Rookie hazing happens. It’s a regular part of the rhythm of a baseball season, with first-year players doing everything from menial clubhouse chores to dressing in drag on late-season road trips.
There’s one bit of rookie hazing, however, that has never been met with as much joy as it was yesterday in Oakland.
In the seventh inning of last night’s game against the White Sox, A’s rookie Chris Carter got his first hit—after a nearly record-setting 12 games and 33 at-bats. (Watch it here.)
It was the longest such hitless streak to begin a career in Oakland history, and the longest by any non-pitcher since Vic Harris set the all-time record by going 35 at-bats without a hit in 1972.
Carter was immediately removed for pinch-runner Gabe Gross, and so was able to quickly see what his teammates had in store. While Carter’s hitless streak was atypical, the reaction in the dugout was not.
While bench coach Tye Waller tucked away the actual game ball, other A’s took markers to a dummy ball that was presented to the rookie as the real thing. Though there’s been no mention of what was actually written, we can turn to examples of dummy balls from the past for clues:
- The ball given to Rick Cerone after his first hit in 1975 read, “8-22-75, Kansas City, First ——- major league hit.”
- Bob Brenly’s first hit—not as a rookie, but as a new member of the American League, with the Blue Jays in 1989—featured a ball marked by John Candelaria with inscriptions that included, “Here’s your first AL hit,” and “What a horseshit league.”
- Phil Nevin was somewhat gentler with Frank Catalanotto, refraining from cuss words but going out of his way to misidentify the pitcher and spell the rookie’s name wrong, among other things.
Eventually, the A’s didn’t even give Carter the chance to enjoy his fake ball, seizing it from him and tossing it into the crowd. Soon enough, of course, the actual ball was presented to him in good condition.
“I feel like I’m part of the team now,” said Carter afterward.
Perhaps the best story about helping a rookie a commemorate a moment comes courtesy of Rex Hudler:
I didn’t like rookies getting on the airplane before I did. They had to carry a sack of beer onto the plane, and make sure all the vets had beer or water or whatever we were drinking.
Todd Greene was a real young kid. He had been a No. 1 pick by the Angels, and he got on the plane ahead of me. I didn’t like that, so I pulled him aside. . . . I might have been a little hard in the way I delivered the message. I was better when I got to the Phillies at the end of my career—I knew how to critique players, how to love them. To be a leader, you can’t just hammer them, and I hammered Greenie.
So Greenie hits his first big league homer in Detroit, in dead center field, out past the flagpole, just to the left. There’s a section left of the flagpole in center field, where a lot of people sat with free or low-cost tickets. I took two balls out there at the end of the inning and said, “I got two balls for whoever caught that one, two for one—it’s hit first big-league homer.”
Then I heard the center fielder yelling at me, and I turned around, and the home plate umpire is screaming at me because I’m interrupting the game. Well, I was all the way out there in center field, so I climbed up the center field wall and sat down with the people, and got the ball. The half-inning was a long one, maybe 15 minutes, and I’m out there talking with the people in my uniform, and when it was done I come back in, and everyone was going, “Hud! What the hell were you doing out there?”
I said, “Greenie, I got your ball for you, man!” You’d have thought I gave him a 10-carat diamond. And now, every time I see him, he tells someone, “Hud went out into the center field stands and got my ball for me.” He never forgets. It’s a form of love.
If only Chris Carter can be that lucky.