Rookie Hazing

No Drag For Rookies Is No Drag At All

the-hazingSo ballplayers won’t be dressing each other up like women anymore. Depending upon one’s perspective, the latest decree against this particular subset of rookie hazing is either outrageous or long overdue. We’ve heard many opinions since the news dropped, but for the most part they’ve ignored what I think is a vital piece of the equation: Why do it in the first place?

Rookies weren’t always made to dress like cheerleaders, of course. Like any facet of the sport’s unwritten rules, the practice had evolved over time.

Once, rookie hazing consisted mainly of failing to acknowledge a greenhorn player, sometimes to a nearly complete degree. Rookies were ignored among clubhouse conversations to the point that former Giants third baseman Jim Davenport estimated that a player in the 1950s had to accumulate at least four hundred at-bats before he was allowed so much as to speak up in the presence of veterans.

One extreme example: In 1949, Indians third baseman Ken Keltner so dominated his position that when a hotshot youngster who played the same position tried to take his rightful spot in batting practice, Keltner—abetted by various veteran teammates—chased him away. The same thing occurred when the kid grabbed a glove to work on fielding ground balls. At that point Keltner was a seven-time All-Star, and viewed the rookie as a direct threat to his job. The lockout repeated itself day after day, until the kid realized that his only way to practice was to show up early, hours before the rest of the team. Luckily for Al Rosen, a fellow rookie, Ray Boone, was willing to throw early BP for him. The following season Keltner’s fears were realized when Rosen supplanted him with a 37-homer season.

That kind of mindset has evolved, of course. With the advent of enormous signing bonuses came an increased premium on young players’ success. With the advent of enormous salaries for stars, teams are increasingly forced to lean on youngsters to fill out rosters. Once, a five-year minor league gestation period was status quo. Now, players shoot through the system in as few as one or two seasons.

So how to keep rookies in line while (mostly) avoiding the kind of overt tactics that could prove deleterious to their performance? Dressing them up was one answer. The tradition may have started with a shoe store in Atlanta that in the 1970s and ’80s sold garish footwear—wild colors and platform soles—that veterans took to foisting upon younger colleagues when passing through town. Before long, pant cuffs were cut to accentuate the shoes. Outrageous thrift-store clothes were integrated into the mix. Sixto Lezcano’s Brewers teammates dressed him all in green—suit, shirt, socks and shoes—for an entire West Coast swing. (“I looked like a fuckin’ grasshopper,” he said.) Now we see superheroes and cowboys in addition to Hooters waitresses. In 2007, Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka traveled to Toronto while dressed like a Teletubby.

What those decrying the new anti-drag decree seem to miss is that the act is in no way about women’s clothing. It’s about initiation, rites of passage that welcome new members into old clubs. It has no prescribed shape, only prescribed function. (At least that’s the way it should be. There’s no accounting for those who integrate sadism into the act.)

The real issues arise not when players dress up in whatever outfit is presented to them, but when they refuse. It’s an act of rebellion that, right or wrong, can fracture a player’s standing in the clubhouse. From The Baseball Codes:

After teammates on the Orioles replaced Armando Benitez’s clothes with a dress on getaway day, he refused to don the outfit and, scream­ing for the return of his wardrobe, pinned down a number of veterans against the far wall of the shower room with a steady barrage of baseballs picked out of a nearby bucket. In the end, the pitcher refused to capitu­late, even after being told that his clothes had been packed and were already en route to the airport. “He wore a T-shirt and a pair of shorts on the frickin’ plane,” said one team member. “That didn’t sit too well with the veterans, I can tell you that.”

“The guys who make a big fuss about it, who get mad at it, they’re usu­ally the ones who don’t last too long,” said Doug Mientkiewicz, who was forced into female clothing by his Twins teammates as a rookie in 1998. “If you can’t be mentally strong enough to wear a dress for one day when every other rookie is, too, then you’re probably not going to be mentally strong enough to handle an 0-for-35 stretch in four different cities.”

Women’s clothes are leaving big league wardrobes, but they didn’t matter anyway. Effective methods exist to welcome new members into any club, and this particular one will soldier on without missing a beat. Anybody who insists otherwise just isn’t looking hard enough.



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.

Rookie Hazing, Umpire Relations

Rookie Tossed, Manager Tight, Tradition the Same as it Ever Was

Matheny tossedMike Matheny is apparently not a fan of rookie treatment, at least when it comes to umpires. On Thursday, St. Louis’ first-year first baseman Matt Adams struck out in the ninth inning, on what he considered to be a high, inside pitch. He questioned plate ump Dan Belino, then, on his way back to the dugout, turned around and questioned him again.

Belino shooed him away. The gesture was more than Matheny was willing to tolerate. Once closer Kevin Gregg had sealed the Cubs’ 3-0 victory moments later, Matheny raced toward Belino, to the point of necessitating restraint from the rest of the umpiring crew. (Watch it here.)

