Rookie Hazing

Ah, to be a Rookie in the 1980s

Jose RijoGreg Zaun earned notice recently with comments about getting hazed by Cal Ripken and other Orioles veterans during his rookie season in 1995. From an interview on Blue Jays radio: “They taped me spread-eagle to the training table, they wrote ‘rookie’ on my forehead with pink methylate, and they shoved a bucket of ice down my shorts.”

Zaun recalled this (and much more) as a good thing, and lamented its deficiency in the modern game. He’s since backtracked a bit, going so far as to apologize to Ripken (at least according to Ripken), but this was normal baseball behavior in Zaun’s day, and his fond reminiscences on the topic are hardly unique.

In the spirit of rookies getting tied down by veterans, here’s an unedited interview snippet from former Reds ace Jose Rijo, conducted for The Baseball Codes in 2007:

If I was going out early to eat, they would put me at a table and say, “You’re a rookie, you have to wait for a veteran before you can eat.” They tied me to a chair with my plate right in front of me. That’s the type of thing I went through. Now, rookies don’t even wait for the game to end to go in and eat, they don’t stay quiet when a game is lost, they are emotional. I hate that.

Who tied you to the chair?

Oscar Gamble and Don Baylor. Believe me, I learned my lesson, and I’m glad they did that to me. It was an honor for me. I was like the bellboy for the team. Believe me, looking back now, it was a beautiful thing—it’s something everybody should experience, to come onto this level and learn these things. You don’t learn how to be a leader unless you learn first by having it done to you.

They tied a hungry Jose Rijo to his chair, with a plate of food just out of reach. It’s behavior of a bygone era, obliterated by huge rookie contracts and early-onset egos that are tuned to automatically recoil at such overtures. Was that kind of hazing a good thing? According to guys like Rijo and Zaun it was. But societies evolve and methodologies change. Today’s 20-year-olds aren’t attuned to the same kinds of messages as their counterparts from 20 years ago … which leads to the occasional comment from guys like Mat Latos, bemoaning lacking clubhouse standards. But when that type of hazing becomes institutionalized, a subset of the culture that is drawn to the abuse more than the message is afforded significant leeway to unload as it sees fit. And whichever way one chooses to spin it, brutality for brutality’s sake doesn’t tend to make for better people.

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4 thoughts on “Ah, to be a Rookie in the 1980s

  1. It all depends on degree, of course, and on the message being delivered. I’m all for anything that brings a team together, provided nobody gets hurt. The reality, of course, is that the current generation is far less able to derive a message from that sort of behavior than was its predecessors, boosting the potential for clubhouse disquiet pretty dramatically.

  2. Gary, I think camaraderie is a secondary effect. The primary reason for hazing is to implement a pecking order, to keep the new guys in their place. Fraternities, sports teams, the military, all do this. To some extent, it works to keep turmoil low as new member arrive. But, does that override the newcomers’ rights to be treated as equals?

    1. You’re spot on, Jim. Of course, more than ever, modern rookies come in thinking they’re already equals, then bristling when treated otherwise. Kinda turns the whole keeping-turmoil-low dynamic on its head …

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