No-taunting Rule Threatens Human Side Of Baseball


April 17, 1992|By Pat O'Malley

While watching the Glen Burnie at Arundel High school baseball game Monday, I noticed a tad of animosity between the two teams.

After all, Arundel is defending state Class 4A champion and, year in, year out, is usually in the running in postseason. That makes the Wildcatsand their feisty coach, Bernie Walter, the team everybody loves to hate and beat.

At times, tensions were high, but this story has a happy ending.

Glen Burnie appeared to have the game locked up in the second inning with a 7-0 lead and its ace left-hander Tony Saunders on the mound. But, lo and behold, the 'Cats pecked away and won the game, 9-8.

The Gophers were embarrassed to say the least, but it's what happened throughout the game and the next day that might be construed as embarrassing.

Walter complained to the umpires in the early innings that he felt the Glen Burnie players were taunting him and his players, but seemed to get nowhere with his complaints.

On a subsequent trip to the mound to talk to his pitcher, Walter and everyone there could clearly hear the Gopher bench engaging in a marching chants.

The noise coming from the Glen Burnie dugout was right in step with Walter. When he stopped, they stopped. When he started walking back to his dugout, the Gophers picked it up again.

When the Wildcats changed pitchers, the hurler being removed left amid a chorus of hooting and hollering. That's part of baseball and is not vicious.

Actually it was kind of funny, but National High School Federation rules consider it a form of taunting and want no taunting at all. Those guiltyof taunting are to be ejected.

Over the years, Walter's teams have been among the best at bench jockeying. But it seems unfashionable and unacceptable anymore, even if it is good-natured and bordering onthe comic.

As part of the "push sportsmanship" philosophy, teams are not supposed to engage in bench jockeying or taunting any more, but I would say that it is pretty tough for the umpires to call unlessits obviously vicious or threatening.

The county umpires have been used to a little old-fashioned bench jockeying. Some of the one-liners that emerge from the mouths of the ballplayers are often hilarious and seldom personal or vicious. When it has gotten to that point, the Anne Arundel Amateur Umpires Association have put a stop to it.

To ask them to enforce the new rule to the letter is a little much, and an unnecessary burden. Good-natured ribbing and agitating has always been a part of the game.

To do away with it completely would make the games rather boring. Of course, it must always be in good taste or it should cease, and those who go too far should be penalized.

Most county umpires assigned by Chief of Officials Jack Kramp are veterans who use discretion in dealing with controversy. Not all of them are perfect, but most of them handle potentially combustible situations very well.

"We usually give them a warning as a team if we think something might be about to develop into a problem," said Kramp.

"If it continues, then we get rid of the guilty individuals. Butthings like when a team removes a pitcher and the other team yells 'whoooop' or something like that is funny and comical and not vindictive or unsportsmanlike. Practically everybody does it, just as long asthey don't get personal."

Kramp is right, and his umpires use good judgment along those lines.

No one knows the rules better than Walter. These days, he keeps his players quiet and expects other teamsto do likewise.

He has a point, but we can go too far with enforcement of such rules and take human nature and the fun out of the games. It's no fun if you have a bunch of robots walking around not saying anything.

The idea is to know where the line should be drawn, and that's where the man in blue steps in. The umpire has to maintain control of the game.

"Talking trash" has no place, not just in baseball, but all high school sports. That cannot be tolerated, and that is something Walter accused the Gophers of the other day. But unless it obviously is heard, it is pretty tough to prove.

It's importantfor those in authority, such as coaches and athletic directors, to emphasize that talking trash is not to be tolerated. And the leaders have to threaten penalties for the guilty parties.

Schools have to work together. And, thank goodness, that is exactly what Arundel and Glen Burnie did. The day after the game, Walter, who is also Arundel's athletic director, discussed the matter with Terry Bogle, his Glen Burnie counterpart.

You can rest assured that the two spoke to their coaches and players to reinforce fair play and not allow taunting or talking trash.

Carl Cottrino, a local sporting goods salesman, was in Walter's Gambrills office while the coach spoke to Bogle. After taking care of business, Walter went out to the practice field and noticed Glen Burnie's Wally Truelove in the outfield.

Truelove, who is a Glen Burnie manager, had lost his school ring at the game the day before. Truelove's mom had called the school that day and offereda reward to anyone who found his school ring.

Seeing Truelove searching through the grass for his treasured possession, Walter stoppedpractice and his entire team scoured the outfield for the lost ring.

"The kids on the team must have spent 30 minutes looking for it, and I thought that was kind of neat after the bitter game between thetwo," said Cottrino. "That's the way it should be."

That's what high school sports is all about -- teaching the right things and working together to resolve problems in the best interests of the kids.

Unfortunately, Wally still hasn't found his ring, and we can only hope there will be a happy ending to that as well.

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