Miami Everybody is raving about Carlos Delgado the slugger. But I think you're going to like the man even more than you're going to like what his bat does for the Florida Marlins.
You're going to like him, that is, if you prefer athletes who are committed to principles -- beyond the principal of their portfolios.
You're not going to like him if you prefer athletes who stash their consciences in their walk-in closets, next to 200 pairs of shoes.
You're going to like him if you prefer athletes who see a wide world out there beyond the stadium and want to live in it rather than be isolated from it.
You're not going to like him if you believe free speech is a right to be fought for in other nations, but not necessarily in our own nation.
Delgado has been protesting the war in Iraq by refusing to stand during the playing of God Bless America at baseball games. When the song was sung, he remained seated in the dugout.
After 9/11, the Irving Berlin classic was performed at a New York Yankees game and became a seventh-inning-stretch standard at ballparks.
Delgado had the courage to ask, "Why?"
Why should baseball players and fans be expected to stand for a song that has taken on a jingoistic "support-your-country-or-else" meaning? Why should baseball stadiums be used for rallies of solidarity with the government? Why God Bless America anyway? Why not Blowin' in the Wind?
"The reason I didn't stand for God Bless America is because I didn't like the way they tied God Bless America to 9/11 to the war in Iraq to baseball," Delgado said Thursday when he introduced himself to South Florida. "For that matter, I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all the countries, so there's peace in the world. It's not about politics. It's about baseball, and I'm ready to play baseball."
He also is prepared to continue his silent protest. Almost every team that courted the former Toronto Blue Jay was so worried about the backlash that they asked him if he planned to keep doing it. The Marlins do not have a team conduct policy on God Bless America, which is played only on Sundays. The Marlins do require players to stand on the top step of the dugout for The Star-Spangled Banner.
"When we talked to the Marlins, it wasn't an issue," Delgado said. "I stand for what I believe, and if that's the case, when they play it, I'm going to stay inside."
He has heard the usual complaint: A sporting event is not the place for political expression.
Why, then, is the national anthem played at games? We're not expected to stand and sing it before a play or a concert. Why can Michael Moore and Bruce Springsteen speak out on their stages while athletes are supposed to be silent? Why are teams sewing U.S. flags on uniforms?
Agree or disagree with Delgado's opinion, but be thankful he has one. Today in sports, we have no Muhammad Ali, no Jim Brown, no Billie Jean King, no Tommie Smith or John Carlos.
Will his teammates accept their new first baseman? The Marlins' clubhouse, like many in sports, is aligned with the red states.
Will the fans accept him? They ought to admire his passion, whether he's standing at the plate or sitting in the dugout.