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“Respect the Game?” Phooey.

Apr 22, 2014, 3:08 PM EDT

I went on SportsDash on the NBC Sports Network this afternoon and talked about how, as long as players aren’t being truly rude and in the face of the opposition, there is nothing wrong with celebration. Bat flipping. Exuberance. Some occasional strutting. The sort of stuff I’ve been going on about for a  couple of days here. As soon as I came back upstairs from the little studio in the basement of my fortified compound, however, I got these two messages:

Setting aside the ridiculousness of a couple of La-Z-Boy warriors telling me that I can’t opine on the game if I didn’t play it at a high level, I am just so taken with that last bit. The bit about how Carlos Gomez must “respect the game.”

Like so many sports topic and phrases that seem to exist only in the world of talk radio and “Around The Horn” — whether someone is an “elite quarterback” or whether a basketball player is “coachable” spring to mind — the phrase “respect the game” is as ridiculous as it is meaningless. It’s a cliche that allows its user to pour in any amount of subjective criteria, smatter it with a healthy helping of bullcrap armchair psychology and turn a matter of opinion or aesthetics into some quasi-objective assessment. I sorta messed with the hashtag #RespectTheGame on Twitter earlier today, but if you scroll down past my shenanigans, you’ll see a lot of self-serious (and almost exclusively young, white male) baseball fans speaking about how important it is to respect the game. Repeating that phrase more like a religious incantation than an actual idea.

Of course, when asked to explain those concepts, it’s hard for their proponents to avoid tautology. Johnny Utah is an elite quarterback because he has won Super Bowls and that’s an elite accomplishment. Joe Shlabotnik respects the game because of the way he goes about his business. How does he go about his business? Well, respectfully. Tyrone Shoelaces is a coachable NBA player because he has not yet physically assaulted his coach. Utah, Shlabotnik and Shoelaces are all one failure or gaffe away from losing their elite, respectful and coachable status, of course. Suggesting that these concepts are conveniently malleable.

I actually played football at a higher level than I ever played baseball, so I suppose by some people’s logic I can talk more intelligently about football, but we know that’s not true. I can talk about baseball, though, and I’ll observe that, in baseball, there are a lot of players who have disrespected the game before Carlos Gomez came along. At least in what I presume to be the judgment of guys like my Twitter correspondents up there. Even some guys who, when it’s convenient for the speaker, are held up as examples of Game Respecters Par Excellence. Guys like this:


Pete Rose. There’s a guy who would never toss his bat and strut out of the box. He totally respected the game. Or how about the Lords of Baseball during its Golden Age?


More recent Hall of Famers?

source: AP

Baseball legends?


Greater baseball legends?


Even greater baseball legends?


The greatest baseball legend of them all?


The fact of the matter is that baseball is a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters. I adore a straight-shooting player like Al Kaline, but I thank God for Mark “the Bird” Fidrych. I have nothing but respect for the eternally polite and accommodating Harmon Killebrew, but Rickey Henderson made baseball exciting for my entire childhood and beyond. For every upstanding player that the Respect the Game crowd can point to, I can point to another one of those clowns, rogues and rakes. And I can point to people who find that stuff a lot of fun. Or, even if it’s not intended to be fun, somewhat interesting.

Baseball is in no more need of being respected by any one player than the sun is in need of being respected by cosmic dust. Baseball is way bigger than any of these guys and can survive — or even benefit from — these guys who are alleged to be so lacking in respect. Guys who don’t take everything so damn seriously all the time. Guys that sometimes lose their cool. Guys who use baseball as a vehicle for humor or for ego or for showmanship. Guys who do these things to get butts in the seats or their faces on magazines. Baseball has always survived them. At times, it has even embraced them. The game has never been weakened by them. Indeed, it is often made stronger.

So color me unimpressed with the latest calls for Carlos Gomez or Yasiel Puig or whoever the talk show warriors’ next punching bag happens to be to respect the game. The game has been disrespected by way better and way more disrespectful than the likes of those guys and will be disrespected by many more in the future.

And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

108 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. drunkenhooliganism - Apr 22, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    Johnny Utah blew out his knee at Ohio State. He never won a Super Bowl. Shows what you know, Basement Boy.

