“You see, back in my day players would get fined if they were caught talking to members of another team. That’s real baseball!” The mighty F-word, the word that has taken the history of the game we love, and shredded it like Enron papers. The word that has taken the fabric of our national pastime, and sewn a quilt for the opposing second baseman out of it.
It is not at all uncommon for players on opposing teams seen mingling together on the field duringbatting practice nowadays. Or perhaps meeting up with former teammates, now foes, for a post game dinner at a local hot spot. Or as seen recently with the explosion of Twitter, players joking amongst themselves about anything and everything via social media.
To most fans this isn’t really an issue at all. Players move about from team to team, establishing a network of acquaintances throughout the league. It’s only natural they would want to keep in touch with those they’ve bonded with in the past right? Well to some that simply is unacceptable.
Recently I heard brief portion of Marty Lurie’s weekend baseball show on KNBR. I usually don’t care for Marty, or anything on the Giants-centric KNBR, but he managed to catch my attention for a moment as he went on a sleepy tirade on the perils of fraternization. I know from listening to him on the A’s pregame shows for a number of years that Marty Lurie is an old school baseball man through and through, so this did not surprise me. Marty is exactly the kind of person I envisioned when I began this series.
I do understand why some people see interaction between opposing players as harmful to the game, theoretically it would hinder the competitive edge players have because they would be reluctant to play hard agains their buddies. Purists harken back to a time when players truly had distaste for their rivals, you would never see Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams having a drink at the bar after a game at Fenway. You would never see Bobby Thomson and Duke Snider meeting for coffee in NYC before the 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game just to catch up.
The reality of the situation is that we don’t live in that world anymore, and Major League Baseball is not the same league it was back then. With the advent of free agency in the 1970’s, player movement began to increase exponentially. It was only natural that guys would begin to intermingle with former teammates they would see on occasion throughout the season. At this point, rivalries thought to be full of emotion and bitterness between two teams really is left to the fans. All across the world of sports examples are seen of players out partying after crushing losses to bitter rivals. Just ask Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.
Baseball is now more of a business than anything, and everyone involved in MLB knows that now. With the extraordinary contracts being handed out, all players understand that the business side of the sport has taken over, thus it is very seldom players stay with one team during their entire careers. Old school baseball people need to realize that fact, and come to terms with the notion that if they were presented with the type of money today’s players command, they’d follow the green as well. And they’ll all be partying together after cashing their checks.