His frustration, he told reporters after the game, had less to do with the strike call than “with the umpire and how he mistreated one of our players, Adams.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Matheny said. “You can’t take your mask off and motion somebody away. We had not had any trouble. We hadn’t been complaining all game long. He wanted to be seen, so now he’s going to be seen.”

There is, however, something else at play: If the unwritten rule that labels such a display disrespectful constitutes one side of the coin, the other side is covered by the notion that rookies must earn their place in the game. This is true within clubhouse hierarchies, and it is true when it comes to umpires. Although it is generally less prevalent now than in past generations, umpires throughout the game’s history have taken the position that young players must earn their respect, and will test them accordingly to push the issue.

Last year Bryce Harper felt it with Angel Hernandez’s strike zone. If it was a test, Harper failed, badly.

A similar story comes to us courtesy of Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. In his autobiography, Catfish: My Life in Baseball, he described a confrontation during his rookie season in 1965:

One of the biggest lessons I learned came courtesy of senior umpire Ed Runge. “You’ll like this guy, Cat,” my teammates told me the first time Runge was behind the plate. “He gives you everything.”

Great. A friend in high places. I fired my first pitch, a fastball, right down the middle.

“Ball,” screamed Runge, yanking off his mask like someone had just yelled “Fire!” He stared out at the mound, begging me to argue. I didn’t say a word.

Another pitch. Another fastball right down Main Street.

“Ball two!”

Same yank. Same look. Still I don’t say boo.

We play the same game a couple of more times—me throwing strikes, Runge playing hard to please—and still I don’t let out a peep. A few weeks later Runge is set to go behind the plate again. Before the game, we happened to meet.

He gives me a quick once-over. “I see you don’t argue with umpires, kid.”

“No, sir,” I said.

A smile. “It’s a good thing.”

From then on I was a card-carrying member of the Ed Runge Club. Anything close was a strike. I’d passed the test.

Credit Matheny for protecting his players, but if Belino was hoping to see from Adams something similar to the deference that Runge got from Hunter, he’s going to have to wait a while.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Rookie Hazing

Yu Who? Backpack Season is Upon Us

Rangers backpackWith Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game Tuesday came the inevitable cries of jinx. It didn’t hurt that the TV broadcast included the comment, “Darvish looking for number six, and the second perfect game …” precisely as the right-hander released the two-out, ninth-inning pitch that Marwin Gonzalez would slap to center for Houston’s first hit.

Sure, there were those who tried to jinx it, and those who decried it being jinxed. Of semi-related interest, however, Darvish’s gem allowed the Mickey Mouse backpack worn by Texas reliever Joe Ortiz to be put on televised display as the game ended.

The backpack, of course, is a tradition in which the least-tenured member of a team’s relief corps is forced to lug around the bullpen’s candy supply, as well as finger fixers like nail clippers, frequently in as humiliating a satchel as possible.

If Ortiz thinks he has it bad, however, he has nothing on A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.

I was in the Oakland clubhouse yesterday, where Doolittle was fixing up the greatest candy bag I have encountered in many years on the Rookie Embarrassment beat.

Doolittle is the one doing the toting. That the left-hander appeared in three postseason games for the A’s last year counts for little; he’s still some 80 games behind teammate Evan Scribner when it comes to big league seniority. And he was sick of last season’s beat-up Hello Kitty bag.

Teammate Jerry Blevins acquiesced and purchased a new one—a fuzzy white, google-eyed unicorn, with pink hooves and a gold horn. Unfortunately, the new bag was far too small to hold the necessary supplies. Solution: affix old bag to new. Blevins began the process with safety pins, but left it to Doolittle himself to finish the job—akin, I thought, watching Doolittle struggle with the task, to having a victim dig his own grave. (See the bag in action here.)

“What can I say?” Doolittle said, affixing super glue just so. “I’m just doing what has to be done.”


Rookie Hazing, Ryan Wheeler

One is the Loneliest Number: Arizona Offers Some Long-Lasting Ice

All alone in the dugout.

We’ve grown accustomed to rookies getting the cold shoulder in the dugout after hitting their first home run, a process of good-natured icing by their teammates that serves to remind them that, even with their deserved accolades, they’re still rookies.

On Saturday in Houston, however, the Diamondbacks took things to an extreme. After Ryan Wheeler hit his first big league jack into the left field stands, he was left to wonder . . . and wonder . . . and wonder just how long his teammates were going to maintain their charade. (Watch it here.)

As a smiling and solitary Wheeler took his seat on the bench, cameras trained in on him, waiting for the moment at which Arizona players would jump up and congratulate him. Stephen Drew, sitting next to him and unable to stifle his grin, had to pull his jersey up over his mouth.