    • Kevin Gillman - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:23 PM

      Johnny Utah is a great name though, if he had played in the pros, his endorsements would have been through the roof.

  2. ryanrockzzz - Apr 22, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    I think it’s less respecting the physical game of baseball, and more about just respecting other players. Gomez has a rep for showboating, which like or not, offends many players. In that regard, I think yes, he and those like him could show some more respect. But I think regarding the game itself, it’s just a mute point, and Craig did a good job pointing that out.

    • vanmorrissey - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      So everyone has to act like pure nondescript emotionless Borg? BORING. Add some life to it, its 2014 for crying out loud. Latino players add a dynacism that is just part of their nature, for the most part.

      • moogro - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:44 PM

        part of their culture, not nature. fixed that for ya.

    • racksie - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:48 PM

      I believe the word you were looking for was “moot”. M-o-o-t. you can look it up.

    • ctony1216 - Apr 23, 2014 at 8:59 AM

      It’s impossible to explain. Last night, David Ortiz homered vs. the Yankees’ Tanaka and stood at home plate admiring it for a good 4 seconds before jogging to first base. The catcher was Brian McCann, the same guy who shouted RUN! at Carlos Gomez last year, when Gomez admired one of his own homers.

      You can’t tell me Gomez did anything more disrespectful of the game, or of the pitcher, than Big Papi does every time he hits a home run. I don’t have anything against the way Ortiz plays the game. Love watching him hit, even as a Yankees fan. I also don’t have anything the way Gomez plays. Totally intense — like Clemente and Puig. Electric. The game is more exciting for it.

      I just wish players would get off Gomez’s case, and that Gomez could learn to not be bothered by some of the idiotic comments he gets from opposing players. He never should have come off third base vs. the Pirates — a simple “*&# You too” would have worked just as well.

  3. baberuthslegs - Apr 22, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    God I wish I hadn’t seen that picture of Pete Rose!!!

    • yahmule - Apr 22, 2014 at 5:48 PM

      No kidding. I kind of want to punch Craig now.

      • SocraticGadfly - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:10 PM

        Actually, I do myself, for other reasons. Ozzie’s backflip actually did respect the game. Even on a troll post, it has no biz being up there with the other pix.

    • djandujar - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:41 PM

      And that’s coming from a person whose handle is “baberuthslegs”.

  4. silversun60 - Apr 22, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    “I’m going to stop watching/paying attention baseball because these guys don’t respect the game” said no one, ever.

    • moogro - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:47 PM

      Right. Because to walk away would be to give up on whining and complaining which is the most important thing to them.

  5. raybrower - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    Harmon Killebrew stared at his HR’s for as long as anyone in MLB history. Hell of a nice guy, but it just shows that this stuff is a bigger deal now than it was then. Baseball is a really fun game. It’s okay to enjoy it.

  6. jiminthebay - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    back in my day players showed some stirrup . thats respect , by god .

  7. ningenito78 - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Football guy- Johnny

    Baseball guy- Joe

    Basketball guy- Tyrone


    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 22, 2014 at 5:32 PM

      Those are all fictitious player names. Johnny was a football player in the movie “Point Break,” Joe was Joe Shlabotnik from Peanuts and Tyrone was from the Cheech and Chong song “Basketball Jones.”

      • yournuts - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:32 PM

        What kind of football did you play at a high level Craig? Nerf Football or were you in the woman’s lingerie football league? You are so funny.

      • racksie - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:50 PM

        And a great Cheech and Chong reference it was. I see you have moved from the 80’s pop culture references to the 70’s. Well done.

      • NYTolstoy - Apr 22, 2014 at 8:03 PM

        I think people either don’t know or forgotten Craig was a bigger man before. He lost a ton of weight a while back if im correct. So yea football is possible

  8. ningenito78 - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    @bobwheel what’s your obsession with his opinion on race? He obviously wasn’t trying to make any white/non-white statement and he clarified that. You seem like a textbook race baiter. Fight the urge, Craig.

    • bobwheel - Apr 22, 2014 at 8:51 PM

      Race baiting?? Get serious. I just want Craig to answer my question. He threw the “young white guy” thing out there, not me.

