Lining Up for Postgame Handshakes in MLB: Comradery or Condescending?

The recent MLB Little League Classic was the first time a regular-season MLB game was played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Little League teams and their families from across the world filled Bowman Field, cheering on their team for the day, while enjoying classic baseball game fare, including roasted peanuts and crackerjacks.  It was also the first time two MLB teams followed the Little League protocol and shook hands after the game. This beckons the question, why don’t MLB players shake hands after games?

Some immediately point fingers to Rule 4.06, which states that “players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.” However, this rule often is not enforced (just watch teams socialize with one another during batting practice and first basemen like Miguel Cabrera joking with baserunners). Further, this rule may have originated from gambling concerns, rather than to prevent teams from shaking hands with one another.

One of the most cited explanations for snubbing the handshake in pro baseball is that baseball players compete every day, unlike the NFL where games are only once a week. Another reason could be that MLB teams must face the same team several times in a row, unlike basketball where a different team is played each day. Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison explains, “The last thing you want is to be going through an 0-15 struggle and a guy just struck you out three times and he’s like, ‘Yeah I got you.’ That’s the last thing you want to hear at that point.” Research indicates just that – the ole’ friendly slap on the back, even with the best intent, under the wrong circumstances can be patronizing.

But, in the NHL, players pound each other against the glass throughout the game, then line up to shake hands afterward. In the NBA, players elbow opponents in the throat trying to make or block a shot and also line up to shake hands after the game. In the NFL, players brutally tackle one another to the ground, then meet up in the middle of the field for widespread meet and greets when the 60 minutes end. Yet, the professional sport with the least physical contact doesn’t have postgame handshakes.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for not having postgame handshakes is because baseball is not physical enough. Playing baseball every day at a high emotional level creates tension with no immediate outlet to relieve it, unlike in football and hockey. (Cue players kicking the Gatorade cooler, breaking bats, and throwing helmets.) Not only is baseball a low-contact sport, it actually carves out personal space, such as the batter’s box. Further, research has found that a winner’s testosterone actually increases following the win. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright predicts that “if there were postgame handshakes, you’d see some fights out there.”

Wainwright might be correct. In 2013, Kentucky banned postgame shakes at high school sports, citing a three-year period where more than two-dozen fights broke out immediately after a game. Many of these fights within this period were likely due to harboring grudges from prior meetings. Take for instance the recent brawl between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, which had been brewing since a scuffle in July. It’s been found that holding resentment and anger towards another stimulates the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.

Combine these factors and postgame handshakes might just result in watching baseball crackerjacks on the field, instead of eating them with the kids.

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