NEW YORK — Players used to celebrate home runs by touching the bases, then shaking hands in the dugout. Honest.
Of course, you may be too young to recall these simpler times. Nowadays, it's all show biz. We suddenly see a variety of handshakes at home plate -- the High-Five, the Low-Five, the Double High-Five, and the Bash. We see stylish home run trots, like Jeffrey Leonard's "One Flap Down." We also see dugout curtain calls. Even Yankee Manager Billy Martin took one May 16 on his 60th birthday.
This makes good theater for the fans, but times have surely changed since the days when no one dared anger the people in the other dugout.
"I guess when we played, they threw more brushback pitches," said Yankee third base coach Clete Boyer.
"I think 25 years ago you'd be asking to get creased if you did that," added Seattle coach Frank Howard. Howard, who hit 382 homers in a career spent in Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit and Texas, admitted a little bit of theater is good for the game and helps build team unity.
"I don't think you want to overdo it (the theatrics) but a little is OK," he said. "It's good for the game."
Boyer spent 16 years in the majors, with stops in Kansas City, New York and Atlanta. He played for the 1961 Yankees, who hold the major-league record of 240 homers in a season. He saw Roger Maris pursue and reach 61 homers, but can't recall much show-biz from the man who hit more homers in a season than Babe Ruth.
"I remember when Roger came out of the dugout with the (61st) home run," Boyer said, "He didn't even want to do that. We had to kind of push him out."
Today, curtain calls have grown so common that Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly amazed people by refusing to take a bow. He felt his team was so far ahead, he would have looked silly.
Years ago, pitchers like the Cards' Bob Gibson or the Dodgers' Don Drysdale would have had a different word for it. They didn't like hitters, and never shied from showing it with a fastball under the chin. Hank Aaron, who made the home run trot more often than anyone, recalled those days.
"Sam Jones, he'd knock you down for a week if you did something like that," Aaron said. "He'd probably run over you with a car. Back in those days, there were some mean pitchers. Stan Williams? He'd dig you a hole."
One story concerns Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean. He watched as a hitter dug in at the plate. "Dig it deep," Dean supposedly yelled from the mound. "Because that's where they'll bury you."
Pitchers can't do that anymore. Umps can eject anyone suspected of throwing at a batter. That, combined with fan demand, allows theatrics to flourish. And there's nothing wrong with pleasing the fans. As soon as they stop coming, the game stops, too.
The Mets have lowered their handshake about five feet, making a High Five a Low Five. Former Met Rafael Santana, now a Yankee, credits Darryl Strawberry with this invention. First base coach Bill Robinson adds a touch of his own with a two-fingered tap whenever someone arrives at first with a single.
Led by Rickey Henderson, the Yankees employ the Double High Five. In this variation, players not only use both hands, but also hold the grip and bring arms down to their sides before releasing.
"I don't know if it's my creation," Henderson said. "It's just something we do. A High Five and bring it down low. It's just a style we have, like some other teams have."
Oakland has devised a touch it may use several times this year. Instead of shaking hands, A's sluggers bash each other with forearms. Considering the lineup includes sluggers like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the forearms could wear out almost as quickly as opposing pitchers do.
Then there's the home run trot. San Francisco outfielder Jeff Leonard angered the Cardinals last fall in the National League playoffs. Not only did he set a playoff record by homering in four straight games, he also made those trips with "One Flap Down" -- one arm slapped straight to his side.
Not all theatrics are new. Babe Ruth trotted on tiptoe and waved his cap to the crowd. Reggie Jackson liked to stand at home plate and watch. Carlton Fisk waved his game-winning homer fair in Game Six of the 1975 World Series. Bobby Thomson (The Shot Heard 'Round the World) and Bill Mazeroski (game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series) both exulted their way around the bases, and you could hardly blame them.