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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

September 21, 2009 at 1:46 PM

Walk-off beatdowns and other celebratory musings

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I must have missed a couple of memos.

First of all, I missed the memo dictating that all walk-off hits will hereby be commemorated by tracking down the perpetrator of said walk-off and pummeling him within an inch of his life. In the ensuing scrum, anything goes, it appears — slugging, slapping, pounding, tickling (but only if your name is Ken Griffey Jr.). It’s a wonder any player escapes without major injury — but more on that in a moment.

I also missed the memo dictating that the traditional “pie in the face” to the game’s hero while he does the post-game television interview has been changed from shaving or whipped cream to ice cream. Somewhere, Eddie Guardado and J.J. Putz, masters of the old-school shaving cream pie, are cringing in horror. But just this week at Safeco, both Mike Carp and Adam Moore got ice-cream facials, Carp for his first major-league home run, Moore for his first hit. And the finger prints of Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. were all over both incidents (until their moms made them wash up).

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The last memo I missed — and this was issued a few years ago — is the one mandating that the victorious team, after each and every win, will march onto the field to form a receiving line, with the starting players on one side, ritualistically shaking hands with the reserves and coaching staff. This is now universal, but I’m not quite sure when that happened, or why. All I know is they weren’t doing this when I started covering baseball in the 1980s, or even throughout the 1990s. All that’s missing is for the victors to gather in front of their dugout and salute their vanquished foes with the old Little League cheer, “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate.”

These are tumultuous times indeed for baseball celebrations, which seem to be getting more elaborate by the day. It was 1977 when Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season and was greeted at the plate by Dodger teammate Glenn Burke with his arm upraised. The two slapped hands — the first known use of the “high five” in pro sports. From that humble beginning has evolved the low five, the forearm bash, the fist bump, the chest bump, and various other permutations of bodily contact in the name of celebration.

The latest incarnation I’ve observed took place just yesterday, when Griffey, after homering in the second inning against the Yankees, took off his helmet after he crossed home plate, as did Franklin Gutierrez, who scored ahead of him. The two then clinked helmets, their version of a champagne toast. The Yankees have started doing this thing where the player who hits a game-ending homer throws his helmet into the air as he crosses the plate, and the waiting players fight over it like a bride’s bouquet. I can just imagine Ty Cobb doing that.

Every walk-off homer nowadays unleashes a veritable riot at the plate, starting with the aforementioned pummeling and usually ending with the entire scrum jumping up and down, en masse, in a giant ball of undulating joy. The way I look at it, it’s sort of heartwarming to know that these wins are so meaningful, especially when you hear about how modern players make so much money they don’t care as much as their predecessors. If that’s true, they’re sure good actors, because in the olden days, such raucous displays were reserved for Game 7 of the World Series.

So far, all the homer-hitters have survived unscathed, as far as I know, but that’s not the case with other celebrants. Mariner catcher Rob Johnson is nursing an ankle sprain that he twisted while jumping up and down at home plate, waiting for Ichiro to cross the plate after his game-winner off Mariano Rivera last Friday. And earlier this season, Ryan Dempster of the Cubs broke his big toe when he tripped over a dugout rail in his haste to run onto the field to celebrate a victory. Dempster wound up on the disabled list, a major blow for the Cubs.

The Brewers have been innovators in taking celebrating to new levels. Last year, they started the ritual of immediately untucking their jerseys after each win, which Mike Cameron said he started as a tribute to his dad, who would do that to relax whenever he came home from a hard day of work. Naturally, because baseball players are fuddy-duddys when it comes to what they perceive as “disrespecting the game,” some teams, most notably the Cardinals, did not appreciate this. But it was nothing compared to the flack the Brewers received earlier this year when Prince Fielder hit a walkoff homer, and this took place as he crossed home plate:

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Naturally, the condemnation from self-proclaimed “old-schoolers” was swift and unequivocal: the Brewers were making a mockery of the game. That opinion was typified by this Torii Hunter comment to the Los Angeles Times: “If someone did that against us and we played them again, trust me, he’d get crushed, and we’d try to fight him.”

The NFL, of course, has tried to legislate such demonstrations out of the game, banning end zone celebrations and earning the monicker, “No Fun League.” If this trend toward ever-escalating celebrations continues, MLB might eventually stand for “Moronic Little Boys.” But I think the uptight players who take indignant offense at every display of elation should loosen their shorts. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and as long as the celebratory displays aren’t blatant taunting, let them be.

And if you disagree, I’ve got an ice-cream pie with your name on it.

(Photos by Associated Press)

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