Free Hugs

Posted: May 12, 2011 in MLB

I was doing my morning read of ESPN today, getting my updates and reads of the previous nights events, when a rather startling article was headlining the main page. It was reported that the Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry exchanged hugs with St. Louis Cardinals slugger, and soon to be free agent of a lifetime, Albert Pujols. Yes you heard me, the now acclaimed “hug heard round the world” is breaking news this morning.

Let’s start off with small background information here as from what I have read. Hendry has a connection to Pujols supposedly stemming from connections he made during his time at Creighton University. There, as the head coach from 1984-1991, he made connections around the baseball community, one of those being Alan Benes who pitched for him as a player at the time. Later Benes went on to pitch in the majors including stints with the Cubs and the Cardinals and is now currently an instructor with the Cardinals. This explains the connection, Hendry knows Benes, who knows Pujols, connection established.

What is not established now however is how they’re friends, does an old instructor randomly invite the biggest player in baseball over for a Sunday barbeque and a rival GM just happens to be attending as a friend and now Hendry and Pujols are friends for life? Do they Skype when Pujols is on the road because he’s lonely and needs some advice from someone who’s been around the game longer?

The history of their friendship matters because Pujols will become the most sought after free agent in sports history this off season and most likely will receive a record breaking deal, either in total dollar figures or in average annual salary. This ties in with the hug because the Cardinals and Cubs are supposed to be very strong, and very intense rivals, both on and off the diamond. Yet for some reason one team’s GM and the other’s soon to be ex-player, and face of the game/franchise, are seen hugging each other as long lost brothers before their game last night.

This is a free agency issue because now other teams that were hoping to be in the running to sign Pujols will be screaming “tampering!” from the hill tops. It has been an issue in the past, both recent and distant, with friendships, family relationships, etc. leading to unfair advantages is the free agency game. However many of these relationships cannot be helped, as most of them are hidden from the viewing public. PDA like this though raises questions both from fans and media alike, don’t worry I’m not considering myself media, I’m just another armchair quarterback…WITH A BLOG.

While watching a segment on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight Minute (BBTM) co-panellists made the point that I have been sharing all along about athletes as competitors. Rich Sutcliffe made the point that when he was playing against Barry Larkin, there were no hugs, minimal handshakes, especially on game day. They have no desire to cross the field and hug each other saying good luck buddy, they were playing to beat the other. That is what sports used to be and I fear for the future if things keep going along this path. These signs of affection are fine and dandy in the off season, or at a kid’s birthday party. These are the Cub’s, a storied franchise, in the same breath as Red Sox, Yankees, and their GM is hugging their rivals’ star player hours before game time.

What I want to know now is what happened? Why are athletes all of a sudden friends with each other and how can we expect games to have the same intensity and passion if they’re all buddy buddy?

A close to home example would be when the New England Patriots are in Indianapolis to play the Colts. On several occasions I’ve heard that Peyton Manning has played host and taken Tom Brady out for dinner, c’mon man. In the case of Manning, you are the captain, highest paid player in the league, and you’re sleeping with the enemy? As a fan these incidents bother me because to many fans, including myself, it says that you don’t care about this rivalry nearly as much we do, and you should. It sends the wrong message to fans that you’re taking what is supposed to be a personal position-rival, as well as team rival, out to dinner in your team’s city! Did Ali take Frazer out for drinks after their fights? Did the Steinbrenner’s open their homes to the Red Sox when they came to town?

I’m not saying you have to hate your rival to the point of ill wishing, but have some respect for the fans that pay your cheques and keep your leagues afloat. This is their past time, their passion, and many of them one of the most meaningful things to them and you’re ignoring all of it with these unnecessary pleasantries. You may have been friends with players in college and still might be, but doesn’t the competition and will to win trump that? Don’t you care that they’re probably being told to take it to you by their teammates, show no remorse and you’re going to forget all that?

Perhaps I’m just a dreamer of sports past, and wish that the competitive fire still burned in all of us like it still does in some athletes like Kevin Garnett. Think what you will about his on court antics but his teammates say it best, he’s the best teammate to have on your team, and worst competitor to play against. He looks at every opponent as if they’re trying to take everything away from him, and he does everything he can to stop them. Hugs are between friends, hand shakes are between competitors, and I don’t ever plan on hugging someone when protocol calls for only a game ending hand shake.

  1. Tim says:

    Well written, as always. This point you brought up was exactly the situation that Bosh was in a few years ago when the Raps played the Magic in the opening round of the playoffs. Bosh and Dwight Howard were friends off the court throughout that entire series. Its no wonder either of those guys took that series too seriously.

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