If you weren’t a Major League Baseball fan already, you probably did not notice MLB’s Little League Classic, held in Williamsport, PA on Sunday night. Still, ESPN and MLB did their best to promote the event, designed to help reconnect the game with youth - which oddly included Commissioner Rob Manfred walking around in the stands like a wayward hot dog vendor, passing out commemorative pins.
Numerous features on many individuals during the telecast of the Pittsburgh Pirates-St. Louis Cardinals game included the same messages - adults loved their time playing Little League and grew up to be successful, whether future Major Leaguers or the President of the United States.
The crowd, announced at 2,596, easily filled the tiny short-season Class A ballpark, with most attendees seemingly connected to the Little League World Series being played in town. Of course, most visible to the television camera were the brightly-colored uniforms sported by the LLWS participants from around the world.
But, what did the game really accomplish?
It seems to me that tip-of-the-iceberg youth audience in the stands is already as committed to baseball as any kids could be. Just because this Sunday night game was televised nationally, same as any other week, did large numbers of other youths watch it and wish they could play, too?
I really wonder about that.
At the conclusion of the game, something happened that last occurred in a MLB game (coincidentally also involving the Cardinals) back in 2004. In the universal gesture of sportsmanship, the two teams lined up to shake hands.
Why? Because the Little Leaguers do it and it would look bad for the big leaguers to act otherwise.
In doing so, MLB clearly reminded the youth of the world, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Canadian hockey aficionado (of course) and unofficial member of the Hall of the Very Good, Larry Walker, proposed the opponent hand-shaking idea to St. Louis manager Tony La Russa during the 2004 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two sides agreed, regardless of the outcome, and carried it out after St. Louis eliminated Los Angeles on October 12, 2004.
La Russa’s post-game remarks at the time are indicative of the old-school machismo thinking that remains today and can turn off fans and youth alike.
"I'm not sure how it's perceived, but I'm sure it's a good thing," La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Apparently the perception does not matter 364 days a year – except when MLB is packaging itself as youth-friendly. Then – and only then – it is ok to demonstrate being a good sport – by shaking the hand of someone other than those wearing the same uniform.
I doubt the players are the inhibitor.
Most of today’s ballplayers seem to care little about the game’s odd and archaic unwritten code, such as subdued on-field celebrations and no fraternizing with the opponent. In fact, no one says a word about in-game chatting between baserunners and defenders, which is the rule today, not the exception.
Just this past week, I was at Fenway Park. During one of the contests, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina doubled and then carried on a long dialogue with Red Sox second sacker Eduardo Nunez. What really caught my attention is that between every pitch for more than one subsequent Cardinals batter, Nunez would leave his defensive position to walk over to Molina on the bag to continue the yak-fest.
The idea of showing sportsmanship at the conclusion of games between Major League Baseball players was put in the deep freeze from 2004 until resurfacing in Williamsport this past weekend. It is likely to disappear again just as quickly.
That would be a shame. It is long past time for this unwritten rule to bite the dust, and if so, this could be one clearly positive outcome derived from the Little League Classic.
Of course, it alone will not bring the millions of soccer-playing youth to pick up baseball, but it is the right thing to do regardless. So, let’s shake on it!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.