Rites of passage come in form of rookie hazing
From ridiculous outfits to singing, veterans have fun at young players' expense
Rookie hazing saves lives.
Eight years ago, Kyle Denney was riding on the Indians' team bus in Kansas City when a bullet whizzed through the side of the vehicle and struck the pitcher in the leg. Fortunately, the white boots he was wearing as part of a cheerleading costume lessened the blow and kept Denney from significant harm.
Rookie hazing provides entertainment.
Swarms of Tigers teammates acted as paparazzi, securing snapshot upon snapshot of then-rookie reliever Al Alburquerque, who posed in lingerie last September after Detroit completed a crucial series sweep of division-rival Cleveland.
Rookie hazing humbles youngsters.
With his teammates in suits -- the team-mandated traveling attire -- Indians southpaw David Huff stood in the Toronto airport in a bumblebee costume a few years back, as onlookers stared intently at the out-of-place, larger-than-life insect.
Initiation is often a part of the work environment. In baseball, many veterans offer a warm welcome to those getting their feet wet in the big leagues. This year, with All-Star outfielders Mike Trout of the Angels and Bryce Harper of the Nationals reaching new rookie heights, the question begs to be asked: Can a first-year player weasel his way out of the conventional rookie hazing rituals?
"Actually, you probably get it worse," said Tribe reliever Joe Smith. "Usually when they like you, you get it worse. When you're a young guy and you come up, that's just how it goes. You take your licks and keep your mouth shut and do your job and before you know it, it's over."
Smith recounted a tale in which Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey was "popping off" in the clubhouse following a game during Pelfrey's rookie campaign of 2007. Before he knew it, Pelfrey's teammates had frozen his clothes.
"It's supposed to be fun," Smith said. "It's not like you're the only one who's ever gotten it. Everyone has gotten it or else they wouldn't be doing it to you."
Improper attire is the most common rookie hazing practice. Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings was part of a sizable group of Tampa Bay rookies required to wear female clothing last season.
The range of the female wardrobe used in such hazings seems to be unlimited. Former Indians closer Kerry Wood made rookies dress as female servers and provide drinks for players on a team bus ride to Pittsburgh in 2010. Last season, Cleveland closer Chris Perez tweeted a picture of the club's rookies posing in underwear and Speedos during the final series of the season.
Spirits were high in the Detroit clubhouse on Sept. 7, 2011, after Tigers closer Jose Valverde tied the franchise mark with his 42nd save of the season to notch a series sweep in Cleveland and virtually knock the Indians from contention in the American League Central. The close-knit Tigers bullpen celebrated by dressing the lanky Alburquerque in an old-fashioned bustier and garter belt. Players' cameras flashed around the clubhouse and even Alburquerque couldn't help but to jump up and down, laughing at pictures of the unsightly spectacle.
When rookies aren't dressing the part, they're typically singing it.
"Singing a song on the plane, that's common," Perez said. "Teams do it when they land in a city or are on the bus driving to the hotel. They'll grab a mic and make the young guys sing."
Perez noted that Tribe sophomore setup man Vinnie Pestano "enjoys it a little too much" and often "plays to the crowd" while belting the notes to The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."
Then there's the case of Trout, the rookie who rescued the Angels from the AL West cellar in April.
The 20-year-old got 123 big league at-bats last season, just shy of the 130 that would have resulted in the loss of his rookie status for this year. But even though he's still a rookie, he won't be subjected to sporting the Hooters outfit his teammates forced upon him in 2011.
"He came up in August last year and we got him pretty good," said veteran outfielder Torii Hunter. "He wasn't the best-looking Hooters chick."
Now, though still a rookie, Trout has played a critical role in the Angels' surge up the standings since their 6-14 start. He leads the AL with a .349 batting average and 30 stolen bases. In just 67 games, he has 12 home runs, 41 RBIs, 60 runs scored and a remarkable .977 OPS.
His production out of the leadoff spot has stalled the campaign for further initiation.
"This year, we're going to leave him alone," Hunter said. "He earned it. He's a good kid. He's not cocky or anything. If he was cocky, we'd light him up."
Despite Hunter's assertion that he's off the hook, Trout has learned to submit to his older teammates' demands. He said the words every veteran wants to hear from a rookie.
"Whatever they want me to do," Trout said, "I'll do."