Baseball etiquette, and what we need to see more of in society
George Will interestingly contends that the most valuable rules in baseball are unwritten and relate to manners. Will's leading example is Alex Bregman carrying his bat down to first base on his home run trot during the World Series, Juan Soto copying that on his subsequent homer, and both managers apologizing after the game for the breaches of etiquette. It's often called showboating or showing up the other team's pitcher.
I personally think Bregman was so caught up in the moment that he just forgot to throw down the bat. When he became aware that he still had it in his hand and how bad it looked, he didn't know how to get rid of it without looking even worse. He apologized after the game, said there was no excuse for it, and took ownership of an action that clearly looked like showboating. Had he instead just grinningly hugged and kissed the bat while jogging around the bases, chances are, everyone would have laughed it off.
We've gotten used to silly demonstrations on the field of play. Soto could have mimicked it, and perhaps bat-carrying around the basepaths might have become as commonplace as dancing after a sack.
Or led to brawls.
Will is spot on about baseball etiquette. The problem is that not every athlete gets raised on the same set of behavioral standards, so at some point, the rules-makers have to intervene. While some, perhaps most, showboating is harmless and in some cases has even broadened a given sport's appeal (think slam dunk), it has in the past led to literal strife. Millionaire professional athletes in their physical primes go at it, risking damage to hands, eyes, heads, joints, putting careers, and investments made on those careers, in real danger. Serious stuff.
The best way to combat unintentional showboating is the way Bregman did it — honestly and straight on. It isn't so much that there's bad in the best of us and good in the worst of us, as that Manichean, black-and-white thinking has made it too easy to accuse and not easy enough to take responsibility and accept blame without career death. Baseball has provided an outstanding example of the way out of this imbroglio. It involves more straightforward honesty and manliness than we're accustomed to seeing in public figures — men being men, owning their mistakes forthrightly with sincere expressions of regret. Because those traits shine through in the way Bregman handled it at the postgame interview, the incident can be put behind us, and we feel good where we might have felt disgruntled.
Nicely done, Bregman and Hinch and Martínez.