Dan Shaughnessy
Monday July 19th, 2010

Among the nauseating aspects of the LeBron James "Decision" (and there were too many to count) is the old and ongoing cozy relationship that exists between LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

You heard all the details. 'Bron, D-Wade and Bosh got together years ago and made a pact to one day join forces. They signed contracts designed to expire simultaneously. They held Cartel meetings during the offseason, and sometimes during the regular season.

Gag me. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned disdain for the opposition? How good can the competition be when the alleged "rivals" are in business together or planning to join forces at a later date?

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon who covered the 1918 World Series (Ruth really dominated the Cubs in that 1-0 game, didn't he?), sports was better in the days before the players all loved one another.

There's a great old tale about an exchange between Ted Williams and a kid pitcher from the Washington Senators named Pedro Ramos. In one of his first games in the bigs, Ramos stuck out Williams. Ramos saved the baseball, and a few days later went over to the Sox dugout to ask Williams if he would sign the ball for him. The Splendid Splinter unloaded on Ramos with both barrels, signed the ball, and told him to take a hike. A few weeks later, Williams hit a prodigious homer off Ramos, and as he was rounding first base hollered, "I'll sign that sonofabitch, too, if you can ever find it!''

The story reminds me of an encounter I had with Bob Gibson in a hotel elevator in the 1990s. We were talking about then-Sox ace Roger Clemens and I told Gibson about a young hitter who had homered off Clemens, then asked the Rocket to sign the baseball. I could see steam coming off Gibson's head as he listened. I asked him what he would have done in the same situation and Gibson said, "I've have hit him in the head next time up, then offered to sign his head!''

Gibson probably would have done that. The legend on Gibson was that he did not speak with his non-Cardinal teammates when he played for the National League in the All-Star game. He didn't want to compromise the competition when everybody got back to work after the mid-summer break.

Frank Robinson was the same way. After his tremendous career was over, Robinson stayed in the game as a manager and coach and he seethed when he saw opponents standing around the batting cage chatting before games.

In Boston we've seen the change in the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry.

Back in the 1970s, the Sox and Pinstripes truly hated one another. You'd never see Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson speak. There were several brawls and one of them cost the Sox Bill Lee for a season. The Sox and Yankees continue to joust in this century, but the new rivalry is sometimes best-remembered for the night that Manny Ramirez said he could not play and instead went to the bar at the Boston Ritz-Carlton with Yankee Enrique Wilson.

LeBron and friends certainly didn't invent coziness in the NBA.

Remember when Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson would kiss one another before games in the Pistons-Lakers Finals? Yeesh.

Fraternization sometimes impacts the outcome of games. For instance, when is the last time you saw a runner plow through a catcher en route to home plate? Hardly anyone does this anymore because players are part of a very profitable union and no one wants to do anything to harm a fellow union member. As a result, catchers of this generation have learned to stick their left leg across the base path while they are waiting for a relay throw. There are no more Frank Robinsons to remind the catchers that the path belongs to the baserunner and a catcher risks injury if he puts his body in the path. Today's polite baserunners simply go around, sometimes costing their teams ballgames.

It's the same with the old-time brushback pitch. Back in the day, before Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr convinced the players that they were all part of something larger than team affiliations, there was payback for certain infractions. If you hit my cleanup batter with a pitch, I hit your cleanup guy. And if you stood at home plate admiring your home run for too long, I put you on your back next time you step up to the plate.

That's all gone now. Players love one another more than they love the teams they represent. The whole sports world has gone the way of LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh. We are not better for it.

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