In the final regular-season game for the 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers, Dusty Baker hit a home run, giving him 30 for the season and making him the fourth Dodger to reach that milestone that year, a Major League Baseball record. As Baker rounded third, a rookie who had recently entered the game, Glenn Burke, approached the plate from the on-deck circle and, seized by joy, raised his hand high above his head. Baker was taken aback by the gesture and, in a mix of celebration and confusion, decided to smack Burke’s hand. Their high five was clumsy, but then again it had every right to be: Reportedly, it was the first one ever.
Baseball has always been a strange mix of social and solo. In American fashion, the game stresses the collective, but demands that you play for yourself. Despite all the intimacy of the sport’s language—crowding the plate, touching base—its play is quite lonely. Other sports require a tacit harmony between players—setting a pick for a teammate, blocking for someone 10 yards behind. In contrast, a baseball hitter stands in the solitary confinement of the batter’s box, facing a pitcher on the desert island of the mound. The players on the defense align themselves, except for the occasional shift, to be as far from one another as the limits of the ability to recuperate lost space permit. Defensive errors are unfailingly—and officially—attributed to individual players. The rule book, irrespective of out-of-play butt slaps and handshakes, does not sanction contact.
Last year, according to Wall Street Journal reports, a research group was granted access to the San Francisco Giants’ minor-league affiliate in San Jose, where it installed cameras with the goal of monitoring associations between dugout interactions—high fives, back pats—and team success. A similar effort is under way in the major leagues, where Dacher Keltner and Hooria Jazaieri, psychologists at UC Berkeley, are conducting research with the goal of finding associations between the supposed subtle physical tells of chemistry and team success.
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