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Dan Shaughnessy

What would sports be without handshakes?

Have we seen the last of the traditional handshake line after a hard-fought NHL playoff series?
Have we seen the last of the traditional handshake line after a hard-fought NHL playoff series?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“We may never shake hands again.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert.

While we continue to hunker and prepare for a day when games may resume (probably without fans for a while), we entertain the prospect of a world without handshakes.

Think about that. No more hands-touching-hands. No more reaching out. No more meet-and-greet events for politicians. No more lessons from dad about the importance of a firm handshake.

No handshakes would shake up sports as much as no crowd noise.

I can’t get my head around the notion of an NHL playoff series ending without the ceremonial conga line of handshakes. One of the best images in sports is watching a gap-toothed demonstration of sportsmanship and civility break out after seven games of cage-rattling, cross-checking, stick-wielding, bare-knuckle brawling.

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Shaking hands is a custom that goes back to the caveman days when greeting a stranger was risky business. One’s extended, empty hand delivered the unspoken message of, "I have no weapon. I come in peace.''

Sports is all about handshakes. Connors and McEnroe would shake hands at the net after a five-set major, then shake the hand of the chair official they’d been berating for four hours. Jack Nicklaus would shake the hand of his worthy opponent after winning another Masters. Russell and Chamberlain would shake at center court before Mendy Rudolph tossed the ball up for the opening tip. Don Zimmer would hear the Fenway boos as he approached home plate with the lineup card, prepping to shake the hand of Billy Martin and the four umpires.

I grew up reading the sports pages of the Lowell Sun, which were regularly peppered with Associated Press wire shots of major league ballplayers shaking hands at the plate after a home run. Mickey Mantle would shake Roger Maris’s hand. Norm Cash would shake Al Kaline’s hand. Accordingly, I knew exactly what to do when I first swatted a baseball over an actual fence in a Little League game in the spring of 1966.

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What a thrill. Put your head down, trot around the bases at a respectable pace, then shake the hand of the on-deck hitter when you crossed home plate. It felt very Big League. Jon Davis, my on-deck hitter, was an astute observer of MLB etiquette and knew to be waiting at home plate with his hand extended and his bat slung over his shoulder. The handshake was part of the achievement.

Red Sox manager John Farrell shook hands with Cardinals manager Mike Matheny before the start of the 2013 World Series.
Red Sox manager John Farrell shook hands with Cardinals manager Mike Matheny before the start of the 2013 World Series.EPA

Through the decades, the homer handshake has given way to high-fives (thanks, Magic), low fives, forearm bashes (thanks, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco), fist bumps, and daps. All progeny of the handshake.

Without handshakes, we’ll lose that Patriots postgame drama of wondering if Bill Belichick will cross the football field and exchange icy greetings with the likes of Eric Mangini or Rex Ryan. A world without handshakes will eliminate those awkward, well-photographed moments.

Even worse — without handshakes, how would unscrupulous college coaches get those $100 bills into the palms of recruits?

Professional athletes are strong handshakers. Early in my sportswriting career, I learned to avoid Artis Gilmore and Ken Harrelson. They are bone-crushers. Better to put your hand in a vise. Neither one ever got mad at me, but it felt like they were trying to hurt me every time we shook hands.

David Ortiz was mad at me when we accidentally shook hands at spring training a few years back. Papi was making the rounds on his first day in the Red Sox clubhouse — filling up the room, as usual — when he came upon the Globe’s intrepid Alex Speier, who was battling a cold that day. When gregarious Ortiz extended his hand, Alex recoiled, explaining that he didn’t want to pass along any germs. Standing alongside Alex, I eagerly extended my paw and said, “Hello, David!”

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He just grinned and shook my hand.

“Hello, [expletive],” was all he said.

Like Grant and Lee at Appomattox. Like Elvis and Nixon in the Oval Office.

Now it looks like it’s all gone. No more Cal Ripken or Yaz circling the perimeter of Fenway or Camden Yards, hands extended, thanking the masses in papal fashion. No more Red Sox outfield dance after Boston victories. No more cheesy photos of a megabucks free agent shaking the hand of his new boss while wearing his new uniform top over a shirt and tie. No more high school field hockey officials calling the captains over for a handshake and discussion of the ground rules before a tournament game. No more lines of kids — forced by their parents and coaches — mumbling “good game, good game,” after every organized youth contest.

As noted in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, it turns out the “I, Me, Mine” Red Sox of the late 1970s had it right all along.

Boston's original social distancers believed in 25 players, 25 cabs.

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And no handshakes.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.