DETROIT — The scene on the field at Comerica Park after the final out of the 108th World Series was no different than any other under similar circumstances, the San Francisco Giants pouring out of the dugout and congregating on the mound while the Detroit Tigers quickly and quietly filed into the clubhouse.
Baseball, unlike the other major North American professional sports, has no formal or informal exchange between the teams once the competition ends, no respectful display of sportsmanship between players acknowledging one another once all is said and done.
That’s what made the pre-arranged handshakes between the triumphant St. Louis Cardinals and the vanquished Los Angeles Dodgers following their National League Division Series back in 2004 so unique, and so significant.
The moment turned baseball tradition on its ear, even though it hasn’t been repeated since.
“It was a wonderful scene,” says Tony La Russa, the longtime Cardinals manager whose face brightens at the memory. “I mentioned (making the handshakes a regular occurrence) to the commissioner once, we never followed through. We should.”
The driving force behind the handshakes was Larry Walker, the outfielder from Maple Ridge, B.C., who was playing for the Cardinals at the time. While chatting with La Russa that September, he mentioned how post-series handshakes were routine in hockey and wondered why they don’t happen in baseball.
“Larry’s point was the best: who beats the heck out of each other more than hockey, comes close to that type of physical contact, even hatred? And then you go out there and shake hands,” La Russa recalls. “I went, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea but it would probably depend on who the manager is on the other side.’”
Jim Tracy managed the Dodgers at the time and before the series started, La Russa talked things over with him.
“Jim and I have always had a very respectful relationship and I went to him and he said, ‘Yeah,’” says La Russa. “To his credit, they got beat, but when it was over both teams, players, coaches felt this was a good way to end the competition.”
The teams lined up across the middle of the diamond and shook hands the way they do after a playoff series in hockey. While some traditionalists screamed at the fraternization, others praised the sportsmanship shown and the example set.
Tracy described it to reporters at the time as “a professional show of class between two very classy organizations,” and added, “to play this series the way it was played with the intensity it was played, it said a lot.”
But that was the end of it. The Cardinals went on to beat the hated Houston Astros managed by Phil Garner in a hard-fought seven-game NLCS before getting swept by the Boston Red Sox under Terry Francona in the World Series.
“For years (the NL Central) was either Houston or the Cardinals, so it was more intense, it was kind of mentioned and it didn’t feel right so we didn’t do it, and it never came up again,” says La Russa. “I thought about (doing it again) but I never really followed through on it.
“I have no excuse because it was such a good experience.”
Should Major League Baseball make post-series handshakes a regular occurence?