear ends. Really, it was perfect. How many times over the years had they crossed paths and thought of growling, Kiss my ass? And here they were, Dwight Evans and Willie Randolph, posterior to posterior on one of their old battlegrounds, Yankee Stadium.

This took place last Friday, roughly two hours before the first-place Boston Red Sox and the second-place New York Yankees, baseball's greatest rivals, were to meet for the ninth of the 19 games that their fans are being blessed with this season. Randolph, the Yankees' third base coach and their former six-time All-Star second baseman, was standing on the pitcher's mound, gathering the balls left scattered from his team's batting practice session. Evans, the Red Sox hitting coach and their former three-time All-Star rightfielder, was strolling toward the hill to begin tossing BP to his club. As he was chatting with Red Sox infielder Carlos Baerga, Evans accidentally backed into Randolph, who was bent over at the waist. The two men turned around, and for an instant their eyes met. Then they spoke.

Evans: "Hey, Willie, how's it going?"

Randolph: "Pretty good...pretty good."

And that was that. As Randolph jogged toward the home clubhouse, he was stopped by a reporter who had witnessed the scene. Randolph shook his head and sighed. "Man," he said, embarrassed that there'd been a witness to the friendly exchange. "You saw that?"

From 1976 through '88, when Evans and Randolph were principals in the great rivalry at the same time, the two teams detested each other. It wasn't just that the clubs were routinely clawing for American League East supremacy. (Over those 13 seasons, the two combined for six division titles and five World Series appearances.) No, members of each team had a genuine dislike for the other. "It was hatred, no question," says Randolph. "I'm sure they thought we all had attitudes, and we felt the same way about them. There was no talking before games, no hanging out by the batting cage. Just snarling."

As Randolph was speaking, a familiar scene unfolded nearby that curdled his old-school blood. Two Yankees jogged alongside a couple of Red Sox, chatting like long-lost brothers. And in the outfield a gaggle of Boston pitchers exchanged pleasantries with their New York counterparts. There was laughter with backslaps and—egads!—handshakes, the byproducts of free agency run amok. "I guess it's O.K. for me to say 'Hi' to Dwight because he's a coach now," says Randolph. "But as a player I wouldn't even look at him. Nowadays you see Red Sox and Yankees running in the outfield, hugging each other. That bothers me, but what can I do? Nothing's the same anymore. Everything's changed."

True enough. But that doesn't mean you have to like it. Just ask Joel Sherman:

If you do not read my friend Ken Davidoff's work in Newsday, you really should. He splendidly combines excellent reporting instincts and deep thought on subjects. In his column today, he talks about how Joba Chamberlain has formed bonds with many young stars around the game, including Boston's Clay Buchholz. Ken reports in the column that Chamberlain wished Buchholz good luck in a text message before a start last September, and then Buchholz went out and pitched a no-hitter. Now call me old-fashioned, but I hate that stuff.

I know these are new times, where so many players move around to different teams or share agents or have common interests that bond them beyond the game. But this is Yankees-Red Sox. I don't think Yankee players should be wishing good luck to the Red Sox.

I will share a story that details this more clearly my thoughts. This occurred last year at Fenway Park. I noticed that several Yankees had met up with David Ortiz behind the batting cage during batting practice, and they were hugging and joking. This was a quite common occurrence. One you could see if not every day, then nearly every Yankee-Red Sox series. So I asked a group of Yankee players (who will go nameless here) this: "Let me ask you a question, what the (bleep) does that guy have to do to your team to get someone here to stand up and tell those who would joke around with him, 'hey that guy has caused this organization more anguish and robbed more glory and money from us than maybe any player in history. So why don't you stop (bleeping) around with him?'"

The players in the group, while acknowledging that the fraternization had gone a little too far, said that in this era you can't tell teammates that or you will cause more problems than you think you may be solving.

I have a word for that thinking: PATHETIC.

2008-04-14 10:50:23
1.   Cliff Corcoran
I have one word for Sherman: Pathetic.

I don't see why you have to be a dick to people in order to want to beat them in a game. Hell, friendly rivalries fire me up because you know those guys will be around to hold the loss over your head if they beat you.

I can't understand criticizing players for acting like mature, civil, compassionate adults rather than petty, back-biting children. Aren't modern day players exhibiting better sportsmanship in being friendly with their opponents and thus providing better role models for kids at least in this one area?

Things weren't always better in the old days, even if they did make for better copy.

2008-04-14 11:10:44
2.   tommyl
1 I have to agree very strongly here with Cliff. Its called separating the person from the player. I'm sure no Yankees pitcher wants to see David Ortiz up with runners on base in a close game, but that doesn't mean they have to think he's a dick.

Next time Joel Sherman writes something like that, ask him if he is chummy with Tyler Kepner and George King. They work for rival papers after all, what are they doing sharing dinner and colloquial conversation?

2008-04-14 11:25:33
3.   vockins
Why would you be a dick to a guy you could be working with in a year? Or tomorrow?
2008-04-14 11:36:37
4.   rbj
Why be a dick period? Isn't there enough hatred in the world already? It's also remarkable to see at the end of NFL games where guys are hugging opponents.
2008-04-14 12:05:53
5.   Dimelo
As long as all Yankees hate Curt Schilling, then I don't really care who they are chummy with and who they aren't.
2008-04-14 12:18:28
6.   tommyl
5 I think many of the Sox hate Schilling, so I don't think you have much to worry about.
2008-04-14 12:20:14
7.   Max
My thinking largely mirrors everyone else's here, but I can see the romance, twisted as it is, of the idea that nihilistic loathing of the opponent results in a more focused and energetic performance.

