Bud Norris, Clubhouse pranks

Houston Outfield Turned into Parking Lot

It’s not difficult for a major league clubhouse to become a testy place. They’re populated with men facing enormous pressure, both externally and internally, to perform and win. When expectations fail to be met, tension can run high.

As a result, players have developed a variety of methods for keeping things loose. One of their primary tools in this regard is the practical joke. It can be directed at anybody on the roster, but three primary groups stand out as perpetual victims:

  • Rookies: The lowest men on any totem, a barrage of (mostly good-natured) abuse serves as standard initiation into the big leagues.
  • Those who don’t take it well: A negative reaction to being pranked will inevitably serve as inspiration for more of the same.
  • Those who fail to fit in: If you’re not like your big league brethren, it’s not a stretch to think that they’ll let you know about it.

Astros pitcher Bud Norris only recently escaped rookie status on an official level, but he’s still close enough for the purposes of some of his teammates. He also falls into the latter category, in at least one way: his car.

Major Leaguers expect each other to present themselves as such. Jeans and T-shirts serve as accepted wardrobe in most clubhouses, but when it comes to vehicles, a player’s ride must sparkle. Even a vehicle so simple as a pickup truck—found more frequently than one might think in players’ parking lots—must reflect a level of class not ordinarily found in the rides of regular folk.

With that in mind it’s easy to see that although Norris has no problem driving a 1997 Accura, some of his teammates possess different opinions.

When Norris took the field for pre-game warmups on Wednesday, he was stunned to see, sitting on the center field warning track, his car. On the front windshield was a target, drawn in shaving cream, to give inspiration for players about to go through batting practice. Written on other windows were the sentiments “For sale,” and “$100.” (Watch footage here.)

“Bud’s been wanting to sell it for a while and the market’s been kind of low on him,” said Astros pitcher Tim Byrdak in the Houston Chronicle. “We thought he could use some free advertising.”

Byrdak went on, in an MLB blog post: “It’s got 116,000 miles to it. Fifteen hundred, or the best offer. The check engine light’s on, but that’s a mild thing.”

Astros players marked the situation by stretching out near the car in center field, rather than alongside their dugout, as usual. Brandon Lyon eventually started to hit fly balls toward the car, just missing with one.

If anything, Norris helped his own cause by refusing to get angry about it, and thus disqualified himself in at least one of the above three categories.

“I thought it was funny,” he said. “We’ll go with it. It’s fun.”

– Jason

Bert Blyleven, Clubhouse pranks, Hotfoots, Jim Lefebvre, Joe Torre

Blyleven Just Short of Cooperstown, but a Charter Member of Hotfoot Hall of Fame

Once again, Bert Blyleven found himself on the cusp of Cooperstown. Once again, he came up short. Even if the fact that he won more than 19 games only twice and made only two All-Star teams over the course of a 22-year career is enough to deter Hall of Fame voters, there’s one area in which Blyleven was baseball’s undisputed king: the hotfoot.

There are myriad ways to set a teammate’s cleats on fire while he’s still wearing them, and Blyleven mastered them all. The following excerpt from The Baseball Codes has more:

If Cooperstown utilized the instigation of podiatric discomfort as part of its entry criteria, Bert Blyleven would have been enshrined five years after his 1992 retirement. How good was he? For a time, the fire extinguisher in the Angels’ clubhouse read, “In case of Blyleven. Pull.”

Ordinary hotfoot artists settle for wrecking their teammates’ cleats, but Blyleven was so good that he took the rare step of drawing the opposition into his line of fire. In 1990, the pitcher, then with the Angels, set his sights on Seattle manager Jim Lefebvre, who made the mistake of conducting an interview near the Anaheim dugout. Never mind that Lefebvre was there at the request of then-Angels analyst Joe Torre; Blyleven was deeply offended. There was, in the pitcher’s mind, only one appropriate response.

“I crawled behind him on my hands and knees,” Blyleven said. “And I not only lit one shoe on fire, I lit them both on fire.” Torre saw it all, but continued the interview as if nothing was happening. As Blyleven retreated to the dugout to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he was dismayed to see that Lefebvre refused to play along. “We all stood there and watched the flames starting,” said Blyleven. “The smoke was starting to come in front of (Lefebvre’s) face, but he was not going to back down. By god, he was going to continue this interview. And Joe was laughing, trying not to roll.”

Torre offered up an apology as soon as the interview wrapped, but Lefebvre was too busy trying to extinguish his feet to pay much attention. He also knew exactly who to blame. Blyleven, the following day’s starter for the Angels, found out later that Lefebvre offered $100 to anyone on his team who could hit a line drive off the pitcher’s face. Part of the reason the manager was so angry was that he was deeply superstitious about his shoes; in fact, he continued to wear the scorched pair for several weeks, despite the damage.

In the end, Lefebvre wasn’t the prank’s only dupe. “Bert really screwed me up with that one, because Lefebvre thought I was in on it and I wasn’t,” said Torre. “Lefebvre didn’t think it was very funny—they were brand-new shoes and he got embarrassed in public. Blyleven was nuts—absolutely nuts.”

– Jason