Baseball is playing dress-up now and dugout floors have become runways of sorts. Welcome to the world of home run costume celebrations. White wigs, gangster pinstripe blazers, swords, Viking helmets, weird hose horns, fake dumbbells, golden tridents, oversized hats. The irony is that most of these super-jocks playing MLB probably bullied the theater majors in college and definitely in high school. Now they’re borrowing pages from Bob Fosse and Harvey Fierstein with the post-home run preening in somewhat elaborate get-ups. MLB is calling it fun, and for those watching on TV and streaming services, it’s amusing. Fans in attendance don’t get a great view of this pantomime fanfare as it’s confined to the dugout with limited live visibility.
These production antics also gives the bench players something to do, now that the universal DH has pretty much killed pinch-hitting and double-switching. So your back-up catcher is now a stage hand and the equipment managers have to go to Party City to pick up props for these post-HR performances. Make sure Andrew McCutchen has his sword, or the Nationals guy has his founding-fathers white wig. This is the entertainment level we’ve reached with baseball. I can’t say that I mind, as I was always amused when the New York Post’s resident Puritan Phil Mushnick would describe the NFL’s touchdown celebrations as “ritual blood dances.” And that was in the 1990s, when they were mild. Haven’t checked in on Mushnick’s stuff in years, but I’m sure he’s having a field day hating the HR celebration dress-ups sweeping both leagues at present.
And the key word here is celebration. You’ve just hit a baseball over the fence of a Major League ballpark. There should be rejoicing, especially amongst one’s peers confined to the dugout. These donning of costumes are the inner curtain call, if you will. Although given all the props and parading, there might not be enough time for a proper curtain call, which is surely an acknowledgement to those fans in the house, the paying crowd in the seats, that something special has occurred.
I recall a post-season home run by David Justice at Yankee Stadium in the 1990s that had the entire upper deck reeling and testing the architectural mettle of the old ballyard as fans could feel the structure heaving up and down. That was enough of a thrill that no judge robe outfits or Burger King-style crowns were required to enjoy (and survive) the experience.
Home runs have been celebrated through the previous years usually with bat flips or trots. Ruben Sierra had a peculiar home run stride that took him onto the dirt of the opposing dugout to make his extra-wide turn of first base. He’d do a jersey-tug to loosen his gold chains and then “Cadillac” his way through the circuit of bases. Rickey Henderson, the James Brown of baseball, had a similar act when he went yard. I loved watching him play the game. Every facet was mastered. And he knew it. Thank you, Rickey.
For the past few seasons, the walk-off homer has featured several awkward home plate celebrations with liquids and jumping onto home plate with tossed batting helmets and showers of sunflower seeds and colorful Gatorade. Some have resulted in embarrassing injuries. Very few teams can gracefully pull off this mob circle jerk. There are sharp spikes in the air and a high risk of foot and ankle mishaps.
Some of these theatricals reflect the local culture of the teams. Take, for instance, the Minnesota Twins who use a fishing outfit dubbed the “Land of 10,000 Rakes.” Clever marketing department there. The Anaheim Angels have already switched from a Gene Autry-themed Cowboy hat to a Shohei Ohtani-themed Samurai helmet that’s apparently pretty heavy. So much so that the team might not take it on the road as luggage fees might apply.
I’ve noticed the propaganda from MLB has shifted to a Stalin-esque style claim that the fans requested these “rule changes” (not true) and that the larger base resulting in more stolen bases, very much denounced by analytic-based “Moneyball” people over the past several seasons, have made the game more fun and faster etc. Fine. Let the league dictate the false narrative. This “let’s put on a show in the backyard” mentality of the home run celebration costumes is fine by me. Anything for more onscreen attention with an emphasis on creativity. It seems MLB has taken a page from The Little Rascals and Alfalfa is Max Scherzer and Spanky is Daniel Vogelbach and Buckwheat is Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Darla is Justin Verlander. I don’t know if commissioner Rob Manfred can live up to the role of Miss Crabtree. I kind of doubt it at his point, especially because drag queens, not guns, are killing our future generations.