- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

While the New York Yankees are not quite the team you loved to hate of the Bronx Zoo era, thanks to the karma of Papa Joe Torre, they are still hardly the darlings of America. Rooting for the Yankees is still akin to rooting for U.S. Steel, as it was 50 years ago.

But if the Boston Red Sox carry some of their behavior from the division series against Oakland into the American League Championship Series that started last night at Yankee Stadium, they will lose their place as the lovable underdogs and force baseball fans to actually root for the Yankees.

First there was reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, who gave the middle finger to Fenway fans after being introduced to the crowd Saturday. “Kim sincerely regrets his actions and hopes that this will become an opportunity for him to mature,” said Boston general manager Theo Epstein in an interview with the Boston Herald.

Kim will have to mature on the bench. He has been left off the roster for the series against New York, supposedly because of shoulder problems, but it was clearly an embarrassment to all concerned and his presence would be a distraction either at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. The Sox might have had a Jimmy Piersall situation on their hands if this guy was allowed to pitch in this series.

Then there was pitcher Derek Lowe, who may or may not have — depending on who you believe — made an obscene gesture toward his crotch after getting the last out to clinch Game 5, sending the Oakland players into a rage.

“Derek Lowe is going to be paid back for that sign,” Miguel Tejada screamed in the clubhouse after the game. Scott Hatteberg, who played with Lowe in Boston, called the gesture “classless and unprofessional. I’m disappointed having known him.”

Lowe had claimed innocence. “I don’t know exactly what I did,” he said. “If I offended anybody, that’s not sportsmanship. If I did do something, I’m sorry, because that’s not the way you play the game.”

I’m sorry, but he knows exactly what he did — a World Wrestling Entertainment (I still have a hard time not writing WWF) move made popular by Steve Austin. If you missed it or couldn’t see it, that’s only because you have not wallowed in the same cultural gutters as I have.

Then there was Manny Ramirez, who showboated with his home run trot and pointed to the dugout after hitting his home run against Oakland in Game 5, angering the Oakland players. “I told [Oakland starter Barry] Zito he was going to make a mistake and I was going to be waiting,” Ramirez said.

Unlike basketball and football, baseball has remained relatively free of the taunting and unsportsmanlike behavior that taints our sports. It is a game with a strong code of conduct, usually enforced by 90 mph fastballs.

I don’t necessarily agree with the method, but unless we want ballplayers stopping at home plate, pulling a Sharpie out of their socks and signing their bat to hand over to someone in the stands, then we should welcome the indignities of the Oakland players over what we may see as small slights — compared to the antics we see taking place in the NFL and NBA. And this is not a racial issue. It is a simple case of respect for your fellow man. Baseball may be the last line of defense for such sentiments.

Baseball has lucked into a fabulous postseason show — the Yankees against the Red Sox and the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, with the Cinderella Florida Marlins added to the mix. They have stars, they have heroes, they have great baseball and they have ratings. What they don’t need are Terrell Owens and Vince McMahon wannabes taking the spotlight away from the games and turning it on themselves.

I don’t believe these incidents are reflective of the Boston organization. Team president and former Washington fixture Larry Lucchino has actually changed the image of the Red Sox franchise in Boston from being a cold, heartless institution to one that is fan-friendly and very image-conscious.

The Red Sox, who have not won a World Series since 1918, are the sentimental favorites in this series. But if the players don’t clean up their act, they may accomplish the impossible — sympathy for the devil, otherwise known as the Yankees.

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