|Lay off the hot dogs|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
Make a play.
That's the way -- the only true way -- to answer something that happens on the field that you don't like. Editorials and bleacher morality (a possible conflict in terms) don't mean anything.
Nostalgia for what. Hate? Or, as the young put it, player-hating?
There seems to be a bad case of it in baseball, at all levels, period.
We're all caught up in it.
On their run to the national seminfinals, the Harlem team had basically defied convention by even getting there. They were supposed to take their beating and go home, but those black and brown players who had no place else to play but with each other banded together and made plays. And then they celebrated their plays, when Fernanado Frias pointed to center field with his bat, for instance, and then stood at second after a two-run double and pulled at his shirt and yelled, "That's what I'm talking about!"
Then later the otherwise unassuming Andrew Diaz hit a homer then made a diamond with his hands and straddled the third-base line and elephant-walked home -- you would have thought he was bin Laden, or a Worldcom executive, so heavy was the outrage.
The term "hot dogging it," was used over and over; the Harlem boys were reamed as thoughtless, fools, harlequins. (Get ... out.)
They were, in fact, children. Living in America. In 2002.
There is a heavy racial component to all this talk about "hot-dogging" it all of baseball. Face it. Be honest with yourself.
You might as well be saying "black dog" as "hot dog."
When ESPN ran a poll about who was the worst hot dog, the choices were people like Deion Sanders and Reggie Jackson, who were flamboyant as all hell, and, frankly, enjoyable so; Carl Everett, weird, but considering the environment, might have been driven to it; Rickey Henderson. I've watched Rick play in the big leagues since he was 20 years old, and the words that spring to my mind whenever I watched him were "hell of a ballplayer!"
Rickey Henderson, hot dog?
Or, Rickey Henderson, greatest run-scorer in baseball history. Greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history?
To the people who rattle on about "hot dog" that's just an unhappy coincidence. Calling him "hot dog" helps to disregard his place.
Hot dog, or black dog? Nostalgia, or revulsion?
Either way, calling players hot dogs -- especially 12-year-olds who did not grow up on Gary Cooper in "High Noon," but Hulk Hogan and the Rock in the WWF -- is a safe way to resent and diminish their accomplishments, to make their rejection in baseball morally acceptable. I now sadly think it's the reason for the name-calling.
Hot dog, or black dog?
Who was Fernando Frias, knowingly or not, emulating in the first place, when he pointed with his bat to center field? As many times as I've heard it reverently said to be "Ruth's called shot" against the Chicago Wildebeest Cubs in the World Series, nobody has ever called it "hot dogging." And then when the Babe trotted oh-so-slowly around the bases, he was laughing, cackling, pushing out with his arms, signifying, "Get off me, get off me!" You might hear this scenario called "amazing," but not "hot dogging."
No "hot dog." No vitriol. No revulsion. No hate. No editorials demanding someone be held accountable. For what? Hot dogging? Or being poor, non-white, yet still daring to be good at baseball?
Now, I'm not saying kids don't do things they shouldn't at times. That's their job description, pretty much. And it's great to get the authentication of a batting champion, a self-evidently black, like Tony Gwynn; Tony Gwynn's opinion ("There's only one way to play the game, and that's the right way," he said, leaving a lot of room from interpretation for some, and no wiggle room at all for others; when blacks and browns show up in baseball, it's already being done the wrong way, by some minds) makes us feel good about ourselves, as it always does. Hmm. This fact implies some shrewd calculation on Tony's part. Nobody agrees with anybody all the time, not without studying with that intent, to be agreeable.
Think of this: if Gwynn had said, "It's not baseball, and it's inexcusable," and had been talking about the Babe's hot-dogging, oh, excuse me, the Babe's "amazing called shot," what then? If Gwynn called out Babe Ruth in those same terms he used on the kids, where would Tony have stood in our collective estimation? Not as high, safe to say.
We won't even mention Mark Fidrych, Al Hrabosky, Pete Rose, Nails Dykstra, any number of outstanding major-leaguers who had their own, let's call them idiosyncrasies, but to my memory were not called hot dogs, certainly not when they were in Little League. Babe Ruth is beyond reproach, but Harlem Little Leaguers or Rickey Henderson can never, ever be that. They offend.
So is it "hot dogs," or is it "black dogs?"
See, if you want to complain about "hot dogging," you make a play. That's the only reply to any on-field conduct. Make a play, unless our play-making days are over, if we ever had any. It's no different than from any on-field action or celebration. The opposing player takes note, and if he doesn't like it, if it inspires him to greater heights, somehow. That's the answer. The looks on the Harlem Little Leaguers faces after Ryan's three-run walk-off homer -- that's what all the "hot-dog" callers were after, isn't it?
I was about to write it off as another episode of baseball being propagated as "the white man's game," in the legislative and political sense, and not the sense of playing; in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, in spite of all the wonderful and tragic history of the game, in spite of the fact that the game belongs to those who play it well, not to a class of people, regardless of skin pigmentation, culture, national origin, in spite of its shame.
Even this year, the Harlem team was questioned; there was an attempt to disqualify them, not on age, but on residency. The issue never came up around any other team in the competition. As if somebody would make that up, that they live in Harlem. Shame.
But then I saw the Worcester manager, who managed against the Harlem team all game without so much as a hint of bitter rancor, but instead with a quiet, admirable competence and confidence and knowledge of his own team, told the Harlem manager, "You've got a great team, you have played so well," in the handshake line after the game. And that was so good, so quiet, so honest. That, and the fact that the Harlem Little Leaguers had a chance to compete and have fun in the first place, made the contesting worthwhile.
Hot dog this.* Isn't that profane, somehow?
Yes, it is.
At this year's Little League World Series, a team was honored.
The 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars*, from Charleston, S.C.. A team probably not so unlike the Harlem team, in that they were a black and brown team, and we've all come so far today, haven't we, from 47 years ago, when the teams are still all one way or another, not like today ... uh .. oh ... and no so unlike the Worcester team, in that they persevered and won self-respect.
The 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars Little League team did not play in the 1955 Little League World Series because the director of the South Carolina Little League had refused to play them at all.
Was it black dog or hot dog then?
In 1955, the year after Brown v. Board of Education, the year Rosa Parks refused to get up out of seat on a bus, the state Little League director, Danny Jones, after being told by Little League officials he had to let the Cannon Street All-Star team compete in the regional games to advance to the nationals at Williamsport, withdrew all South Carolina white youth from Little League and started Dixie Youth Baseball, whose charter once implied blacks and browns aren't welcome playing baseball against fair youth in the USA.
Though Dixie Youth Baseball has since been "integrated," (Bo Jackson played in the league), and today hosts tens of thousands of players, the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars, coached and managed by a mild-mannered man named Ben Singleton, not unlike Morris McWilliams, never did play in Williamsport, even though they advanced by default, and actually came there. From right-handed fireballer Leroy Major to switch-hitting power hitter Allen Jackson, they came, but were not allowed to compete.
The crowd at Williamsport chanted, "Let them play!" But no accommodation was granted. At least they got to sit and watch.
The surviving members of the team were honored at this year's Little League World Series, and no doubt these 60-year-old men were grateful, and probably saw some measure of social progress, not hot dogs, when they looked at the Harlem Little League team.
"Let them play! Let them play!"
It's about time we did that, and left our own baggage out of it.
They'll sort out what's right, and not right, among themselves.
Adults tend to make a sad sick joke out of the whole thing.
The Way is not what it's about. It's baseball. That's the Way.
Make a play. Otherwise, you really have no real say about it.
The rest of it isn't about hot dogs. It's about our own hot air.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."