Bubbles, basketball part of modern HR celebrations

Published October 8, 2014 9:45AM (EDT)

Used to be that a major leaguer would homer and be greeted in the dugout with high-fives and handshakes. Seems so quaint nowadays, doesn't it?

When guys go yard in the modern MLB, taters are toasted with charisma and, in some cases, choreography.

The Dodgers set off a bubble machine in their dugout, even on the road. The Nationals shoot the dinger-deliverer's helmet, basketball-style. Soon as a ball clears a wall, the Cardinals stand shoulder-to-shoulder to form a very orderly receiving line, welcoming the slugger with low-fives and slaps on the head.

Even the Royals, a team with a baseball-low 95 round-trippers during the regular season, have been getting in on the act during the playoffs. They head into Friday's Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against the homer-happy Orioles on a wave of wildly spontaneous celebrations filled with chest bumps and hearty hugs.

"Everybody's got something," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "It's good team camaraderie."

As a former player — he was a five-time All-Star who hit 378 homers from 1987-2003 — Williams remembers a simpler time of more muted responses.

"Shake somebody's hand," he said. "That was about it."

Not lately.

Williams' NL East champions, eliminated by the Giants on Tuesday night in Game 4 of their NL Division Series, devised a routine that borrows from another sport. One player — usually shortstop Ian Desmond, unless he's on-deck or the one who swatted the homer — grabs the red helmet as the batter returns to the dugout. It'll be passed to another player, who tosses — or dunks — it through a circle formed by someone else's arms.

"We always designate a young guy to be the 'hoop,'" Nationals reserve Kevin Frandsen explained, "so they get hit."

Desmond got the helmet-lifting from former teammate Chad Tracy and the rest evolved.

"We had room in a couple of dugouts, and we were tired of people just waiting around for each other after a homer," Frandsen said. "We wanted to create something."

The Dodgers' blue-and-white machine sat on a shelf in the dugout near where bats are kept and was switched on briefly to produce soapy spheres while players jumped up and down in a small circle, a scene straight out of a 4-year-old's birthday party. L.A. was asked to temporarily stop using it late in the season so Major League Baseball could ask other clubs whether the contraption bothered them.

Apparently not, because the Dodgers made their bubbles in the playoffs before getting knocked out by the Cardinals in Game 4 of their NLDS on Tuesday.

"We don't have a bubble machine. If we did, we might use it," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said with a smile.

"(With) so much time being pretty guarded and everything close to the vest, it's fun to watch guys show some emotion," Matheny said. "It's great for the fans to see that these guys are people, too, instead of just machines that completely block off emotions and fun. Especially this time of year."

If some regard it all as harmless hijinks, there are others who simply do not care for such displays.

"I felt it was counterproductive to show up a pitcher or bring extra attention to a small accomplishment like a home run," Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who homered 548 times for the Phillies from 1972-89, wrote in an email.

"Back then, excessive celebration got a teammate a fastball in the neck. Pitchers wouldn't put up with it. Now the dugout is a reality show," Schmidt wrote. "Coming up with the newest celebration gimmick is more important than the game. They need to put out a fans' guide to hand gestures and sign language so we know what it all means."

Washington's Frandsen knows over-the-top self-congratulations can be taken the wrong way.

But he figures it's OK if done in the proper place.

"Ultimately, you never want to show someone up on the field. But ... it's never pointed at the pitcher or the opposing team," Frandsen said. "Sometimes, when people do stuff on the field, maybe it goes too far. I don't know. I'm not the 'fun police' out there. But in the dugout, I feel like that's a good spot to do it."


AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker in New York, and AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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