  9. sfm073 - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I don’t have a problem with bat flipping or starring down your home runs, just make sure it goes over the fence.

    • lukedunphysscienceproject - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:08 PM

      So your only problem with Gomez is his depth perception?

  10. beermakers - Apr 22, 2014 at 4:53 PM

    The Pirates not only equally disgraced the game admiring fly balls getting caught at the warning track or off the wall.

    They disgraced themselves by having the nerve to complain about it, that pitcher needs to have a talk with his own team before he starts worrying about the Brewers.

  11. beermakers - Apr 22, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Braun should have done the crotch grab while rounding third, going past their dug out after tying it up in the 9th inning.

  12. pillowporkers - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    Where’s Ken Griffey Jr. with his baseball hat on backwards?

  13. pvaz869 - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    Thinking like this is why baseball isn’t so appealing to young kids. And if they keep hounding people for “respect of the game” or lack thereof.. good luck getting more black players.

  14. musketmaniac - Apr 22, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    It’s a brutal cycle, The players don’t respect the game, the fans don’t respect the players, the owners don’t respect the agents, the managers don’t respect the umps. The umps are self absorbed, and the announcers seemed to have sold their souls to preserve the game as they remember it. There is no respect anywhere. MAN THIS IS TRULY AMERICAS GAME.

  15. nobody78 - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    There’s so much in this post I agree with. But.

    I don’t see the point to saying that it’s mostly “young, white males” who are saying that people should respect the game. Either the idea’s right or it’s not. The fact that it’s (mostly) young white males who have been saying that is completely beside the point. If you think the “respect the game” idea is racist or racially biased in some more hidden way, just say so. If that is what you think, I disagree. Among other reasons, it’s a phrase that’s been used by (my 30 seconds of googling informs me) Rod Carew, Ken Griffey Jr., and hey, Rickey Henderson. (links below)

    Also, just for the record, “religious incantations” contain “actual idea[s].” Or at least, they contain what I assume you must mean by an “actual idea” and more of it than the phrase “actual idea” does.

    And by the way,

    • djandujar - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:45 PM

      I think “respect the game” is racist.
      And honkies like to tell everyone how to behave. As if they are so perfect.

  16. brookedaly - Apr 22, 2014 at 7:46 PM

    Great Article Craig. I couldn’t agree with you more. People calling for guys like Puig to “respect the game” are clueless. What more respect could a young player have than to play it as well as Yasiel does? And no, I’m not a Dodger fan, I bleed red, Cardinal red, always have, always will.

  17. disgracedfury - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    Irony is they showed on MLB network of Russell Martin and Tabatha hitting supposed homeruns that they took there time and flipped there bats which turned into doubles.

    Russell Martin is a hypocrite.

  18. djandujar - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:46 PM

    I love that photo of Dock Ellis!

    • djandujar - Apr 22, 2014 at 9:47 PM

      And of course when Ellis pitched his no-hitter tripping on acid it showed up in the box score as Ellis, D.

  19. renaado - Apr 22, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    Just put it to some extent, It’s a 162 game regular season here. I have no problems with players havin fun playin the game.

  20. parlorboss - Apr 23, 2014 at 12:01 AM

    How much of our willingness to criticize a player for not “respecting the game” has to do with the player’s likability? I had this thought while I was considering why I agree with Craig on Puig and completely disagree with him on Gomez. I really think it is because I just like Puig’s personality and think Gomez is a cocky punk based on the way he acts. Both play the game hard and make some dumb mistakes, but Puig just seems like a happy and positive kid and Gomez seems like an asshole. Both are talented and cocky, but to me Puig is more in the vein of Ricky or MJ and Gomez seems like Bonds or Milton Bradley–just generally unlikable personalities. I guess I am saying that I have a lot more tolerance for showboating, etc. if you seem like a good guy just having fun, as opposed to a dick showing people up.

  21. Pat Richardson - Apr 23, 2014 at 12:37 PM

    “Baseball: a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters” is, I’m assuming, the title of Jonah Keri’s next book.

  22. musketmaniac - Apr 23, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    I can’t believe you people are still arguing about this.

  23. tokofaedahjaya - Aug 30, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    Hey here, great article, a colleague from the fashion business linked me to your post
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