Baseball's Courtesy Gap: Post-Game Handshakes

The post-game handshake is a time-honored tradition in most sports -- but baseball isn't one of them. A discerning sports observer asks the question: Why can't courtesy thrive on the diamond?

It occurred to my friend The Duchess, the sports connoisseur who seeks out all that may be indecorous in athletics, that there is a glaring lapse of etiquette in one sport.

Writing to me from her yacht, as always, in her lovely cursive hand, she begins: "If I am not mistaken, my dear Frank, amongst major sports, baseball players are the only ones who never shake hands with each other in the spirit of good will. What a dreadfully rude lapse of manners."

The Duchess went on to note that basketball players are the most social. The starters shake hands before the game and often kibitz on the court afterward. Moreover, after college games, the two teams all pass by each other in a line, sort of like a Virginia reel at a square dance.

Even those whom the Duchess called "ruffians on ice" may pound each other all season, but when a hockey playoff series is over and one team is eliminated, the players on both teams, including the goons, skate slowly past each other and shake hands.

As the Duchess wrote: "I find that really quite lovely, Frank. Even brutes can be taught to be civilized upon occasion."

Further, the Duchess pointed out that football players mingle on the field after every game, as she wrote, "rather as their fans tailgate."

The "concussion candidates," as the Duchess labeled football players, tend to mate up by position. Always, the quarterback from one team seeks out the quarterback from the other.

The coaches at least acknowledge one another even if they can't stand each other, and the more religious players from both teams even join together in a circle and pray.

Golfers make sure to shake hands with the other players' caddies. "Very egalitarian, don't you think, Frank?" Yes, indeed, Duchess.

And tennis players meet at the net. It used to be that the winner might jump the net, but there's a certain triumphalism to that, so the custom's pretty much gone out.

The last man The Duchess could remember jumping the net was Bobby Riggs, after Billie Jean King creamed him. "A gallant display of testosterone," The Duchess suggested.

Boxers, of course, touch gloves before the fight after the referee opines, "May the best man win." And my gracious, exclaimed the Duchess, soccer players and rowers, even literally, give each other the shirts off their backs.

The Duchess concluded her letter to me, noting how especially curious it was, that while baseball players do not congratulate each other after the game, they're quite convivial during the game. If a batter hits a double, he'll be sure to pass the time of day with the opposition shortstop or second baseman.

Afterward, though, it's only the winners who come out on the field and fist-bump each other.

"I wish the losers would at least tip their hats to their conquerors," The Duchess concluded. "There is no reason why baseball players can't be gentlemen, like others of the sporting persuasion." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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