Should Teams Honor Opponents?

By Rich Sparago

This week was a very rare one in Metsville. The guys from Queens swept four straight games from their cross-town rivals. In the process of doing so, the Mets did something on Tuesday night that every other Yankees’ opponent has been doing this year-honor all-time great, Mariano Rivera. The Mets gave Rivera a couple of gifts (one was the tip of a fire hose, somewhat strange perhaps), and had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Met, John Franco. This sparked a debate among Mets fans, and sports fans in general, about the practice of paying tribute to active opponents.

May 28, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera (left) is honored by New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon (right) during a press conference before a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The arguments on both sides of the issue are clear. Those in favor of honoring opponents say that it’s the classy thing to do. They say that you’re honoring someone who has made great contributions to the game we love, and that trumps the uniform that the person wears. Those who oppose the act of honoring the active opponent point to competition, and ask why a team should honor someone who is still competing against it, and has contributed to the team’s losses and frustrations over the years. The Mets honored former Braves’ manager, Bobby Cox, late in the 2010 season, and did the same for former Brave great, Chipper Jones, late in the 2012 season.

I recently saw a poll about honoring active opponents, and the majority of the responders were in favor of the practice. Well, I’m not in favor of it, at least not in the manner in which it is being done. Think about Tuesday night. The Mets honored Rivera before a game in which he was summoned from the bullpen to try to beat them. The same people who politely cheered Mariano were later loudly rooting against him. The same took place when the Mets honored Chipper. Essentially the team is saying, “Let’s all stand and applaud a guy whom you will revile (in a baseball context) within the next couple of hours.” It seems a little contrived to me. As far as I’m concerned, the organization who employs the retiring star has the obligation to honor him, not the opponents.

So, here’s my alternative suggestion. If the opponents want to acknowledge a retiring star, play a short video after batting practice. Give the fans a chance to applaud the player in an understated type of way. Then, once the player has retired, invite him to the park for a more in-depth celebration. Let him throw out the first pitch that day. Give him his gifts that day. But please don’t ask your fans to cheer a player whose mission, that very day, is to beat their beloved home team. It just doesn’t make sense to me. How do you feel about it?

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