I was sitting at home last night watching Game 5 of the National League Championship Series pitting the San Francisco Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals. Seemed like a perfectly good way to spend a Friday night to me.
I grew up playing baseball, idolizing the likes of Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax, and Eddie Mathews, collecting baseball cards, and watching Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese broadcasting the ‘Game of the Week‘ in black and white television on CBS.
You might say that I’m a bit old school in my appreciation of the game of baseball.
Somewhere around the 5th inning in last night’s game, Buster Posey, the Giants catcher was at the plate. Posey, who can easily plant a hanging curve ball deep into the left field bleachers, took a wicked swing at a fastball thrown by the Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn and fouled it directly into his left shin.
Let me tell you, that hurts! I’m not ashamed to admit that if I struck a 95 mile per hour fastball with a hardwood bat causing it to slam into my shin bone, it’s likely that a little mist might begin to appear in my eyes. Of course, it’s also highly probable that I couldn’t see a 95 mile per hour fastball in the first place, but you get what I mean.
The point of this story is what happened next. Posey, in obvious pain, hopped out of the batter’s box. Immediately Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher, came out of his crouch position behind the plate and appeared to be intent on walking out to the pitcher’s mound, but after taking a few steps he turned around and slowly came back to the plate.
So what? Big deal, you might be saying.
Normally between pitches the catcher doesn’t come up from his crouch position. Molina did so in this case in order to give Posey a few seconds to recover from the effects of the foul tip off of his leg. He never intended to go to the mound. He was just killing time.
When play resumed, the camera was on Posey as he stepped back into the batter’s box. As he was planting his feet to get ready for the next pitch, viewers could see him turn his head down to Molina behind the plate, nod, and mouth the words, “Yeah, I’m okay.” Bravo Yadier Molina!
I mentioned earlier that I’m old school when it comes to baseball. Well, I’m equally old school when it comes to my appreciation of demonstrations of sportsmanship.
Those few seconds of interaction between Posey and Molina probably went unnoticed by most who were either at the game or viewing it on TV, but to me it was a clear example of a level of sportsmanship that used to be commonplace in athletics, but lately seems to be unfashionable.
I’m a sports photographer. I spend an inordinate amount of time in stadiums, ballparks, and arenas capturing images of high school, college, and professional sports.
It’s rare to see a defensive back extend his hand and assist the running back, who he has just tackled, up from the turf of a football field. In basketball, the normal behavior for a seven foot center who has just blocked a shot is to scowl menacingly into the face of the shooter and flex his arms as if he’s some kind of comic book dark-side super hero.
Intimidation seems to be the name of the game and we’re teaching it to athletes at ever younger ages.
Too often athletes step over their opponents rather than helping them to their feet, kick a ball away rather than tossing it back, or lean a shoulder into another player as they are walking past each other. It’s as if there is a belief that such actions produce an advantage on the playing field.
These, and similar, acts of unsportsmanlike behavior don’t improve the likelihood that one athlete or team will be able to dominate another.
By the same token, overt displays of sportsmanship don’t improve the chances of winning.
That said, I would prefer to see the spirit and practice of sportsmanship return to a place of preeminence in all athletic competitions. To me, it’s simply the way the games should be played.