Carroll: The End of a Baseball Ritual

Last Tuesday the Mets held their annual holiday party for around 150 lucky Queens elementary school students. Fireball pitcher Noah Syndergaard donned the Santa Claus suit while veteran infielder Jose Reyes and second-year outfielder Brandon Nimmo served as elves.

As expected all three players met with the press but what was unexpected were the questions Nimmo received about a stipulation in the new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association that now forbids players to cross-dress or wear ethnically offensive costumes as part of the traditional end-of-year rookie hazing.

Last September Nimmo and his fellow rookies had to retrieve coffee and doughnuts for Mets veterans in the Center City section of Philadelphia dressed as characters from the 1992 film about World War II female baseball players, “A League Of Their Own.” Nimmo said that he and his colleagues did not mind taking part in a time-honored tradition and added that he was surprised that it was an issue at all for Major League Baseball.

A number of retired baseball players thought that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was overreaching based on comments from them that I saw on Facebook, and like Nimmo, couldn’t understand why the powers that be were suddenly worked up about what they perceived to be as harmless fun.

At first glance Manfred appears to be a nanny-state killjoy. While I do think that he may be overreacting a bit I can see what motived his concerns about this age-old rookie ritual.

Major League Baseball sees the LGBTQ community as an important consumer group and they certainly don’t want to do anything that might be deemed as offensive or insensitive behavior. MLB is also worried that women might take offense at the attention given to skimpy Hooters costumes and worse.

As recently as a decade ago, no one witnessed the rookie hazing except the players and a few media members. Back when there was a Montreal Expos, baseball players coming up from the USA dressed in drag was such a common occurrence every September that many Canadian Customs officials would see a player’s passport and almost yawn “Baseball, right?”

With the advent of social media there is no such thing as privacy. MLB officials are understandably concerned that youth leagues and high school teams might try to imitate the big league rookie ritual and that could quickly turn to bullying, something that MLB, along with nearly every other professional sports league, has campaigned against.

While women’s clothing may be verboten for rookie hazing rituals other costumes are permitted. Baseball players are a resourceful lot so expect to see rookies dressing as Peter Pan, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and every conceivable superhero that you can imagine. I also expect a lot of them wearing Care Bears Grumpy Suits on team trips next September.

Sports Video Group, the trade association of all things technical in the sports TV industry, held their tenth annual Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Tuesday night at the New York Hilton and there were many ties to Queens.

Former Madison Square Garden executive and USA Network co-founder, Joe Cohen, who grew up in Neponsit, was one of the honorees. Although he has a degree in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, Joe has not shied away from the technical side of broadcasting. Under his aegis, the MSG Network became the first regional sports network to offer live high definition programming back in 1998. Today he is the CEO The Switch, of a company that handles the radio and television signal transmissions from where events are occurring for many regional sports networks.

Bill Webb is considered by many to be the Vin Scully of baseball directors because of his ability to capture emotions from both the players on the field and the fans in the stands. Although he has worked numerous national broadcasts, including 17 World Series and 19 All-Star Games, Webb cut his teeth directing Mets telecasts at Shea Stadium on Channel 9 back in the early 1980s and he still does the same for SNY now.

Similarly, Tim McCarver is no stranger to All-Star Games and World Series both as a player (he enjoyed a 23-year playing career and is one of the very few players to have played in parts of four decades) and as a broadcaster where is considered to be the best analyst of all-time. Tim began his broadcasting career with the Phillies in 1981 but moved onto the Mets shortly afterwards where fans discovered that a couple of hours listening to McCarver was the equivalent of baseball higher education. I remember watching many a Mets telecast where I learned about the pitches that a hitter expects and what a pitcher will try to throw in almost any given situation thanks to McCarver’s learned analysis and he was almost invariably right.

While he no longer calls games for Fox, Tim still does 35 games a year for the team that he came up with, the St. Louis Cardinals, and he told me that three of those games in 2017 will be when Cards take on the Mets at Citi Field. Perhaps SNY officials could arrange for McCarver to do a couple of innings next year for them and lend out Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez to the Cards.

Other broadcasters honored were former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and current “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts, who appears to have won her battle against cancer, and colorful NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager who would sadly lose his battle with leukemia less than two days after the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame induction. Sager was too ill to attend but his boss, Turner Sports president David Levy, accepted on his behalf.

This year’s network executive inductee was CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus who was the man responsible for bringing the NFL back to the Tiffany Network after they lost the rights in 1993. Under McMahon’s watch, CBS Sports has been a profit center eschewing costly deals with the other major league team sports but getting solid return on its investment with college football, March Madness college basketball, and the PGA Tour including the Masters Tournament. Even cable’s CBS Sports Network which doesn’t have a lot of big name rights is profitable and features interesting fare such as bull riding and college sports that don’t get the spotlight such as softball and volleyball.

I have found Sean to be a straight shooter who will always honestly answer a question. A good case in point was when Sean confirmed a rumor that I had heard two days earlier during the television industry’s Upfront Week in May 2013 that CBS would be losing the rights to the US Open to ESPN. Thanks to Sean I was able to break that story.

Having attended many CBS media functions I can state that he treats journalists from all outlets regardless of size and prestige with equal respect. I wish that I could say the same for others that I come across in the sports world including too many self-important PR types and even a few of my fellow sportswriters.

Ross Greenburg was a champion of quality sports documentaries when he was president of HBO Sports from 2000 to 2011. In spite of them winning numerous Emmy Awards, HBO senior officials, while acknowledging their prestige, did not see them as vital to maintaining subscribers or adding new ones. Greenburg formed his own production company after leaving HBO where he has produced numerous documentaries.

December has been a busy month for him. As in past years he is producing a four-week miniseries for Epix and the National Hockey League called “The Road To The NHL Outdoor Classic” which will take place on New Year’s Day in Toronto on January 2 and will pit the Detroit Red Wings against the hometown Maple Leafs.

Last Friday night, Showtime debuted his latest documentary, “Run For Your Life,” which was the tragic story of the late running back Lawrence Phillips. He was a very gifted football player who led the University of Nebraska to a pair of national championships, Phillips, who was a very good student in spite of moving from one foster home to another in the Los Angeles area, had a temper and a violent streak that sadly got the best of him at the worst possible moments. The conventional wisdom from those who really didn’t know much about his life story was that Lawrence Phillips was just another entitled athlete who thought that he could get away with anything. Greenburg, with the help of highly regarded actor Jeffrey Wright who serves as the narrator, gives a more complete picture that makes Phillips, in spite of his many demons, a far more sympathetic figure than previously thought.

Here are a couple of fairly inexpensive sporting events ideas during the Christmas-New Year’s week:

The Westchester Knicks will take on the Long Island Nets at Barclays Center for a matinee on Monday, December 26. These are the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets respective NBA Developmental League teams.

The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, which is now in its seventh year, will take place on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 28, when Northwestern meets the University of Pittsburgh.

NBC has had a lot of critical and ratings success with its live adaptations of former Broadway shows that are always scheduled for early December. The recent telecast of “Hairspray” was its most watched musical revival ever. NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt told me last week that next year’s production will be “Bye, Bye Birdie” whose score includes such great sing-along tunes as “ A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” and “Put On A Happy Face.”

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