How many times have you heard a professional athlete say something to the effect of, “I’m lucky I get to play a game for a living”? Which is quickly followed by, sometimes in the very next sentence, “But I understand it is a business.”
Seems to me professional sports is quickly swinging from being a game to all about business. There is no longer “fun” in the “fun and games.”
The NFL is derisively called the “No Fun League” because any kind of emotion or exuberance has all but been legislated out of the game, while the National Hockey League believes its game is still being played in the 1920s.
The worst, however, is Major League Baseball and its set of “unwritten rules”: what players are allowed and not allowed to do on the field according to some arcane code of baseball ethics. Inevitably it leads to cliches like, “playing the game the right way,” “act like you’ve been there before,” and “don’t show up the opponent.”
But when is that line crossed? Any time an opponent gets his feathers ruffled — either in perception or reality? The latest brouhaha came during National League Championship Series when Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig was “called out” (another cliche bandied about in baseball circles) for celebrating a triple. St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright, who gave up the hit, was not pleased with Puig’s “antics.”
Hey Wainwright and the rest of those who adhere strictly to the unwritten rules: when is the appropriate time to celebrate a significant occurrence? OK, not during the grind of the regular season. I understand a triple in Game 75 of 162-game schedule is not the ideal time to be waving your hands around. But how about the playoffs? In a series in which both hits and runs have been hard to come by? Can’t you cut the guy a little slack for being pumped up for driving in a crucial run in the postseason?
And here’s another thought: don’t let him get a hit. Since pitchers can’t do that every single time to every single batter, sometimes you just have to tip your hat and move on to the next batter. Don’t take it as a personal affront to your manhood that a player got a big hit off of you. You didn’t hear the Detroit Tigers, publicly, whine when David Ortiz stood and posed at the plate after hitting the game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Or is it a rookie/veteran thing? Perhaps Ortiz gets a pass for “Showing up the pitcher” because he has been in the major leagues a long time, while Puig, a rookie, is not given the same leeway.
If that is not the time to admire a majestic accomplishment, when is it? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little enthusiasm and celebration when the situation calls for it. I believe the playoffs is the perfect time to show some emotion.
Which leads me to the San Jose Sharks’ 19-year-old rookie Tomas Hertl, who currently leads the NHL in goals scored through six games with seven. So far, he has been the talk of hockey following his four-goal outburst against one of the premiere franchises in the league, the New York Rangers.
Specifically, Hertl had the hockey world abuzz with his fourth and final goal of the Sharks’ 9-2 win, during which he had a breakaway, dropped a pass between his legs, then stuck his stick between his legs and flipped a shot over the stunned goalie’s right shoulder for one of the prettiest finishes you will ever see in a hockey game.
Naturally, some of hockey’s “old guard” did not take too kindly for the kid’s flashy move, insinuating teams would start singling Hertl out for punishment.
First off, I’m guess Hertl was not thinking, “If I get a breakaway, here’s what I’m going to do.” Like basketball and soccer, hockey is a free-flowing sport in which players do not have much time to think when they go on the attack. They just do. Hertl, in the heat of the moment, instinctively made that move. He was not trying to embarrass the goalie, the New York Rangers or the game of hockey. It was simply a superb hockey talent making a superb play. How can anyone begrudge that?
It goes back to the baseball example: don’t want to be embarrassed? Don’t give up the breakaway or make the save. Simple as that.
It’s time to put the “fun” back into the “game.” There is already enough seriousness in life, let’s not ruin sports as well.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.