Different breed of player

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Saturday, December 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Not many pitchers tip their caps anymore.

That’s how they used to acknowledge the applause of the crowd for a job well done.

As a pitcher left the game, he either raised his cap or touched the bill of it.

Bryan Price remembers Mike Krukow doing it when he was with the San Francisco Giants in the 1980s.

“I think anymore pitchers haven’t grown up in an environment where that was commonplace,” said Price, the pitching coach for the Seattle Mariners.

Price did. As a youngster in the Bay Area, he watched Juan Marichal and John Montefusco pitch for the Giants at Candlestick Park. “I was emulating the things that I saw them do when I was a kid,” he said. “I thought that was a neat thing.”

It was a custom that connected the player with the fans. But somewhere along the line, it pretty much ended.

I don’t know if it was a gradual phasing out or if one day it just wasn’t there anymore, somewhat like society’s manners.

One of the few guys I’ve seen do it is Paul Abbott of the Mariners. “Paul Abbott is a throwback,” Price said. “I think Paul Abbott was born a baseball fan. He likes the purity of the game. He’s aware of the little things that other people find insignificant.”

When he was with the Mariners, Randy Johnson used to raise his cap high in the air after another one of his gems.

Price didn’t always engage in the routine when he pitched. “Only if I felt like I was worthy of the acknowledgement,” he said. “If I felt like it was warranted and I had pitched my best, I would do it.”

When he coached in the low minor leagues, he told his pitchers it was a nice gesture to return he fans’ salute. “You find as a coach, the higher up you go, there are certain things you no longer attempt to teach,” he said. “There are certain things you can’t enforce anymore. Like, ‘Hey, guys, it would be a good idea … ’ (and they’ll say) ‘That’s none of your business what we do.’ “

What a lovable creature the modern-day player is.

Some players used to tip their caps after home runs. Jay Buhner still does.

Ted Williams never did. “He said he wished he had done it after his final home run,” recalled Mark Sperandio, a rabid Red Sox fan and owner of the Everett AquaSox.

What’s next to go – autographs? If you’ve tried to get one, you know how tough it is. If you had a $20 million contract, they’d sign it in a minute.

I don’t know if there are any players who absolutely refuse to give their autograph, but I have seen any number of them stroll past pleading fans at spring training as well as during the regular season. There’ll be people leaning over the dugout at Safeco Field, batting practice is over, and the players walk stoically off the field, refusing to make eye contact with anyone so that they don’t give in to some cute 5-year-old and suddenly have three dozen baseballs thrust at them.

Go watch the AquaSox and you’ll see players signing before and after games. These guys, fresh out of high school or college, are flattered that anyone would ask for their John Henry.

As a player, Price, who got as high as triple-A, was willing to scribble his name.

As a coach, though, it’s different. “I’ve never seen myself as being of terribly great importance where my signature would mean anything to anyone,” he said. “That’s probably a bad way to look at it. But as a coach with no major league legacy, I’d feel kind of sheepish. I probably should give myself a bit more credit.”

Particularly after the fine job he did with the M’s pitchers last season.

It’s Sperandio’s guess that players start cutting back on autographs once they reach long-season Class A ball, where they play 140 games or so. They get to the ballpark early and leave late.

Some triple-A players might have a negative attitude about signing because they’re either stuck there or they’ve been sent down.

Major leaguers are often pinched for time. After batting practice, they lift weights, get treated for injuries, have a snack, read their fan mail. It’s sometimes tough trying to find time when they have nothing else to do,” Price said.

There’s a Catch-22 to autographs.

“Let’s say we’re playing in Oakland,” Price said. “There’ll be a big blockade of people outside the bus, most of them waiting for Alex (Rodriguez). A lot of times he’ll sign.

“On getaway days, there’ll be a zillion people. This time he walks by them and you can see the disgust and hear the (disparaging) comments. People have no idea that you’ve got to get out of there, that you’ve got a plane to catch.”

Which doesn’t explain Rodriguez’s rudeness to Rebecca Davis three years ago.

Davis, a 20-year-old college student at the time, was sitting in the lobby of a downtown Seattle hotel with a friend. They were there with their mothers, who were childhood friends and make a yearly visit to Seattle for a mini-vacation.

The New York Yankees were staying in the same hotel. That afternoon Rebecca saw Derek Jeter walking through the lobby and got his autograph. “He was very pleasant,” she said.

Late that night, the girls were down in the lobby again. They were making small talk with some of the Yankees when in walked Jeter with his good friend Rodriguez. Rebecca had heard all the stories about what a great guy Rodriguez was and thought why not ask him for his autograph.

She doesn’t know whether the Mariners had won or lost that night but Rodriguez apparently wasn’t in a good mood. Because when she made her request, he promptly hailed a security person and asked that Rebecca be removed from the lobby.

Was he serious? “He was dead serious,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Finally, she rushed out the door into the night.

Rebecca, who graduated from Western Washington and works for

AT@T, laughs about it now. “It’s just one of those little anecdotes you’ll tell your grandchildren,” she said.

She says one of her friends approached Rodriguez at a Barnes and Noble Store not long ago and got his autograph. “She thought he was a nice guy,” Rebecca said.

Perhaps there wasn’t a security person handy.

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