03/31/2006 4:39 PM ET
April (and May, and June ...) fools
Humiliating teammates is a cherished baseball tradition
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
Giants pitcher Noah Lowry experiences that postgame staple, the TV interview pie-in-the-face. (Eric Risberg/AP)
It's often been said that professional baseball players are grown men playing a boy's game. And that, to an extent, is true.
But it discounts the fact that many of the men playing pro ball never grew up at all, and only from within the walls of the clubhouses, dugouts and hotels that these Peter Pans inhabit for eight months of every year can you see that baseball isn't the only game they play.
No other professional sport has as much down time built into it as baseball. Spring Training alone is six weeks, and the regular season features 162 games. There is idle time between cities, between games, between innings, between pitches.
And on every team are players who spend much of that time plotting practical jokes designed to scare, embarrass or temporarily debilitate unsuspecting teammates, coaches, members of the media and even fans.
With that in mind, MLB.com recently asked a handful of high-profile players to give fans a glimpse of the hidden hilarity of America's national pastime and talk about the best pranks they've ever seen pulled off.
Mariners slugger Richie Sexson has been known as a serial prankster for years, dating back to his early days with the Indians. So naturally, he was one of our go-to guys.
"The best one I've ever done was on Curtis Leskanic," Sexson says of his former Brewers teammate. "He would soak in the whirlpool every day before he went out for a game. If it was a 7 o'clock game, he'd get in the tub at 6:50, soak for a while, then get loose and go out to the bullpen and get ready to close if he had to.
"So one night at around 6:30, I went in there and dumped about 10 bags of red Gatorade [powder] into the tub. And those tubs have a layer of foam on top that's about an inch thick, so you can't see the water underneath, so Curtis couldn't see that the water was red.
"So Curtis got in that tub and soaked in it for about 15 minutes, and when he got out, his entire body had been stained bright red, from his neck all the way down to his toes. He gets in the game that night, and it's about 120 degrees in Baltimore, and he's wearing a turtleneck so nobody can see the red."
That's not the only time Sexson has had someone seeing red. Apparently an off-center member of the Tribe's Spring Training grounds crew in Florida used to chase alligators, capture them and duct-tape their mouths closed. Sexson would then take the alligators and place them in teammates' lockers.
"Anything you can do that scares the hell out of a teammate is a good practical joke," says Braves righty Tim Hudson, and Hudson knows what he's talking about. Braves catcher Eddie Perez found that out the hard way.
A Hudson staple is talking hotel employees into giving him a teammates' room key and hiding in wait of a big scare. Late in 2004, for example, Hudson, then with the A's, and fellow ace Barry Zito jumped out from behind a hotel shower curtain while hotshot A's rookie Nick Swisher was taking care of some bathroom business.
"Welcome to the big leagues." Swisher says with a laugh. "I missed the toilet entirely."
In the case of Perez, Hudson got even got a camera crew involved. Wearing the black cossack and ghost mask made famous by the movie "Scream," Hudson was hiding in a closet with a sound man when Perez, thinking he was being trailed by the crew as the subject of a day-in-the-life piece, arrived at his room.
"He's like, 'Here's what a big-league closet looks like,'" Hudson says, "and I bounce out screaming at him. I absolutely crushed him, man. He flipped out. Flipped out, man. Screamin' like a little girl on Halloween. It was one of my best 'gets' ever. An all-timer."
Hudson admits that he might have to come up with a new wrinkle, though. Last season was his first with the Braves, and by midseason they were on to him.
"If you go to get your key and it's missin', the word is out now," Hudson says. "Everyone knows that Huddy's up there waitin' to gitcha."
The A's have long been known for having one of the loosest clubhouses in the game, and current Yankees slugger Jason Giambi was one of the ringleaders while he was in Oakland. As such, he was responsible for carrying on a long-standing tradition of trying to see if certain rookies will, under pressure, break one of the game's cardinal rules: Thou shalt not throw a teammate under the bus.
It happens in Chicago, where there's a famous statue of a general atop a horse, and rookies are told to paint a certain area of the horse in their team's colors. The next morning, fake police officers show up and put the youngsters to the test.
"They had to paint him green," Giambi says of the A's rookies. "We had the cops come to the clubhouse after [batting practice] to bust them and see if they would rat anybody out. They told them they had it all on video, and that they were going to jail. They were in tears."
But they did pass the test. "They didn't give anybody up," Giambi says.
Rookies, of course, are frequent targets of pranksters. And as Luis Gonzalez found out in his first year with the Astros, everything is in play.
