Current, past baseball players criticize hazing restrictions
NEW YORK — Huston Street believes in some of baseball’s oldest, tried-and-true traditions, and the reliever knows team building can be a real benefit, so he considers the elimination of rookie dress up in the new labor deal the loss of “a healthy ritual.”
The Los Angeles Angels closer, like many players expressing their views Tuesday, disagrees with Major League Baseball’s ban on the hazing ritual of dressing up rookies in costumes that could be considered offensive, including women’s outfits.
“An effort to show our childlike spirit, or humble ourselves in wearing something funny as a team building moment, is now gone,” Street wrote in an email to The Associated Press, “but rest assured some other ritual will rise, will be kept far more secret and hopefully it’s as safe and harmless as uncomfortable clothes.”
Baseball owners and players ratified their five-year labor contract Tuesday, which contains a new Anti-Hazing and Anti-Bullying Policy formulated by management, rules the union agreed not to contest.
New York Mets rookie outfielder Brandon Nimmo was among the last group to participate this past season. In September, he had to wear a wig and dress in the style of the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” while fetching coffee and doughnuts in Philadelphia.
“I guess I’m sad to see that go. I’m glad that I got to partake in it last year. Wouldn’t trade that,” Nimmo said at the team’s Citi Field holiday party. “I felt like it just kind of brought the team closer together, let’s have a little fun together.”
Many retired players were outraged, taking to social media to show their disgust.
“What a joke!!” tweeted Mark Mulder, a big league pitcher from 2000-08.
Yet for baseball officials, the decision goes far beyond just good-natured fun.
Billy Bean, a big league infielder and outfielder from 1987-95 who came out as gay in 1999, spoke with MLB’s labor lawyers as the policy was developed as part of his role as vice president for social responsibility and inclusion.
“To me it’s important to be cognizant of the images that our players project to our fans, and I think where for many where it would seem that it’s common sense that it’s just all in good fun and being silly, there are many sides to the story and I just think that it’s a responsible thing to do,” he said during a telephone interview. “Many players didn’t like this tradition but were afraid to speak up.”
Still, players were stunned.
“Remember, you’re doing this not because you look different or because you’re from some far corner of the globe. In fact you’re doing this for reasons that couldn’t be more opposite,” former pitcher Dallas Braden wrote to The AP. “You’re one of us. You’re here now, you’ve made it, you’ve earned it. You’re a BIG LEAGUER and in the big leagues we dress up and sing just like the Cy Youngs & MVPs who came before us.”
Many took to social media to express disappointment.
“Seriously?! Had to wear a Hooters outfit going through customs in Toronto and wore it proudly (because) I was in the Show,” former Boston star Kevin Youkilis wrote before deleting the tweet, adding “Way more important topics and problems in the world that need attention.”
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling tweeted a photo of himself and teammates sporting cheerleading uniforms , saying, “honored to be one of the last players ever to be dressed up as a woman.”
Cody Ponce, taken by Milwaukee with the 55th overall draft pick in 2015, tweeted: “I looked forward to the whole dressing up as a rookie in the MLB! I never saw it as hazing, just some fun!”
MLB executives were concerned about photos of rookie dress-ups that appear on social media and might offend some fans and business partners.
“The world has gotten 2 damn sensitive! This has been a time honored tradition,” tweeted Aubrey Huff, a major leaguer from 2000-12 who liked to show off his lucky red rally thong. “The world is full of sensitive snowflakes.”
Vernon Wells, a three-time All-Star during a career that spanned 1999-2013, wondered what was next.
“BREAKING NEWS: Fans are no longer allowed to heckle players because it hurts their feelings,” he tweeted.
Many outside the sport thought it was about time baseball comported with the norms of other industries.
“By banning the hazing of rookies by having them dress in feminine presenting clothing, MLB draws closer to minimizing and hopefully ending discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and expression,” wrote Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of AthleteAlly, an advocacy group that describes itself as a straight ally that stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.
Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich views costumes as distinct from hazing that involves violence.
“If we’re getting so P.C. either as an industry or as a society that we can’t make fun of ourselves at times, that would be, I think, harmful to the game in a certain way,” he said.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, a veteran of Dartmouth, Harvard Law School and the Marines, said he had not heard any complaints but still had some concerns.
“I’ve seen it in the military and, for all the camaraderie it’s supposed to promote, it’s divisive and I think undercuts morale and so you’ve got to be very careful about that,” he said. “Is it constructive? Is it useful? Is it juvenile? It’s probably juvenile. It’s probably not useful or constructive in too many ways.”
Superheroes such as Batman and Spider-Man are still allowed, but Wonder Woman, Hooters Girls, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, ballet tutus and Lady Gaga are now banned.
Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard described teammate Curtis Granderson as the ringleader when the rookie right-hander dressed as the title character from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” at Cincinnati in 2015.
“It’s not really embarrassing for us,” Syndergaard said. “It was a fun time. It’s part of it. Just got to embrace it.”