Why MLB (Officially) Frowns Upon Fraternizing

First, a bit of interesting news from Buster Olney (subscription-only):

Before every game, position players on both teams will gather on the foul lines and do their last sprints before the first pitch, and often this leads to greetings in the outfield behind second base -- hearty handshakes and hugs.

If Joe Torre, baseball's new czar of on-field discipline, has his way, then this kind of thing will be curtailed. Torre has asked club staff members to nudge their players toward curtailing that kind of fraternization after the gates have been opened to fans.

--snip--

Torre's preference might be to curtail the fraternization, but the reality is that MLB can't really make this happen without the cooperation of the players -- and as MLB learned in its effort to get players to speed up their at-bats, some players will simply ignore the request.

Well, yes. They probably will. More about that later, though.

Here (via Hanging Sliders) is a chunk of Craig's take:

I can't think of a single reason why this would be a priority for anyone in Major League Baseball. What, you don't want to show fans that it's OK to like and respect their competitors? That it's more than a game and extends into personal rivalry? Isn't that the exact opposite that the Dodgers and Giants players tried to demonstrate back when they had their first series following the beating of Bryan Stow?

No, this probably shouldn't be anyone's priority. But there's a reason for the rule (yes, there's a rule; more about the reason and the rule later, though).

Hanging Sliders' Wendy Thurm notes that fraternization, while not really an issue in baseball, has raised some hackles when it's NBA players doing the fraternizing. And she thinks it might have something to do with so many NBA players, umm, being differently hued than most of the NBA's fans. The fans inside the arenas, anyway.

We don't have these feelings about baseball players. Maybe because the "we" is not just white, but all sorts of colors, creeds and ethnicities, just like the players themselves. The ballplayers seem approachable. They remind us of people we've met or known or heard about. When we see players from opposing teams talking on the field during BP or during the game, we get it. We understand it. And we're not threatened by it.

I love this about baseball. I love the "everyman" feeling about the game and the fans. And I don't want Joe Torre to take it away.

I don't think Joe Torre could take anything away. I don't think anyone goes to the ballpark early enough for batting practice with happy thoughts about seeing all those "everymen" high-fiving and man-hugging.

Does it gladden my cockles that baseball players get along when they're not playing, or even when they are? Yeah, it does. Not because they're everymen, but simply because brotherly love is heart-warming. When a baserunner takes out an infielder, then gets up and inquires about the infielder's health, we've just seen stark examples of competition and camaraderie, two of the more interesting and attractive behaviors displayed by the male homo sapiens.

But there is a rule about fraternizing, and there is a reason for it

The rule is 3.09, which reads in full:

Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.

Now, I don't have any specific information about the origin of Rule 3.09. But when I read those words, another word comes to mind ...

Gambling

Most people think that baseball's gambling issues began and ended in 1919 with the Chicago Black Sox.

They didn't. Well, they largely ended with the suspension of the Black Sox in 1920. But before then, innumerable games were manipulated by the players in the service of themselves, gamblers, or their friends on the other team. Considering that, doesn't a fraternization rule make sense? Just in terms of perception?

For many years -- but no longer, I believe -- an umpire was assigned, before every game, to sit in the stands during batting practice and write a report about opposing players fraternizing. I don't know if any players were actually fined -- and there certainly has been fraternizing among players for a long, long time -- but it was actively discouraged.

And frankly, I don't see any harm in continuing to discourage it. Without the assurance that every player is trying to win, a sport stops being a sport and becomes instead an exhibition. I can't fault Joe Torre for wanting to safeguard that assurance.

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