Dominicans win WBC, help set sportsmanship standard
SAN FRANCISCO -- If we're lucky, the Dominican Republic made history Tuesday night. No, it wasn't just that they won the World Baseball Classic with a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in a game they controlled from the first inning. It wasn't that they became the first team to go undefeated in the tournament, running the table from San Juan to Miami to here with eight wins in which they allowed just 14 runs. No, maybe they gave us something more lasting than titles and trivia.
It's what the Dominicans did after a brief celebration that followed the last out: they walked across the infield and met the Puerto Ricans by the first-base line -- near the Puerto Rico dugout -- and gave them handshakes and hugs.
What an even more beautiful baseball world it would be if every Major League Baseball postseason series, if not regular-season series, ended with such a show of respect and sportsmanship. What a legacy for the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans if the postgame handshake becomes a baseball tradition, and generations could forever mark the 2013 WBC final as the moment when class took root in the game.
"Yes, I would like to see that in the major leagues," said Dominican reliever Octavio Dotel. "It shows that we can play hard and compete against each other but in the end we are all family."
The moment was a touching one for Caribbean baseball. The rivalry between the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans has spanned many years and intense winter baseball seasons, but always with respect and a sense of commonality. But Dotel agreed the postgame handshake could well hold bigger meaning than it does in the islands.
"Hopefully this is a message for the rest of baseball," he said.
Only two nights earlier, Japan provided its own version of civility and sportsmanship. Upon a disappointing semifinal defeat to Puerto Rico, the Japanese players lined up on the third-base line and bowed to the victors, and then bowed to the fans.
It's a gaping hole in the American game when you think about it. Teams shake hands on every amateur level in baseball. Teams in virtually all other sports do it, even when the underlying purpose of the sport is to beat the other guy's brains out. Individual sports such as tennis and golf do it.
But when you become a professional baseball player you literally turn your back on the team you just competed against and leave the field without so much as a "good game."
Even fifth and sixth-graders know it should change. In 2005, students at the Merriam School in Acton, Mass., petitioned the Yankees and Red Sox to begin their season-opening game with a handshake, a nod to the school's peace-making effort on the school playgrounds. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said it was up to the players. "I'm not going to make them do it," he said.
Come game time, the 40 or so students gathered in a classroom to watch the introduction of the players. The kids chanted, "Shake, shake, shake." But the players turned their backs on the other team and returned to their dugout. Nothing changed.
Managers do shake hands when lineup cards are announced and batters often greet the catcher upon their first at-bat of a game. Great. A postgame or post-series handshake would work even better.
The Dominicans were a treat to watch to the very end. They played with smiles and fervor. They showed that you can play hard and still have fun -- imagine that.
One of the biggest lies of the tournament was that "some people," especially the Americans, were upset with the way the Dominican players celebrated strikeouts, hits and runs. It was a media-driven non-story, a grab at a quick headline. As USA manager Joe Torre said, they played with passion and never directed their exuberance into the face of their opponents. Torre had no problem with how they played. Every player on the record had no problem with it. It was one of the joys of the tournament.
The Dominicans had every right to enjoy the Classic. They dominated while singing songs in the dugout and waving a rally plantain -- just the kind of silly stuff you might see on a youth baseball field, before everybody gets so caught up in "acting the right way" and tamping down enthusiasm becomes an American coaching requirement.
The Dominican bullpen closed out the tournament with 25 2/3 scoreless innings. Jose Reyes played every inning as if his pants were on fire. Fernando Rodney, keeper of the plantain, was a treat to watch in the dugout and on the mound. The Dominicans played with an intense sense of purpose and pride, born partly from their embarrassing first-round knockout in 2009 with two losses to the Netherlands. Their players trained all winter to be game ready for early March.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. in January, Torre fought tooth and nail to get one more workout day for Team USA out of the 30 general managers. Torre was trying to forge a spirit of teamwork among his guys and get them ready for tournament baseball. The general managers would have none of it. They said no to even one measly additional workout day.
If the USA is going to do anything in this tournament, it should have the American players report to a team training camp, not to their MLB camps. The USA team would be the 31st team in spring training and train and play games together against other MLB teams before the tournament.
Not only does Japan do it this way, they also have tryouts for the team. Yes, they cut players in order to arrive at their WBC roster.
In the Dominican, nobody complained about training harder or earlier to be ready for the WBC, as Americans have done. Nobody wrote it off as an exhibition, the way Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels did. The Dominican Republic was fully vested in the event. They are worthy champions who taught the rest of the baseball world lessons about pride and enthusiasm, but also, in the end, sportsmanship. Let this be just the beginning of something wonderful.