Rookie hazing a 'chic' rite of passage
Initiation rituals the ultimate sign of team acceptance
SAN DIEGO -- Milton Bradley's suit was missing from his locker. While other players had suits in theirs, Bradley only found a heap of unusual clothes in his -- tight corduroy pants, a wool sweater and a beaded Rick James wig. He knew what was going on.
Rookies and second-year players go through a rite of passage into the Majors at the end of the regular season. As soon as all the September callups join a team, it's customary for the veterans of each clubhouse to stash away their clothes at the end of a game. Out go their suits and in come crazy costumes. The newbies, who are without their regular street clothes, must abide with the tradition and wear whatever is given to them. The prank usually takes place on a day the team is traveling to another ballpark. This can only mean one thing: They must wear their new outfits to the airport, on the plane and to their next destination.
"Yup, everybody goes through it," San Diego Padres right fielder Brian Giles said. "It's a baseball tradition. It's a lot of fun for the young guys to come up here, first time in the big leagues, and experience it and get ready after a game to take off, fly somewhere and all of a sudden you have to wear a dress to the next city."
Bradley was hazed in his rookie season with the Montreal Expos in 2000 and then again in 2001 with the Indians, when he had to wear the Rick James wig.
"Everybody had to do it," Bradley, now with the San Diego Padres, said. "It was fun. When I was with the Expos, I had to wear a maid's outfit with a wig and all that stuff. And then when I got to the Indians, I had to wear some tight corduroy pants and I had like a Rick James wig. ... Each time I did it, at least five, six other guys were dressed up, too. If I had to pick something to put on, I'd pick what I had because everyone else had it way worse."
Bradley enjoyed the moment, as did his teammates, who taped him on a camcorder as they went through the airport laughing.
"I didn't get hassled at all, people just laughed at me," Bradley said. "They were laughing with me because I wasn't embarrassed about it. It was fun for me. I mean, you're in the big leagues and you get the opportunity to be hazed. Who doesn't want that?"
Alex Escobar didn't want to be hazed when he was with the Indians. According to Bradley, Escobar refused to wear a costume when it was his turn. Escobar chose to wear his regular baseball shorts and a T-shirt instead.
Escobar is an extreme case, as the annual ritual is done for light-hearted fun. Rookie hazing is the ultimate sign of acceptance by a player's new team. Sure, some have to wear dresses or even an M&M costume, but the activity is meant to be a welcoming party into the Majors. It's also a way to show the new players values, such as professionalism in the sport, as well as respecting not only their teammates but the game itself.
It's uncertain when this tradition began. Former Major Leaguer Jerry Coleman, who was a second baseman for the New York Yankees from 1949-1957, was never hazed.
"No, we didn't have hazing then," Coleman said. "The group I was with was ex-military people. We were older, 23, 24, 26, not 17, 18 or 19. They didn't do those things to us.
"Later on, what they would do was steal all their clothes [and make them wear] stupid things, costumes. They looked kind of stupid."
Coleman, who was involved in two wars, signed with the Yankees in 1942, but didn't start until after his career with the Marines was over.
The longtime Padres broadcaster still bears witness to the antics of today.
Monk. Samurai. Pirate. Disney princess. Popeye. Robin Hood. Nacho Libre. Native American. Prince. Disco king. Clown. Tarzan. These are the outfits the first- and second-year Dodgers had to wear before they boarded a plane to San Francisco on Sept. 6. Because the Dodgers didn't hold the ritual last year, they made it up to last year's rookies by involving them in this year's annual hazing.
Russell Martin, who is in his second year with the Blue Crew, had to wear the "Nacho Libre" costume after the Dodgers beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Matt Kemp, also in his second year, wore a fat suit of the opposite sex.
Back when Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman was a rookie, he did not have to wear a costume, just a pair of yellow platforms.
The all-time saves leader made his Major League debut in 1993.
"I had the good fortune of getting some platform, yellow shoes that I had to wear with the outfit I wore to the yard that day," Hoffman said. "You kind of know you're standing out, it's not really something that you're too comfortable with, but its part of growing up in the game.
"It really didn't go very good, [but] it was relatively easy. Some of the things guys wear today are more along the lines of Halloween costume-type stuff."
This couldn't be more true.
Rookies and second-year players are now decked out in an array of outfits that include dressing up as condiments -- mustard -- movie characters and super heroes.
Last year, Cla Meredith, who debuted with the Boston Red Sox in 2005 and then was traded in 2006 to the Padres, took part in the ritual by dressing up as "Dorothy" from the Wizard of Oz. Meredith put on white panty hose, a blue checkered dress with ruffles, ballerina slippers and carried a basket full of beer.
While Meredith played "Dorothy" for a day, the Giants were having their own fun with their rookies.
According to Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel, Matt Cain was a ballet dancer, Patrick Misch a doll, Eliezer Alfonzo a Playboy bunny, Jonathan Sanchez a maid and Fred Lewis played a mini-skirt wearing taxi driver.
Sadly, Vizquel was never hazed. Too bad because the animal-loving Vizquel -- he owns a zoo full of llamas and such -- would have been a sight to behold in an animal print dress.
Kind of like how the Padres' Scott Hairston looked when he was hazed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. Hairston had to wear a halter top and skin tight leopard pants. The D-backs made all their rookies walk in a straight line in front of the team bus so everyone, including fans, could chronicle the sight.
Luck be a lady in boots
Oddly enough, wearing such ensembles can be a blessing in disguise. At least it was for Kyle Denney. Back in 2004, the Indians' rookie took part in the initiation by wearing a University of Southern California cheerleader's outfit along with a blonde wig and knee-high go-go boots.
The Indians had just finished beating the Kansas City Royals, 5-2, when they hazed their rookies and proceeded to travel by bus to the Kansas City International Airport.
The buses were moving along the interstate when a stray bullet sliced through the passenger side and went into Denney's right calf. The bullet could have done more damage if it were not for his go-go boots. The bullet went through the boot and into his calf, but trainers were able to pop it out like a pimple said Denney.
As Denney told MLB.com in 2004: "It was a pretty thick boot. Obviously, going through the bus probably slowed it down quite a bit, then going through [the boot] had to slow it down some more. If I had had my regular suit on, who knows how far it would have gone in?"
Such tales only add to the allure of this tradition. Rookie hazing has yet to strike the Padres clubhouse, as well as several others.
Maybe this week, Halloween will come early at PETCO Park.
Elizabeth M. Botello is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Becky Regan, an MLB.com associate reporter, contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.