Don't Enter the Opponent's Clubhouse

Noah’s No-No in the NBA Translates Nicely to Baseball

Kendrick PerkinsA generation ago, the unwritten rule banning fraternization inside the opposing clubhouse was rock solid. Reds manager Bob Boone once ejected former Reds player Lenny Harris while the latter was trying to visit some old teammates on the Cincinnati side of the building. Dan Gladden kicked White Sox outfielder Bo Jackson—Bo Jackson!—out of the Twins clubhouse while he was trying to visit Kirby Puckett. Pedro Martinez received an earful for stopping to greet some compatriots on the Blue Jays in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, despite the fact that he had been led into the space by security guards trying to give him an unobstructed path to the field from a pre-game promotion he had been attending.

Apparently this ethic carries over to the NBA, as well. According to Anthony Slater, who covers the Thunder for the Oklahoman, the following exchange took place when Chicago’s Joakim Noah made camp in the Thunder locker room following last night’s game:

Perkins: “They just let anybody in the locker room?”
Noah: “C’mon man.”
Perkins: “I’m just asking though.”
Noah: “C’mon man.”
Perkins: “Just let anybody in the locker room now?”
Noah: “You want me to wait outside?”
Perkins: “I’m just saying, though.”
Noah: “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.”
Perkins: “Get your ass up outta here.”
Noah: “Aight.”

So Noah left, apparently with the full approval of a majority of Perkins’ teawmmates. (Read a far more robust report here.)

Even though in baseball this rule, like so many others, has grown lax over the years, the incident calls to mind an occasion that served to introduce the topic in the first draft of The Baseball Codes. (The entire chapter was later cut for space considerations.)

Unlike Noah, there were places that former A’s catcher Jason Kendall refused to go.

Kendall had some time to kill. Wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a nondescript baseball cap, he leaned against a wall in the bowels of the Oakland Coliseum. And waited.

That night’s game against the Kansas City Royals had ended an hour earlier, time enough for the A’s catcher to shower and dress. His father was in town and the two had dinner plans. The younger Kendall was clearly early.

It wasn’t like his father was far away. In fact, Fred Kendall was less than 20 feet removed, on the other side of a door just steps from where his son stood waiting. But Jason Kendall wasn’t about to go get his old man.

Because Fred Kendall, a former big-league catcher himself, was Kansas City’s bullpen coach. A member of the other team. And as easy as it would have been to kill some time by walking through the door to the visitor’s clubhouse for a chat with some of the few people on the planet as devoted to baseball as himself, it was something that Jason Kendall could not do. He knew the rule, and the guy who taught him the rule, Fred, would hardly tolerate such behavior.

Had it been either of Fred’s other two grown children, a ballpark visit would be no big deal. But Jason wore green and gold for a living, not blue and white.

So he stood in a hallway, waiting.

Not sure how this translates to the NBA at large, but it seems like something with which  Kendrick Perkins can get right on board.

David Wright, Don't Enter the Opponent's Clubhouse, Pedro Guerrero, Willie Mays

Today’s Lesson: Never Refuse an Invitation From Willie Mays

In 1992, Pedro Guerrero spurred a battle inside the Cardinals clubhouse, when he invited Sammy Sosa inside about a half-hour after the Cubs beat St. Louis in a tense, tightly-played game. The two had pre-arranged dinner plans, but when Sosa arrived early, Guerrero instructed him to settle in and wait.

Sosa complied, spurring St. Louis players Rex Hudler and Todd Worrell to order that Guerrero remove the interloper. Within moments, Guerrero and Worrell were exchanging blows over the matter.

“I dragged them out of a locker—both of them were wrestling with each other,” said then-Cardinals mananger Joe Torre. “It was a draw, because they were both as strong as an ox.”

At issue was the unwritten rule stipulating that players not step set foot in an opponent’s clubhouse. It’s fraternization of the highest order—cordial relations with the enemy on his own turf. Guerrero might have been a 15-year veteran at that point, but even his elder-statesman status couldn’t gain him sway in this regard.

Willie Mays, however, is another story.

When the Mets visited San Francisco in July, Mays extended an impropmtu invitation for David Wright to meet him in the home clubhouse at AT&T Park, about an hour before game time.

Wright, already in full uniform, responded immediately, hustling down the hallway between the two clubhouses, skirting early-arriving fans in the process.

The two first met in 2008, during the ceremonies for the final game at Shea Stadium. In part, they talked baseball; in part, Mays recruited Wright for a charity event he was holding in Newport News, VA, about 20 miles from Wright’s hometown of Norfolk.

When they met again a few weeks ago, the agenda was similar. Again, Mays was hosting his event, and again he wanted Wright’s assistance.

In accepting Mays’ invitation, Wright didn’t come close to mingling with players—the meeting took place in the office of clubhouse manager Mike Murphy—but he had to enter the clubhouse to get there.

While the subject is hardly the taboo it once was, especially among players visiting ex-teammates after changing organizations, it still merits widespread recognition around the league. Often, players will simply send word to their pals that they’re waiting outside, and catch up in neutral territory.

Wright’s visit was benign enough to raise nary an eyebrow. The same couldn’t be said for Pedro Guerrero in ’92. Shortly after his incident with Worrell, Torre slapped down a moratorium on visiting players in the locker room, going so far as to publicly cite Mets outfielder Vince Coleman, late of the Cardinals, as a prime example of someone who had been making himself too comfortable on the wrong side of the clubhouse doors.

“I never wanted my players to fraternize,” said Torre. “I didn’t want guys visiting our clubhouse or having our guys visit their clubhouse. I thought that was a separation that had to be maintained.”

It was, and in many cases, still is. David Wright and Willie Mays excepted, of course.

– Jason