As I was washing dishes in the kitchen Sunday afternoon, the TV in the next room provided some background noise.
ESPN Classic was airing the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony live from Cooperstown, N.Y., and when I heard Wade Boggs start his speech, I wiped my hands on the dish towel and walked into the sunporch to watch. I’m guaranteed to tear up when the enshrinees thank their parents and I didn’t want to miss the maudlin parts.
Yeah, yeah. It was moving, but I went back to my dishes and just listened from afar.
Enter Sandberg. The next hall of famer to step up to the podium was former Chicago Cub Ryne Sandberg, 10-time All-Star and winner of nine consecutive Gold Glove awards. I paused and moved back to the TV and became mesmerized by his 20-minute speech. Forget the dishes.
His words were about baseball, but it was really about respect. Respect for yourself, respect for others, respect for fans, and respect for the game, which is your job as a professional athlete.
“I was taught coming up in the Phillies organization to be seen and not heard by people like Pete Rose… Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and Manny Trillo,” Sandberg said Sunday. “I understood that.”
“My dad always said, ‘Keep your nose clean, your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open because you might learn something.’”
Contrast that with today’s spotlight-seeking, sound bite-scheming pro ball players, who pretend to moon in the end zone.
“I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponent or your teammates or your organization or your manager, and never, ever your uniform,” Sandberg continued.
Funny thing about respect. To earn it, you have to give it. Some pro ballers may perfect the slam dunk, the sack or the steal, but never master this thing called “respect.” The same is true of all of us.
Complete athlete. Sandberg recalled how announcer Harry Caray said it was “nice” that Sandberg, who could hit 40 homers, steal 50 bases, and drive in 100 runs, was also the best bunter on the team.
“Nice?” Sandberg said, “That was my job. When did it become OK for someone to hit home runs and forget how to play the rest of the game?”
“… learning how to bunt and hit and run and turning two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light at the dugout camera,” he blasted.
Love of the game. In his own acceptance speech for the hall of fame’s Spink Award last weekend, sportswriter Peter Gammons recalled George Brett saying he wanted his career to end on a ground ball to second base, so he could “bust his hump down the line.”
Not a walk-off grand slam, not a double nor a triple. This hall of famer wanted to beat out a grounder to first base. That’s the love of the game, not the glory.
“Respect for the game of baseball. When we all played it, it was mandatory,” Sandberg concluded. “It’s something I hope we will one day see again.”
Don’t we all.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)