Column: Save the chatting and play ball
Without the benefit of a lip reader it was hard to tell what
Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols found so funny when they shared a
laugh at first base during Game 4 of the National League
Could have been some kind of inside joke between the two
slugging free agents to be. Perhaps even the idea that the
Cardinals would actually give up a piece of the team to keep
Pujols, surely a laughable notion on its own.
Or maybe they were just laughing about flouting baseball’s
fraternization rule on national television and getting away with
Not that anybody gets punished anymore for yukking it up with
members of the other team. If they did, someone like Orlando Hudson
of the Padres would owe more in fines than he gets in salary for
the conversations he has with anyone who happens to stop at second
But a rule is a rule. And there’s nothing ambiguous about
section 3.09 of baseball’s official rules.
”Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time
while in uniform,” it reads.
Go early to any baseball game, and you’ll see that rule broken
around the batting cage. Watch any game and invariably you’ll see
someone chatting on the basepaths with a member of the other
But the Cardinals and Brewers are battling each other to get in
the World Series. It’s serious stuff, for both the franchises and
their rabid fans.
Watch Fielder and Pujols, and it seems little more than a
It wasn’t always that way. There was a time in baseball when
chatting up an opposing player on first base meant you weren’t
going to play first base anymore. Baseball fined players just for
talking with members of the other team, and players themselves made
sure their teammates understood the opposition was the enemy, not
Think Ty Cobb was looking to make buddies when he sharpened his
spikes before running the bases? Would someone like Bob Gibson stop
to say hello to a first baseman they had just brushed back the
Times have changed, sure, with players switching teams so often
now that they invariably have friends from other teams. They’re all
rich young men, too, who like nothing better than to hang out with
those of their ilk.
Save it for dinner after the game, though. There’s no laughing
in baseball – not when it’s between players from opposing
Joe Torre would certainly like to see it stop, though teams
didn’t seem to take his memo on the subject earlier this year very
seriously. The executive vice president of baseball operations is
old school in his belief that opposing players shouldn’t be hugging
each other and having conversations on the field.
Torre was manager of the Cardinals in 1992 when relief pitcher
Todd Worrell and first baseman Pedro Guerrero threw punches at each
other after Guerrero brought Chicago’s Sammy Sosa into the
clubhouse following a Cubs win. He immediately banned opposing
players from the clubhouse and told his players that fraternization
would not be tolerated.
Utility player Rex Hudler made sure Sosa and any other opposing
”Anyone else comes in here again, they’re free game,” Hudler
said. ”Open season, baby.”
That kind of attitude seems to be mostly missing these days,
with players treating the game like it’s one big fraternity. Pujols
himself seemed taken back early in the season when his very public
hug before a game with Jim Hendry, then the general manager of the
Cubs, immediately prompted talk of the Cubs having the inside track
for Pujols once his contract with the Cardinals expired.
”He’s on the other side. I’m on our side. I just think it’s
kind of ridiculous,” Pujols said.
That may be true, but don’t blame fans if they think the line is
being blurred. They come to watch Pujols hit, not hug, and many of
them have trouble understanding just what there is to love about
the other team.
Pujols and Fielder are going to have a lot to talk about in the
offseason. They’re the biggest catches on the free-agent market,
and their new contracts likely will be among the richest ever in
They’ll have plenty of things to smile about then, plenty of
time to share a few laughs.
For now, though, they should do us all a favor and just play
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or