I’ll make this clear before anyone begins to get too upset: Bullying and hazing have no place in organized sports, or in civil society for that matter.
On that I’m sure we can all — at least most of us — agree. The combination has ruined many lives, and we’d all be better off without it.
That said, I’m still finding it hard to imagine who brought this up when negotiators for Major League Baseball and the players’ union got together at the bargaining table for their new contract .
“Uh, guys, we’ve been some complaints lately that players have had to dress up like women. Some have even put on lipstick, and badly. Before we get to free agency and the minimum wage, I’d like to propose some new contract language that bans players from dressing up as Hooters waitresses or Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.”
To be sure, it’s not such a bad thing. If you’ve ever seen a grown baseball player in a dress and wig, you’d quickly realize most are no RuPaul. Fellow players might find it funny, but locker room humor isn’t always that humorous.
Still, you have to wonder why baseball players seem to have such a need to be protected from everything these days.
They can’t slide hard into second base anymore for fear of either hurting themselves or the $20 million-a-year shortstop. No collisions allowed at home plate, either, because someone watched an old film clip of Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.
Don’t even think of violating a pitch count, or a new-age manager like Dave Roberts of the Dodgers will head to the mound with a hook even when a pitcher (Rich Hill) is throwing a perfect game.
And, of course, soon they won’t be able to spit tobacco all over the turf, something that’s been around in baseball for well over a century and helped popularize the spitball in the old days.
What’s next, a ban on shaving cream pies in the eye after game-winning RBIs? They can sting a bit, you know, and who can say there won’t be permanent eye damage?
Sometimes, these big bruising multimillionaires just look like babies. Actually, they did last year when manager Joe Maddon had his Cubs wear pajamas on the flight home from a tough 1-0 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
That surely will be banned, too, especially after the newspaper headline the next morning in Chicago after pitcher John Lester was seen walking from the clubhouse in a onesie and cowboy boots.
“Cubs sent home in their pajamas after series spanking by Dodgers,” it read.
Some of the rationale for the new rule is that what happens in the clubhouse doesn’t stay in the clubhouse anymore. That’s largely because of social media, which the players themselves can sometimes use carelessly.
What is supposed to be a gag among 25 guys doesn’t look so funny when it’s spread on Instagram or Twitter.
“There’s lots of pictures of baseball players dressed up as Disney princesses,” MLB Vice President Paul Mifsud said.
There’s also a picture of Mike Trout dressed as Lady Gaga in a 2011 rookie hazing that still circulates online. Trout seems to be taking it in good spirits, but you have to wonder if he will one day regret he didn’t get to be a Disney princess instead.
Yes, the line should be drawn at outright bullying and hazing. Richie Incognito’s bullying of Jonathan Martin when the two were teammates on the Miami Dolphins highlighted the ugly and very real consequences of such behavior.
But I’m not sure that grown men getting paid millions of dollars to play sports need protection against everything. And while having rookies don cheerleader outfits or princess costumes may be a bit embarrassing and not politically correct, it’s probably not going to scar anybody for life.
Not everything can be legislated, and not everything can be negotiated. Ballplayers will sometimes just be ballplayers, and that’s part of their appeal.
They scratch and spit, and do things sometimes that you’d rather not see your kids doing. But then you watch them jumping all over each other after winning a World Series and realize that underneath it all they’re a lot like kids, too, only bigger.
Oh, wait, no more jumping around. Someone might get hurt.
A polite handshake will have to suffice.