Eventually, however, Astros pitcher Chuckie Fick threw another pitch to the next hitter, Patrick Corbin, which the telecast was obligated to show. They quickly cut back to the dugout camera, without much luck. Wheeler was still sitting, alone, when Fick delivered again. It wasn’t until Fick was winding up for the third pitch of the at-bat—a span of some 40 seconds—that Arizona players finally relented and gave the rookie his just due.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing thoroughly, I guess. Don’t believe anybody who says that the Diamondbacks are not committed to their craft.

Rookie Hazing, Yasmani Grandal

Ice Ice, Baby: Grandal, Frozen Out, Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Click for GIF.

There are a lot of reasons to like Padres rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal. His first three hits as a big leaguer have been home runs, including one yesterday. He became the first player in Major League history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game for the first two hits of his career.

If you think those homers showed composure, they were nothing compared to the rookie’s reaction to the silent treatment he received in the dugout following his first longball. Faced with a shortage of actual teammates to congratulate him, the guy high-fived imaginary Padres instead. (Watch the whole thing here.)

(New York’s Daniel Murphy did something similar last week after snapping a 352-at-bat homerless streak dating back to last season, pumping his fists in the air after his teammates similarly iced him out.)

After all, why wait for others to come through when you can provide for yourself?

(Thanks to reader Steve Kelley for the heads-up. GIF via Gifulmination.)

Kyle Drabek, Mike Trout, Rookie Hazing

Spring: A Time of Renewal, and Making Rookies Miserable

Spring training is a time for players to prepare for the season ahead. Typically that would mean on-the-field business … except that somebody keeps stocking clubhouses with rookies.

And veterans need to prepare their hazing chops just as much as their batting eye.

For a simple prank we turn to Dunedin, Fla., the spring home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Ricky Romero took some gum, blew a bubble, and stuck it to the cap of rookie Kyle Drabek. As is customary, none of Drabek’s teammates pointed it out, leaving him to bear the shame of the bubble-cap through much of the team’s workout.

The prank is as old as bubble gum itself. The fact that the Toronto Star meticulously documented it with a fabulous photo essay, however, makes this one particularly worth our while.

More serious business occurred in Arizona, where, during the Angels’ game with the A’s, a scoreboard message appeared imploring fans to call “Mike Trout directly with your baseball questions,” and included a phone number. Trout’s actual number.

The player who got it posted: Jared Weaver.

At 19, Trout is among the most hyped players in the minor leagues. Which doesn’t do a thing to alter his rookie status.

Or keep him from needing a new phone number.

(Thanks to reader James Ho for the Blue Jays tip.)

– Jason

Rookie Hazing

It’s October, So Ride, Rookies, Ride

It’s the last weekend of the regular season, which means one thing: rookies all around baseball spent an awful lot of time recently commuting through airports and on busses in something other than their normal wardrobe. It’s a time-tested tradition, an irrevocable unwritten rule, serving as another tool to put rookies in their place.

They haven’t always been so creatively attired, however. It started decades ago with gaudy footwear, frequently purchased at a particularly funky shoe emporium in Atlanta. Occasionally rookies’ pants would be trimmed at the shins to better show off their new kicks.

Slowly it developed into the circus act we know today, with rookies being forced into costumes, dresses, dainty undergarments … and worse. The Rockies are known to dress their rookies in Hooters outfits, then stop the team bus at the local Hooters and put them to work.

“In Montreal, we had to go through customs, and then we’d get dropped off in different spots where we lived,” said Jamey Carrol. “I lived a block over from one of the main dropoff spots, so I had to walk in a French maid outfit with purple hair, pulling my suitcase, at 10 pm. That was definitely something I remember. You never know, in Montreal, what you’ve got going on the streets, you know.”

Here’s a sampling of this year’s offerings, from around the league.

Marlins: Babies and a lifeguard, among others. (Photos)
Red Sox: Reno 911 and Nacho Libre, among others. (Video)
Cubs: Cowgirl and figure skater. (Video)
Twins: Cartoon characters. (Photos)
Diamondbacks: Swim team. (Photo)
Phillies: Fireman and a leather king, among others. (Photo)
Reds: Grab bag. (Photo)

Rookie Hazing, Will Rhymes

Rhymes’ Homer Earns Cold Shoulder

Reader Greg points out in response to the earlier post about Chris Carter, that Will Rhymes hit his first big league home run last night for the Tigers.

That it had to be determined by review was interesting; even better was the time for planning the delay allowed players on the Tigers bench. TV cameras captured it perfectly: Rhymes enters a stone-silent dugout, and begins walking by his teammates, slightly stunned.

You’ll rarely see a more genuine baseball moment, however, than the Tigers simultaneously jumping up and mobbing their young teammate. (Watch it here.)

Baseball customs—like any traditions—are meant to be passed on, and in that instant, the Tigers passed along a great one.

– Jason

Chris Carter, Rex Hudler, Rookie Hazing, Todd Greene

Rookie’s First Hit was Inevitable; So was his Treatment in the Dugout

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.

– Jason