Baseball’s all over but the shouting
Hey batter, hey batter, hey batter ... swing!
Do you remember that chant? Standing there at home plate, dirty hands sweating around the chipped bat, ears burning underneath the giant helmet, the words of every opposing player bouncing off our cheeks?
C’mon batter, batter, batter, batter ... swing!
It was more than a cheer, it was the youth baseball anthem. It was something we heard more than the crack of a bat or the thwack of a glove. It was the lyrical symphony of boasts and challenges and life.
We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher!
The words were impersonal, innocent, fun. The words taught us about being teammates and competitors. It was kid stuff. It was baseball.
On Wednesday, however, members of the Toronto Blue Jays called this gamesmanship something else.
They called it “bush league.”
Thus making it official that the Blue Jays -- and the many major leaguers who agree with them -- have lost their minds.
The Blue Jays were angry at New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez for something he said while running to third base in the ninth inning with two out and the Yankees leading by two runs.
A pop fly was floating down toward Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark when Rodriguez ran behind him and shouted. Clark was startled, pulled back, allowed the ball to drop untouched, and the Yankees eventually scored three more runs.
The Blue Jays confronted Rodriguez on the field, then later ripped him to the media.
“That’s not Yankee pride right there,” Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons said. “That’s not the way they play. I think it was bush league.”
What exactly did Rodriguez say? Something about one of Clark’s loved ones? Something about meeting Clark in a dark alley after the game?
Rodriguez says he shouted “Hah!”
He delivered a childhood jab in hopes of surprising a player into a blunder, and it worked, because it has worked forever, yet even the Yankees weren’t completely supportive.
Manager Joe Torre said, “I don’t know what to feel for it.”
I know exactly what to feel for it.
I feel major league baseball has become a league of extraordinary babies.
It’s rude to pitch inside. It’s impolite to jog slowly around the bases after a home run. It’s unseemly to steal second with a four-run lead. Don’t you dare bunt in the eighth inning of a potential no-hitter.
And, apparently, never try to distract a player trying to catch a fly ball.
“Are you kidding me?” former Dodger Maury Wills said. “Sometimes I don’t know what today’s players are thinking. They get mad at every little thing.”
During Wills’ 14-year career, he heard the same word chanted at him so many times, he thought it was his middle name.
“Every time a grounder was hit to me, somebody on the other team yelled, ‘Boot!’ ” he recalled. “I heard it for years. ‘Boot!’ ‘Boot!’ ”
Tom Lasorda remembers once doing a similar ploy while coaching first base for triple-A Montreal. With two out in the ninth inning of a tie game, opposing catcher Gene Oliver was running through foul territory behind first base to catch a foul pop.
“I got it! I got it!” Lasorda yelled.
A distracted Oliver missed it, and the batter hit the next pitch for a game-winning homer.
“Sure, Oliver wanted to kill me, but I was just trying to win,” Lasorda said.
Pete Reiser, former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder, used to call it “honeymoon baseball.”
It’s where the players step delicately around each other so as not to disrespect or offend.
If a player is stealing second base on ball four, it’s polite for the shortstop to warn him not to slide. If a player is running to third and the ball is cut off, it’s protocol for the third baseman to also tell him not to slide. If the catcher throws off his mask, the batter often hands it to him.
And never, ever be so gauche as to pitch inside.
Today, even an inside pitch during the ninth inning of a no-hit bid draws a glare.
Rodriguez attempts to knock the ball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove in the 2004 playoffs, and he’s ripped for being unprofessional.
A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox smartly steals first base on a strikeout in the 2005 playoffs against the Angels, and he’s demonized as a jerk.
Free agency has made every player an ex-teammate, and big money has given them manners, and everybody just wants to play a nice game and drink a free clubhouse beer and hurry home to their PlayStations.
And now they can’t even carry on the childhood chant, “Batter, batter, batter ... swing?”
Er, um, it turns out, even the children can’t do that anymore.
“That sort of chanting has been legislated out of the game,” said Bill Stoner, a longtime coach and official of La Canada-Flintridge junior baseball. “You can root for your own players, but you can’t root against anyone else.”
To which a sad old baseball guy can say only one thing.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.