I lacked the coordination and temper-control to play football. If someone rammed into me, I had a bad habit of ramming back, even if a whistle had long-since blown.
I did marginally better in baseball, since I was a big kid, much bigger than many of my fellow players. I had to be a long-ball hitter, since I wasn't much of a runner, but I could and did scare many a baseman into moving off the bag.
But despite my lack of ability, I can honestly say I was a sportsman. Our coaches and fathers (few moms were involved in sports back then) drilled manners into us as often as they did lay-ups and double-plays.
We didn't pass each other after a game and slap fingers. We shook hands. On those occasions when someone didn't conduct himself as a gentleman, he sat out the game (sometimes several).
We understood this was a privilege, not a right, and we were representing ourselves, our families, our teams and our schools.
While I know this is lost on some noteworthy parents today (but those rude exceptions are a column for another time) most of the kids I see playing ball still have some of the sportsmanship basics which we were taught.
So why, pray tell, can't professional ballplayers act as mature as a ten-year-old?
I am not a pro sports fan; I usually watch the World Series as a matter of principle and as an homage to my father, but that's the extent of my TV sports. I prefer the semi-pro leagues of any sport, where the players still have a love of the game.
Personally, I think if someone has a skill that allows them to play a game and make several million dollars per year, they should be thankful. They ought to realize that any number of hungry young people out there with a dream would cheerfully take their place, and possibly for less money.
Fighting was not a question at any level of ball where they were desperate enough to let me play. This despite the fact that I was of an age where occasional fisticuffs are (or were) considered part of growing up, along with the requisite reactions by the responsible adults in charge.
A fistfight at school might get you in serious trouble, but that was nothing compared to what could happen after something as minor as a shoving match at a sports event.
Once, two of my teammates-I'll call them Bobby and Jamie-got into an argument over a girl. It carried into the locker room before a game. Coach Matthews was adamant-whatever we did outside the team, as long as it didn't break school rules, stayed outside the team. When we changed from our coats and ties into our uniforms, we were a team. This was the same for both basketball and baseball.
But if you did carry something inside the locker room, you would face the consequences.
Anyway, these two teammates, both of whom were far better than I at our chosen sport, exchanged words, then blows. Jamie ended up on the floor with a badly broken nose.
Both were suspended; the injured loser in that fight (they were both losers) had to go to the hospital. Jamie missed four or five games, and until he was well, so did Bobby.
Our perfect record went down, and hard, with the loss of those two players.
Despite pleas to reinstate Bobby, Coach Matthews had none of it.
He knew that despite the fact the whole team was hurting at the loss of those two players, reinstating Bobby would teach him that being a good enough ball player could get you out of trouble.
When I saw Bobby again a few years ago, he still remembered that lesson-but the resentment at his 'unfair' treatment had gone by the wayside with the teenage angst over a girl long forgotten.
The ball players we idolized then-Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, and for me, Catfish Hunter-didn't fight either. Well, Rose did, but he didn't brag about it.
Of course, Rose also fell from grace, and he has paid his debt to society and baseball. I'm of mixed emotions about whether he should join Hunter and Aaron in the Hall of Fame, which is supposed to memorialize sportsmanlike conduct as well as ability.
Still, when any of those men were touched by scandal, they were embarrassed and apologized. They didn't plug their newest rap album on national television, like one of the Detroit Basketbrawlers did the other morning whilst being interviewed about the slugfest.
At a lunch meeting in Clarkton the other day, I heard Mr. Harold Ford say he was worried about the young people who watch pro ball players throw chairs, pitch fits, and beat up their fans.
"The kids are going to think this is an easy way to get rich," he said, "and they want to behave like they see on the television. They don't know what sports are all about. It's not about the money or the fame on the TV. It doesn't matter if you win or lose."
Those select few-probably less than one percent-of all athletes who make it to the pro level have a great responsibility.
While we adults might shake our head with disgust at their behavior, the little kid with the baseball glove or the net in the driveway wants to be like them.
And for any child to want to be like a drug-abusing, behavior-excusing, foul-mouthed punk-someone I'd turn the dogs on if he came in my yard, regardless of his net wealth-for a child to idolize someone like that should tell us we're doing something wrong, somewhere.
I wish that attitude could be fixed-and it will, when people would the most important part of any sport is sportsmanship.