"It was back when we wore the flip-shades," says Gonzalez, now with the Diamondbacks. "We were playing in San Francisco and they eye-blacked my lenses. So I go out into the field and I get a ball hit to me in the sun, and I flip them down and it's like I went blind. Everything went black.
"It was the worst feeling. It's a bad feeling already when you get one in the sun, but try to flip down your shades and it's all dark. The ball fell in. Luckily it wasn't a close game or anything."
The key upon discovering you've been had, Gonzo suggests, is learning from the experience.
"After that, I checked my glasses every time I went out onto the field," he explains. "I'd flip them down, just to make sure."
A real police officer -- one who clocked third baseman Hank Blalock driving 59 mph in a 35 zone -- was involved with one of the best pranks Rangers shortstop Michael Young has seen. Young says Blalock pleaded with the officer, who said he would try to take care of the ticket.
"Then we called Hank from the clubhouse on his cell phone," Young says. "We told him the cop got fired for meddling in affairs like that, and Hank was going to have to serve time."
Freaked out, Blalock sought out another authority figure -- manager Buck Showalter.
"Hank went running into Buck's office, just leaning on the panic button," Young says. "That was a pretty good one."
Blalock is apparently an inviting target.
"I remember one year Hank and Todd Greene were having a general prank war," Young says. "Greenie got Hank's blue jeans and put them in the freezer for about four hours. Hank was, like, trying to put on bricks."
Freezing clothes is a big-league staple. It happens everywhere. A few creative sorts, though, have taken it to new levels. Just ask Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was victimized by current Blue Jays third baseman Corey Koskie when they were teammates with the Twins.
Theirs was a friendship rooted in practical jokes, and Ortiz usually got the worst of it. Take, for example, a day during Spring Training in 2002.
Ortiz went to his locker after a game and began getting dressed. When he picked up his jeans, he noticed they were filled with ice. "I'll get you for this, Koskie," Ortiz yelled from across the room as ice dripped on to his legs.
It got worse once Ortiz put his underwear on.
"He put peanut butter and jelly in my underwear and I didn't realize it until I put them on," said Ortiz. "I never got him back for that one."
Even when Ortiz went to the Red Sox in 2003, he couldn't escape the wrath of his good buddies from the Twins.
In a road game against the Twins, Ortiz got to his locker after the game and noticed that his clothes had been replaced by a red prison jumpsuit and flip flops.
"I'm going to get you, Gardy," Ortiz bellowed to himself.
As it turns out, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was not the one who had pulled a fast one on Ortiz. A few days later, Ortiz found out that it was catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
What was worse, the jumpsuit or the peanut butter?
"Definitely the peanut butter. No doubt," Ortiz said. "It took a long time to clean that out."
Itching powder isn't easy to get rid of, either, and that makes it another favorite among playful players.
"I've done the itching powder a lot," says Seattle reliever Eddie Guardado, also a former Twin. "Everywhere. Clothes. Underwear. I had Cristian Guzman itching every day. He wondered what was going on. He's telling somebody, and I was overhearing him, and everybody was cracking up. They said he got out of his car on the freeway and started itching. He was like, 'What the ...?' He didn't know what was going on. For about four days. ... I couldn't stop laughing."
And Guzman couldn't stop thinking about what might be the cause of his discomfort. He even grilled the clubhouse attendants.
"He thought it was the shampoo or the soap they were using," Guardado says.
All of the players MLB.com spoke with on the subject are still playing, but no discussion of pranks would be complete without a re-telling of a classic that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pulled off on April Fool's Day in 1992.
Ryan was with the Rangers, and pitcher Scott Chiamparino was in his second spring with the club. Ryan went around saying that he had a $1,000 speaking engagement at a luncheon in Punta Gorda, Fla., about 30 minutes away from the Rangers training complex in Port Charlotte, but he had to pitch that day and couldn't make it, so he asked his teammates if anybody wanted to take his place.
Chiamparino said he would -- even after Ryan told him that it was a formal affair and he would have to rent a tuxedo. So Chiamparino got the tux and drove over to the Punta Gorda Holiday Inn, only to find out he had been duped.
So went back to Port Charlotte, fuming, and suspected that catcher Geno Petralli was behind the whole thing. Confronted in the trainer's room, Petralli ended up decking him with a right to the chin.
The lesson there?
"If you're not sure who got you," Hudson says, "just cover all the bases. Get everyone back."
Mychael Urban is a
national writer for MLB.com. Reporters Ian Browne, Doug Miller, T.R. Sullivan, Mark Feinsand and Steve Gilbert contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.