Look, we can sit back and pretend this is all the product of a new generation, that there’s no way Jesse Winker would have survived 10 minutes in baseball’s golden age when men were men and frontier justice ruled the day, and everyone played with their heads down and their mouths shut.
We can pretend the single-most talked-about moment of Babe Ruth’s career wasn’t an absolute ode to trash talking. Nobody knows for sure if Ruth really pointed to center field moments before launching a Charlie Root fastball there on Oct. 1, 1932, Game 3 of the World Series. The grainy film that exists certainly hints that he did. Ruth himself said that’s exactly what he did. And what we know for sure is that the Cubs had been riding Ruth all series, and as it was 1932 and PC guidelines weren’t terribly popular yet, they probably weren’t yelling, “No batter-batter-batter-swing-batter!”
Trash talk answering trash talk. As far back as the Hoover Administration.
We can pretend Chuck Bednarik wasn’t loudly rejoicing over the prone body of Frank Gifford after the collision of Eagles and Giants legends at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 20, 1960, in which Bednarik separated Gifford from both the football and his senses late in the game. Bednarik, after all, really represents the old-school old-school athlete, quiet and intense and hard working. But even the explanation he gave for more than half a century — “All I said was, ‘This game is over!’ ” — would, by any measure, constitute trash talk.
And though Muhammad Ali might’ve elevated trash talk in boxing to an art form, he was hardly the first boxer to, say, guarantee he would knock an opponent out. That’s a time-honored tradition dating to bare-knuckles combatants.
So what’s the difference?
Major League Baseball has been making a few waves with its “Let the Kids Play” marketing scheme, and it certainly seems the sport embraces bat flips and home run dances now. Tim Anderson of the White Sox earned a brushback pitch and a suspension for discarding his bat and making some intemperate remarks against the Royals. Winker all but moon-walked around the bases Monday night at Citi Field, and twice punctuated catching game-ending outs by waving so long to the fans. Ah, these kids.
But surely you’ve seen video of Ted Williams hitting a walk-off homer at Tiger Stadium against Claude Passeau, and galloping around the bases stomping his hands and floating on air. It’s hard to take any issue with a kid hitting a huge home run and feeling good about it, but that certainly isn’t what players if the early ’40s were known for. Greeting Williams at home plate was Joe DiMaggio, who made a point of never showing any emotion on a ball field (with one famous exception, kicking the dirt in the 1947 World Series after being robbed by Al Gionfriddo).
Williams didn’t get one in his ear for that, but there were guys on the National League team who grumbled about it. “He’ll learn,” Dodgers manager Leo Durocher said a few weeks later.
And maybe that’s the only way we can ever really deal with trash talk. Eventually sports humbles everyone. Sports gets the last laugh. Three years after his called shot, Ruth could barely walk to the plate. Bednarik’s concrete reputation belied his finally years, when he answered with his brain for all the hits he’d delivered as a young man. Ali met public sporting mortality more than any other man, ever. When Williams ended his career with a home run in 1960, he sprinted around the bases with his head down, no longer the free spirited kid he’d been 19 years earlier.
And Jesse Winker was bid adieu by Mets fans after getting ejected in the middle of an at-bat Thursday. Karma pays attention. Even if it doesn’t always strike so quickly.
It is never too early to pre-order “Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher,” David Cone’s book with Jack Curry that comes out May 14, and is as complete and compelling a treatise about what makes a pitcher tick as anything that’s ever come before.
I only made it to Runyon’s in time for the final few innings of its glorious run as New York’s signature sporting saloon, but it always felt like I’d achieved a personal milestone every time I ordered a beer there. Joe Healey created something wonderful there, and he was exactly the kind of character folks like me have always come to Manhattan to discover. He died this week, and a small part of the city’s fun-loving soul goes with him. Godspeed.
Not to be an alarmist, but the Mets’ offense the last few days has looked like it’s been ripped from the pages of the Campbell-Mayberry Era.
Jeff Nelson was really, really good on YES this week, working the Yankees-Diamondbacks games. More Nellie, please.
Whack Back at Vac
Neal Auricchio: I think Samson is a more appropriate nickname than Thor for Noah Syndergaard. He got rid of the barrette and let his hair flow loose and he is back to his old self Thursday.
Vac: I think we may have seen the last of the man bun for a while.
Craig Wilson: So the Giants could have drafted Josh Allen at No. 6, another defensive player at No. 17, and traded for Josh Rosen with their second-round pick. Gettleman also gave up fourth- and fifth-rounders to move up seven spots. He has set the franchise back a decade with these decisions.
Vac: For all the noise about whether Daniel Jones would’ve been available at 17 or not, this has always been the pathway I would’ve taken I was the Giants’ GM.
@don11cs: Eli Manning is great QB and underrated. Played his whole career surrounded by journeyman on his side of ball. Not one other Hall of Famer. Imagine if he had Witten/Gronk/Gates? Or one or 2 HOF lineman? Or one WR who just played like Harrison/Wayne?
@MikeVacc: I remain fascinated at how unassuming No. 10 became the most polarizing New York athlete of our time. Because there is also this:
Steve Scotti: The only thing that was exceptional about Eli was not getting hurt. Philip Rivers is a terrific QB, and if Ernie Accorsi would have kept him the Giants would have won more than two Super Bowls. Manning gets the MVP for those two Super Bowls when, if truth be told, the Giants’ defense and some unbelievable hard catches by his receivers won those Super Bowls.
Vac: Every bit the lightning rod that A-Rod was. Who ever saw that coming?