Gooooooooood morning, Vero Beach!
Rise and shine, campers. Up and at 'em. Another day, another thousand dollars.
Dodger training camp already is turning into the funniest fort since F Troop. These guys have the potential to become the laugh riot of major league baseball. National League's Animal House.
The Dodgers always were a little screwy, what with Jay Johnstone stuffing a pillow beneath his shirt to do his impersonation of Tommy Lasorda, or with Jerry Reuss mooning Lasorda inside a restaurant, or with Lasorda sneaking a dead animal into Steve Sax's bunk at night, or with Fernando Valenzuela being handcuffed to a dugout bat rack.
Even last season, the Dodgers were loose as geese. Their bullpen specialized in the "Three Amigos" salute--slap, grab, turn and cough. During one TV interview, one player crept up behind a teammate and hit him with a pie. Mickey Hatcher once took his position at first base with his teeth blackened out. And this was a losing baseball team. A fifth-place baseball team.
Still, it always seemed like a pretty healthy idea, the Dodgers hazing each other this way, because it kept their clubhouse life pleasant, no matter what was happening out on the field. Even with all these vaudeville sketches going on, however, the room did have its share of bad vibes. Pedro Guerrero and Mike Marshall eventually had a serious falling out, and later on, Marshall and Phil Garner designated one another's faces for hitting.
When you put 40 grown men into the same room for several months, chances are, there is going to be some trouble. Managers yell at coaches, coaches yell at players, players yell at laundry attendants, and laundry attendants tell reporters to get out of their way. That's clubhouse life in 25 words or less.
Some clubhouses are very tame, and some are wild. The 1986 American League West champion California Angels went into their off-limits training room and holed up like cavemen. The 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates did everything in their locker room but hold dances. R.P. McMurphy would have felt at home in that room.
If ever a baseball club looked like it could use a few quick laughs to break the tension, it was the 1988 Dodgers. After all, the place had more new faces than the PTL Club board room. Orel Hershiser looked around and said he felt like \o7 he\f7 had been the one who was traded. He hardly recognized half the people in camp. He could barely tell the players \o7 with\f7 a scorecard.
Jesse Orosco, one of the new kids on the block, figured he would do something to bring everybody closer together. Back with the New York Mets, Orosco was accustomed to guys having a wacky sense of humor. Roger McDowell, for one, would leave the dugout with a nylon stocking over his head, like a bank robber. Howard Johnson and others wore their caps inside out.
Then again, as Orosco must have known, not all of the Mets were blithe spirits. Mookie Wilson hated it when David Letterman offered a giant poster of his face in a wager with the mayor of Houston before the Mets-Astros playoff series. "That's me he's makin' fun of," said the Mook.
The last man on Earth the Dodgers must have suspected to be sensitive about practical jokes was Kirk Gibson. For one thing, Gibson was a big guy, who could take care of himself. Nobody in his right mind would play a trick on Gibson with malice aforethought, because Gibson was the sort of fellow who, if he felt like it, could snap you in half like a bat, just to see if you were corked.
Besides, Gibson always seemed in Detroit to be a playful sort. He enjoyed sneaking up on people to apply bearhugs, or swinging his bat so close to them that they could feel the breeze. Gibby always seemed happiest when he could rag somebody. He was a little like Lasorda's show-biz buddy, Don Rickles. If he liked you, he insulted you. If he didn't like you, he ignored you.
Anyway, back to Orosco. The other day at Vero Beach, somebody--maybe Jesse, maybe not--squirted shaving cream on the earpiece of the clubhouse telephone, then called Gibson to the phone. High school stuff, right? Fraternity stuff, right? Right. Very silly, very messy, very harmless.
Gibson fell for it, and laughed.
That same day, though, somebody--definitely Jesse--layered the inside of Gibson's cap with lamp shade. You know, eye black. The grease athletes paint beneath their eyes to block the sun. When Gibson put the cap on, it was like one of those gag telescopes, where the eyepiece leaves you with a ring around one of your eyes, like the Little Rascals' dog.
Gibson fell for it, but didn't laugh.
He stormed off the field, had a few choice words for Lasorda, then invited the guilty party to identify himself and join him for lunch, where he would be serving a generous portion of knuckle sandwich. Orosco wisely waited a day, then confessed and apologized. Gibson thereafter explained that game time was the wrong time to mess with him.
Well, so it goes. Guess the Dodgers this season are going to have to be all business. Guess when you finish fifth two years running, the time has come to stop kidding around and get serious.
Too bad. The Dodgers could have been a million laughs this summer.
Hey, they still might be.
Depends on who starts at third base.