A Star-Spangled Show of Strength?

Tempted though I am to say "now I've heard everything" regarding "The Star-Spangled Banner" sounding before sports events, I don't dare. That's because every time I think and say I've heard it all, I get disabused rather rapidly. But you can't help thinking it even for a moment when you see the Giants' new manager's explanation for why he's mandating his players to stand for the National Anthem before a game.

Bob Melvin wants his entire team on the field, in the bullpen, in the dugout, standing for the anthem, whether spring training, the regular season, or the postseason to which the Giants are given +5000 odds of making this time around. And it has nothing to do with anything resembling patriotism, about which more anon.

"It's all about the perception that we're out there ready to play," the manager told The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly earlier this month. "That's it. You want your team ready to play and I want the other team to notice it, too. It's really as simple as that." Seriously?

Seriously, says infielder Wilmer Flores. "It shows that we're ready to play," he says. "That's the message we want to send to the other team. Even if you're not playing, you're engaged. You're there to watch the game. It's definitely something he wanted us to do. We're here to play, right? I think it's good. It doesn't mean you'll have a good result this season. But it's a good way to start."

But what if the National Anthem was no longer required playing and saluting before a ballgame? Is it impossible for a team to show it's ready to play going in without it? Would a team be unable to stand en masse in the dugout or outside the bullpen while the starting lineup is announced without the anthem?

I get what the Giants say is the real thinking behind the rule. Not just a turnaround from previous manager Gabe Kapler's stance, which Baggarly describes as a "'no wrong answer' situation" regarding the anthem, but a show of team strength after what outfielder Mike Yastrzemski described as a fend-for-yourself approach fostered by Kapler's well-intentioned trust in his players to prepare.

That might be simple when you're a team that won 107 games, as Kapler's Giants did in 2021. It might not be all that simple when they spent the two seasons to follow going 160-164.

"I don't know where it came from," continued the grandson of Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski, "but it kind of took over where everybody felt like they could do their own thing and it made it feel like there wasn't an entire group effort or a sense of unity. When you look at successful brands and successful teams, they have unity in a common goal. And I think that we need to refocus on that and to generate a very narrow window of where all of our eyesight should be."

For better or worse, Kapler and his coaches trusted their players' own preparation and swore that "'eyewash,' or going through the motions, would be kept to a minimum," Baggarly wrote. Melvin wants it known that quite the opposite will happen without him or his staff becoming tyrants about it if they can help it.

These Giants may not make the postseason this time around, but by gosh they're going to come to play every day and they're going to make a pre-game show of coming to play every day.

Somehow, this kind of going through the motion even in a crafted show of pre-game strength in the dugout, on the field, or outside the bullpen (relief pitchers and other bullpen personnel are now required to stand outside the pen in front of the fence under this mandate) is supposed to serve notice: these aren't your lost 2022-2023 Giants, kiddies. At least, not until the umpire hollers, "Play ball!"

But the anthem is a tricky proposition for the Giants regardless. In 2022, Kapler elected to quit standing for the anthem in protest of the Robb Elementary School shootings in Uvalde, Texas and especially the Uvalde police who were present but did nothing to thwart them. Nobody wanted to condemn, hang, or guillotine Kapler for it, if you don't count Tony La Russa. There was no Donald Trump in the White House that time to demand his firing post-haste, if not a firing squad.

"When I was the same age as the children in Uvalde," blogged Kapler, once a World Series champion on the 2024 Red Sox, "my father taught me to stand for the pledge of allegiance when I believed my country was representing its people well or to protest and stay seated when it wasn't. I don't believe it is representing us well right now."

Maybe this would be a good time to re-iterate something upon which I've stood since the National Football League elected to make it compulsory for its players to stand for the anthem unless they chose to remain in their locker rooms during its playing: stop playing it before every damn last baseball game of the year, already.

Save "The Star-Spangled Banner" for ballgames played on the national holidays that arrive during baseball season: Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day. Save it for Opening Day. Save it for the All-Star Game. Save it for day one of the postseason (not the wild card games). Save it for Game 1 and (if it gets that far) Game 7 of the World Series.

(This could also apply to "O Canada" regarding Blue Jays home games: save that for Opening Day, the All-Star Game, day one of the postseason if the Jays make it, Games One and [if necessary] Seven of the World Series if the Jays make it, plus Victoria Day, Saint John Baptiste Day, Canada Day, Labor Day, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and Canada's Thanksgiving Day.)

A nation whose first presidency ended with its first president warning against "the postures of pretended patriotism" should really have no issue with that.

"Compulsory patriotism is empty patriotism," I wrote almost five years ago. "You probably don't need me to tell you about those countries where patriotism was (and still is) enforced at actual or implicit gunpoint. Do you need me to remind you that there have been times enough in our own history where there've been those in the land of the free and the home of the brave who've favored something as close to gunpoint patriotism as they could get away with?"

If we remove "The Star-Spangled Banner" from all but the aforementioned baseball season occasions, and Melvin really insists upon his Giants being all present and accountable before the game begins, he (and everyone else) might consider a fine, fine alternative. Here's a hint: Put me in, coach, I'm ready to play...

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