Since Alex started with a basketball example here, a very good example from that sport would be Bruce Bowen of the Spurs. I remember reading that when he played with the other NBA superstars on the national team a while back, he was excluded from most of the socializing that took place in Vegas and other places. He's almost universally despised, and doesn't seem to go out of his way to be chummy with anyone.

2008-04-14 12:40:02
8.   Knuckles
The overwhelming thing fans need to keep in minds is that athletes operate on a completely different planet than we do, and have been ever since their talent level became apparent. Honestly, how fired up can you stay about a game, once it's finished, when you and the opponent are making millions of dollars? In every major league city, there's a finite amount of "it" restaurants, bars, clubs, what have you. So naturally, jocks, after the contest is over are going to gravitate to them, bump into each other, etc. No one is taking food out of anyone else's mouth (unless we're talking Latrell Sprewell) so the fire and enmity are going to be muted, no matter how damn competitive a guy is on the field.

We may not like the answer, but there it is. Hell, I have played a good number of contact sports in my adult life (rugby, etc.) and I am very good at whipping myself into a froth of hate for my opponents, but there have been very few times (cheap shot artists, etc.) where I am not happy to have a beer with the same opponent after a game, wish them luck, see you next season, etc.

2008-04-14 12:52:19
9.   Raf
1 I agree wholeheartedly.

As for
"Let me ask you a question, what the (bleep) does that guy have to do to your team to get someone here to stand up and tell those who would joke around with him, 'hey that guy has caused this organization more anguish and robbed more glory and money from us than maybe any player in history. So why don't you stop (bleeping) around with him?'"

The following two answers are acceptable
1. 'Our pitchers need to make better pitches'
2. 'Here's a dollar; head to concessions and buy yourself a nice tall glass of STFU Joel'

2008-04-14 13:23:12
10.   liam

im certainly surprised. while i dont think they need to hate each other, i really dont think it is right for the players to be fraternizing at the level that they are at. while we as fans are ultimately paying them to beat the piss out of the red sox every time they play, giambi has to talk to every player when he gets on base.

i dont advocate that they should snarl and spit at each other, but i think that there is a certain level of professionalism that i do advocate. i have worked in competitive jobs, and when i worked alongside competitors, i was friendly toward them. however, when it came down to doing work, i was very serious and you wouldnt catch me saying, hey you know what, they ARE better at x,y and z.

what am i saying? i think i do prefer it old school. i dont see anything wrong with outside the walls of the stadiums. and while im a bit bothered by pre/post game, i dont see it as a big issue. but during the game i think its gotta be my team vs your team.

2008-04-14 13:24:38
11.   liam

dont you think it would help the intensity that the yankees obviously need to play well if they werent so chummy???

2008-04-14 13:30:37
12.   tommyl
10 Well, I'm not sure where you are going with this one. Some chummy guys would include Jeter, Ortiz etc. I don't think anyone would question that Jeter wants to win, really, really badly. Giambi might be a friendly guy and chat when someone gets on base, but I'm pretty sure he's trying his hardest to win. Should Jeter and O'Neill have shunned David Cone in 2001? John Flaherty a bit later? Should Ortiz and Manny not talk to Johnny Damon anymore? Would you rather people behave like those idiot Red Sox fans who beat up a guy for wearing a Yankees hat? I think in the end, people need to remember this is just a game, its not worth hating people over.

I'm pretty certain at this level, any player for the Yanks or Sox is trying his absolute hardest to beat the other team. If they aren't what the hell are they doing playing baseball?

2008-04-14 13:32:49
13.   liam
12 im not for that at all actually. im saying (at least) during the game, there are no friends. afterwards, buy each other shots at stan's for all i care.
2008-04-14 13:34:59
14.   Andre
I agree with all the peace, love, happiness sentiment.

On the other hand, a few years ago (04 or 05) when Arod was getting booed mercilessly by Yankees fans, I read an article about a game at Fenway when Big Papi caught ARod's eye while ARod was at bat and gave him a "take a big breath" look to calm ARod down. Seems to go against competitive nature, even though I think it's cool he did that and all. Sometimes I think it's just hard for people to separate competition from real world. Since you compete, you must hate each other, etc.

2008-04-14 13:41:09
15.   standuptriple
13 I'm more in this camp as well. I think you may lose the edge you need by letting your guard down in these types of situations. In fact, I think there isn't enough emphasis in the mental preparation needed to win. Look at Tiger Woods. The guy despises distractions. And that's what the chumminess is, IMO, a distraction from the task at hand.
2008-04-14 13:44:15
16.   tommyl
15 And for other guys it relaxes them and helps them perform better. Like I said, so long as the player in question is doing his utmost to win and perform well I don't care. So long as they don't start dancing with Papelbon. That I just can't forgive.
2008-04-14 13:50:01
17.   wsporter
1 Word

Sherman's a puke, like so many of these talking heads the only thing he knows how to run is his mouth.

On the athletic field, in the courthouse, on the sales beat or anyplace else people compete with each other to earn their daily bread the best performers are those who treat their competitors with civility and respect and who fight until the last dog dies. You don't have to be an a-hole to be a winner or to prove that you are one.

2008-04-14 14:18:29
18.   standuptriple
16 Guys can't relax w/guys in the same uni?
2008-04-14 14:56:03
19.   Raf
11 No, it wouldn't. The Yankees' problems have little to do with intensity, or lack thereof.
2008-04-14 17:24:50
20.   bartap74
How is that not an error on Damon?

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