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    Saturday, June 10, 2023

    Hit a homer? Run around the bases

    Tampa Bay Rays' Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates with Isaac Paredes (17) after Arozarena hit a three-run home run against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    Memo to Major League Baseball: Could we please re-introduce a little class to the sport and do away with the home run histrionics?

    Yes, we should be happy about rules changes that have shortened games by an average of 30 minutes. The new ban on defensive shifts has resulted in more offense, and limiting the number of pitchers' pickoff attempts has resulted in more stolen bases. All of this adds excitement, which adds fans, which adds revenue.

    Now, could something be done about these juvenile home run celebrations that make supposed professional baseball players look those kooky, costumed contestants on Let's Make a Deal?

    The San Diego Padres put a sombrero on the head of a home run hitter. The Baltimore Orioles chug water through a simulated beer bong. When one of the Boston Red Sox hit a homer, he would sit in a laundry cart and be wheeled the length of their dugout by his teammates. That quaint little celebration seems to have been replaced by having the honored player lift inflated golden barbells instead. The Cincinnati Reds don a Viking helmet when they homer while the Milwaukee Brewers wear a cheesehead, borrowing a popular tradition from Green Bay Packers football fans.

    Players who flip their bats ceremoniously when they homer, stand at home plate to admire their hit or do a slow trot around the bases are simply doubling down on the pitcher's humiliation. The pitcher already feels badly enough about the home run without the batter staring him down.

    Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees are division rivals and there's something special about beating New York, especially when you're in first place and they're in last - you know, kick a little sand in their face.

    Still, how did Rays star Randy Arozarena think the Yankees would react after he paused at third base after his first-inning home run last week, folding his arms defiantly in front of the Yankees' dugout? Did he expect polite applause, a two-for-one beer coupon, tickets to a Broadway show next time the Rays are in New York?

    No, Arozarena got what he deserved in his next two at-bats: he got plunked by pitches on the elbow, then in the ribs in his two successive at-bats. He gave the offending Yankees pitchers a death stare as he walked to first base His manager, Kevin Cash, was so incensed he was ejected.

    Born in 1995, Arozarena wasn't around back when his schtick against, say, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale or Nolan Ryan would have gotten a 100-mile-per-hour fastball planted in his ear. You didn't show up pitchers back then. If you were good enough to hit a home run off them, you put your head down and ran around the bases - quickly. And even then, you might get a hard slider under your chin in your next at-bat.

    Arozarena's antics were particularly overbaked, considering it was the first inning of a regular-season game in early May. You'd think he had just won the World Series or broken baseball's home run record.

    It took Roger Maris less than 30 seconds to round the bases and return to the Yankees' dugout when he broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961. He had to be coaxed out of the dugout to acknowledge the standing ovation, and even when he did step out, he seemed almost embarrassed by the adulation. Henry Aaron's historic 715th home run trot was also less than 30 seconds.

    When Bill Mazeroski won Game Seven of the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates with his home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, he circled the bases in 15 seconds. There was no flip of the bat, no slow-motion jog, no slap-happy, synchronized handshakes to greet him at home plate. They were professionals and acted like it.

    Yes, guys like Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente played with flare, what with basket catches and running bases with reckless abandon. But even the highlights of their illustrious careers never brought out this kind of showboating. Enough already.

    I'm not trying to be a party-pooper, but let's have a little perspective on these home runs. I mean, if this is what we get from a first-inning home run in a regular-season game in May, what'll happen come playoff time? Heck, a player's head just might spin off if he wins a World Series game with a home run.

    Now, that would be exciting.

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