Bullying and hazing in baseball isn't getting anything close to the scrutiny that the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin/Miami Dolphins saga has brought to the NFL. But hazing and ribbing teammates — not to the extent of "bullying" — is a reality of any sports locker room, MLB included.
Because of the Incognito/Martin story we're all more aware of the contrast between an insider's views of the locker room and an outsider's, and even how two insiders might have completely different views.
What kind of hazing do MLB players face? Does it often escalate into bullying? Former MLB journeyman Gabe Kapler published a column for Fox Sports on Tuesday on that very topic and it's a good read. Kapler won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and played on six teams in 12 seasons. He now writes about baseball, hosts a radio show and offers insights on Twitter.
In his column, Kapler discusses his own experiences getting embarrassed by veterans after he tried to promote himself a little too much as a young player, and he talks about some of the ways he saw rookies gets treated by vets throughout his career.
We're already well aware of baseball's rookie dress-up days, but Kapler tells us about more behind-the-scenes activities, such as:
On MLB team flights, adult beverages are often enjoyed. Usually, the youngest, most wet-behind-the-ears players will be responsible for carrying the beer and ultimately delivering it to the veterans.
When the flight lands, the fun escalates. On the bus traveling from the airport to the team hotel, it’s not uncommon for a group of vets in the back of the players’ bus to command the rookies to “get on the microphone,” a practice that makes the kids act as an “American Idol” contestant extraordinaire.
Inebriated, the vets instruct the rooks on what song to sing over the speakers in the front of the bus. The goal, of course, is to cause as much embarrassment as humanly possible. I have one teammate in particular that I vividly recall slurring and shouting, expletives venomously flying like daggers through the air.
The whole bus reeked of degradation because the tone was so vicious, not playful at all. With refusal to sing, the jabs came faster and more furious, to the point that other vets would tell this player to mellow out. When he wasn’t liquored up, this guy was the picture of a gentleman. Go figure.
Is this bullying? I suppose it depends on the man enduring the experience. Awareness goes a long way and the strong voice of a respected leader on a team can influence the rest of the group if things are getting out of hand. In the final days of Tiger Stadium, I’m confident Tony Clark knew just how far to let things escalate, which is why nothing passed the stage of simple discomfort with the team from my rookie season.
Kapler, who last played in 2010, keeps a foot in each side of the ongoing hazing argument. He recounts how getting hazed made him feel — full of rage, ready to grab another man by the throat — but also what effect it had on him in the long run.
Although I vowed to myself that I would never be the ringleader of any similar incident, I began to authentically connect with the idea that through ribbing, hazing and light illumination of faults, coming of age can occur.
In some cases, this can even speed up player development as toughness off the field can spill over into plate appearances. No way to quantify, of course, but I can attest to feeling more confident after understanding banter and thereby feeling more connected to my teammates; the chest puffed out slightly further is always beneficial on the field.
The entire piece is worth a few minutes of your time to read. It won't clear up the issue of hazing in sports — that's so subjective, no single story every will, keep that in mind — but Kaper's viewpoint may make you think a little bit.
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