Pointing: It isn't just for pop-ups anymore
Updated 6/14/2006 1:25 AM ET
By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
Just before hugging his son in celebration of his 715th career home run last month, Barry Bonds pointed both index fingers to the sky, a gesture he makes at the conclusion of every trot around the bases.
Earlier in that homestand at San Francisco's AT&T Park, Bonds' heir apparent as baseball's dominant power hitter, the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols, pointed heavenward after pounding a three-run homer.
The expression has become commonplace at ballparks throughout the majors. Vladimir Guerrero, Preston Wilson and David Ortiz do it after every home run. Nick Swisher after every hit. Francisco Rodriguez after every save. Victor Martinez after successful plays.
Football players spike the ball upon reaching the end zone. Basketball players puff out their jerseys after a big basket.
Baseball players increasingly cast their digits above, not only upon reaching a milestone — as Wade Boggs did after his 3,000th hit and Mark McGwire when he broke Roger Maris' single-season homer record — but even after run-of-the-mill singles.
"Everyone does it now," says Bonds, who believes he invented it.
The significance of the gesture, sometimes accompanied by a kiss of the fingers or a tap of the chest, varies by player, but generally there are two camps: those thanking God and those paying tribute to a relative, usually deceased.
Swisher, an Oakland Athletics outfielder and first baseman, has a tattoo of his grandmother's initials on his chest. Betty Lorraine Swisher, who helped raise her grandson in Parkersburg, W.Va., died last August, an emotional blow the player took hard.
"The thing that gave me closure or a way to still feel a connection with her was to always point to her," Swisher says. "I just want to let her know that I'm still thinking about her."
Some of the players who point skyward emphasized they're not trying to show up their opponents.
The potential for misinterpretation certainly exists, witness the incident between Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski and Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano on May 21.
The previous day Pierzynski had been punched in the jaw by Cubs catcher Michael Barrett after barreling in on a play at the plate, setting off a melee. In the following game, Pierzynski homered off Zambrano and exchanged words with him while rounding the bases.
When he reached the plate, Pierzynski appeared to mimic Zambrano by tapping his chest and pointing to the sky, similar to what the pitcher does when he escapes trouble. The bad blood intensified, but there was no fighting.
Pujols began pointing to heaven after home runs when he became a Christian seven years ago. The Cardinals first baseman says he hasn't encountered any objection to his expression of faith.
"I don't have to hide my religion," Pujols says.
"If the Lord Jesus Christ who died for us taught us religion and taught us how to be Christians, why should we hide that?"
Besides pointing, Pujols is among the Latin players who place a religious symbol, in his case a cross, in their lockers at home and on the road.
Seattle Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez has atop his locker a figurine of the Virgin del Valle, patron of the Oriente region in northeast Venezuela. Lopez says he thanks her and God by pointing after getting hits.
All of which is fine, says the Rev. Patrick Kelly, as long as players don't believe their religious faith will help them win ballgames.
Kelly, a faculty member of Seattle University's Center for the Study of Sport, organizes conferences that address the relationship between sports and Catholic values. He cautions against looking at God as the ultimate cleanup hitter or closer.
"We don't want to get into this thing where God is on my side helping me to win all the time," Kelly says. "God isn't just there to help us achieve. He's there in much more significant ways."
Contributing: Mike Dodd, Devin Clancy