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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whatever happened to sportsmanship?

I was watching sports on television today - something I really need to cut back on. I should be working diligently on a book a song or a play or a tree fort, or out in the sunshine, fine-tuning my melanoma, but here I sit, watching the home team put forth an amazing display of mediocrity. As I was wondering how I could somehow manipulate my own mediocrity into an obscene paycheck like these lackards, a question came to my mind - just when did sportsmanship turn into showmanship?

I thought about the old days when a ballplayer would smash a homerun into the upper deck, lower his head and trot around the bases, careful not to show up the opposing pitcher. Of course, back then, if you showed up an opposing pitcher, you might wind up taking a fastball to the kidney. That's how it worked back then; the game policed itself. Now, players crowd the plate and suit up in more armor than a medieval knight when they get in the batter's box. Back in the old days, that would have brought a little chin-music and the umpire would have watched with a bemused grin.

These days, players hit a rocket out of the park, drop the bat and admire their handiwork for a few seconds before taking a leisurely canter from bag to bag. A batter will hit a single through a gap in the infield and upon reaching first base, will make the sign of the cross, kiss his blingy crucifix necklace and point to the heavens, presumably thanking the man upstairs for his assistance in hitting the ball. I always wonder why they don't flip off the sky when they fail to reach base two-thirds of their turns at the plate. If you're gonna give the Big Guy credit for a hit, you might as well blame Him for the strike out, right? In a slump? Blame Jesus.

In football, players will flex their muscles and dance and carry on after a routine tackle as if they had just found the cure for cancer, even though their team is down 24 points and their QB is on the sideline taking an oral concussion test. I just don't get it... Basketball players have always reveled in making their opponents look stupid - I blame that on the Harlem Globetrotters with all their fancy passing and the Washington Generals' bench full of stiffs hired to take the nightly beating.

My point is this, I guess - leave the macho-in-your-face showmanship for the wrestling crowd. If I want to see a fancy dance, I will drive to Vegas and check out "Love" by the Cirque De Solei folks - I hear it's dandy. I want to watch sports when I turn on a sporting event, not a bunch of over-paid, juiced-up athletes who are more likely to sprain their shoulders patting themselves on the back than hurting themselves grinding out the extra three inches needed for the first down or diving for the seeing-eye grounder. Those legs are too valuable for that kind of nonsense, I suppose.

You can watch film of Babe Ruth dominating the game of baseball back in the twenties and throttling every pitcher who dared toss a ball in the vicinity of the plate. He would drop his bat and go into his little chubby trot - never showing up the opposing pitcher, even though he had proven at every level of the game that he had certainly earned the right to do so. There was the legendary "called shot" - which could have been construed as showing up the pitcher and the entire opposing team, but there is no solid proof that it ever even happened and eyewitness testimony to the incident varied. And you would never see Mickey Mantle standing at home plate to admire one his tape-measure jobs, even if he hit them completely out of the ballpark, which he did - several times. Just put his head down and trotted around the bases. Of course, he was probably drunk, but that only adds to the humility of the man. I readily admit that if I hit a 500-foot homerun, I would not only stand and admire the shot, I would run to the mound and kiss the pitcher right on the mouth. If that's not showing him up, I don't know what is. That's why I am not a professional athlete, I suppose.

All I'm saying is, have a little humility, fellas. Act like you've done it before. You make enough money to go take some lessons, or something. Or watch some old film of the games back when they had some class. Sometimes it's not entirely about you and your really bitchin accomplishment of the moment. Sometimes it's about preserving some of the dignity that the games worked so hard to acquire. Just sayin'.

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