Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our sports commentator Frank Deford recently got a letter - not an email, a real letter with a stamp in an envelope - from a friend wondering about the finer points of being a good sport.

FRANK DEFORD: It occurred to my friend, the Duchess, the sports connoisseur who seeks out all that may be indecorous in athletics, that there is a glaring lapse of etiquette in one sport. Writing to me from her yacht - as always, in her lovely cursive hand - she begins: If I am not mistaken, my dear Frank, amongst major sports, baseball players are the only ones who never shake hands with each other in the spirit of good will. What a dreadfully rude lapse of good manners.

The Duchess went on to note that basketball players are the most social. The starters shake hands before the game and often kibitz on the court afterwards. Moreover, after college games, the two teams all pass by each other in a line, just like a Virginia reel at a square dance.

Even those whom the Duchess called ruffians on ice may pound each other all during the season, but when a hockey playoff series is over and one team is eliminated, the players on both teams - including the goons - skate slowly past each other and shake hands.

As the Duchess wrote: I find that really quite lovely, Frank. Even brutes can be taught to be civilized upon occasion.

Further, the Duchess pointed out that football players mingle on the field after every game, as she wrote: rather as their fans tailgate. The Concussion Candidates, as the Duchess labeled football players, tend to mate up by position. Always, the quarterback from one team seeks out the quarterback from the other. The coaches at least acknowledge one another, even if they can't stand each other. And the more religious players from both teams even join together in a circle and pray.

Golfers make sure to shake hands with the other players' caddies. Very egalitarian, don't you think, Frank? Yes, indeed, Duchess.

And tennis players meet at the net. It used to be that the winner might jump the net, but there's a certain triumphalism to that. So the custom's pretty much gone out.

Boxers, of course, touch gloves before the fight after the referee opines may the best man win. And, my gracious, exclaimed the Duchess, soccer players and rowers, even Little League give each other the shirts of their backs.

The Duchess concluded her letter to me noting how especially curious it was that while baseball players do not congratulate each other after the game, they're quite convivial during the game. If a batter hits a double, he'll be sure to pass the time of day with the opposition shortstop or a second baseman. Afterwards, though, it's only the winners who come out on the field and fist bump each other.

I wish the losers would at least tip their hats to their conquerors, the Duchess concluded. There is no reason why baseball players can't be gentlemen, like others of the sporting persuasion.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford, of the commenting persuasion, joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford