Red Sox fans are reveling in the team's second crown in four years, with good reason. It was a likeable team. The one that won in 2004 was a cabal of carefree players, which had its own charm. This year's was more tempered and professional – epitomized by the World Series MVP Mike Lowell, a diplomat in cleats.
If only the Red Sox had included one other class act this year: handshakes, with the losing team, the Colorado Rockies, at the end of the game.
Most professional sports make their small but important symbolic contribution to sportsmanship. It's time for Major League Baseball to do the same.
The first thing a football coach does at the end of a game is meet his counterpart at mid-field and shake hands. Many players, following the example, also do so. Basketball coaches clasp hands. In tennis, the first postmatch act is to meet your opponent at the net for a congratulatory embrace and then acknowledge the umpire.
Hockey – the most violent of pro sports – is the most magnanimous in victory and defeat, sending whole teams onto the ice after playoff series to exchange handshakes, a practice that has filtered down to the Bantam and Pee Wee leagues.
Which is exactly the point. Professional athletes, for better or worse, are some of society's ultimate role models. When all that kids see after a championship series is grown-ups mauling each other on the mound in victory glee, then retiring to the locker room where they have to don swim goggles because of the tsunami of spraying champagne, it's time to send a new image.
Euphoria after victory is great. But at least precede the bacchanalia with a nod to the other team. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, could mandate such a thing. But that seems forced. Next season, it might come willingly from the managers or coaches, if not the players themselves.
Talking up tacos
And speaking of what fans see, it was hard to miss the Taco Bell promotions. Money talks, and did it ever in the World Series – as in the Fox Sports in-the-stands interview with Rob Savage, the chief operating officer for Taco Bell, which was a World Series sponsor. As in the dugout banter between two players chatting about their sponsor's taco-giveaway, a clip that Fox aired as a "Sounds of the Game" segment. As in Fox announcers talking friendly about Taco Bell at every opportunity.
How about a little baseball to go with your taco?
Fans know that sports – from amateur to professional – depend on advertising sponsorship. But every year, the sponsors get more face time. Stadiums are named after corporations; ballparks have gone NASCAR, decking their walls and light poles with logos and ads; television airs virtual ads from the dugouts – visible to viewers but not to ticket holders.
The Taco Bell talk took the commercialism of baseball to a new level, integrating the sponsor seamlessly with commentary and reportage. As a marketing matter, it's a coup. As a matter of taste, it's like eating one too many tacos.