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)

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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

Rookie Hazing

Rookie Treatment Prevails, Even if You’re Not Quite a Ballplayer

Today’s ball boy for the Kansas City Royals in their game against the Rangers was Olukorede Aiyegbusi, the second-round draft pick of Major League Soccer’s Kansas City Wizards. Aiyegbusi, from England by way of North Carolina University, was victimized by a pair of classic rookie hazes.

First, he was asked for the key to the batter’s box, which, to judge by those watching him look for it, was apparently left in the bullpen behind the left-field fence.

Once the game was under way, home plate umpire Chris Tiller told Aiyegbusi, “These guys can’t seem to throw a curveball today; would you please go get a box of curveballs?” Where Aiyegbusi went to look for it is still unclear.

– Michael

Chan Ho Park, Rookie Hazing, Unwritten-Rules

Park Sues Former Teammate; if Only He’d Considered the Tactic Sooner

Normally, big leaguers handle their grievances with each other on the field of play, not the courtroom. That didn’t stop Chan Ho Park, who filed suit against former teammate Chad Kreuter for allegedly failing to repay the full balance of a $460,000 loan.

This is what the unwritten rules are for. Were Kreuter still active (he’s been out of the majors since 2003, and now coaches at USC), Park — who played last year with the Phillies — could have drilled him in the ribs and then sued him.

It’s not the first time Park has had problems with teammates. In 1996, his rookie year with Los Angeles, assorted Dodgers stole his clothes from his locker in advance of a road trip — a typical tradition when it comes to rookies. The idea is to get the youngsters to traverse airports and buses in garish getups or women’s clothing to demonstrate exactly where on the clubhouse pecking order they reside.

It wasn’t the clothes to which Park necessarily objected, but the treatment of his purloined outfit. Park’s suit was summarily shredded, its sleeves and pants legs removed. (And this after he served as the winning pitcher in a 13-inning victory over the Cubs, and drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded walk, to boot.)

Thing was, the suit had been given to him by his mother in Korea as a token of good luck. When he saw how it had been treated, Park pretty much lost his mind.

He threw a plate of food. He threw his chair. He screamed. He cursed. Then he collapsed in a heap of tears. None of this endeared him to his teammates.

The pitcher only made things worse when he got to the airport (still wearing his baseball pants), when he insisted that the airline fetch his luggage so he could put on another suit. Dodgers players went so far as to jump on the plane’s PA to announce that changing clothes onboard was against airline regulations. Park hardly cared.

If there’s a mitigating factor, it’s that the pitcher was new to the country and had little grasp of American baseball customs. (He also clearly had little grasp of American legal customs. Were he better versed, he might have filed a lawsuit for that incident, as well.) After speaking to his agent and others, he returned to the clubhouse contrite, and did his best to put the incident behind him.

“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 himself was forced into female clothing by his Twins teammates as a rookie in 1998), about the tradition in general and not about Park in particular.

Park didn’t live down to that observation, however, spending six seasons with the Dodgers (plus another in ’08).

His ability as a banker, of course, appear to be less finely honed.

– Jason