MLB ratified a new collective bargaining agreement today that, among other changes, banned rooking hazing, including the longstanding tradition of veteran ballplayers making rookies dress like women. Many other forms of hazing were banned—making people drink too much alcohol, coercing people to break the law, and bullying— but, as you can imagine, people really grabbed onto the whole no women’s outfits thing.
MLB vice-president Paul Mifsud gave the Associated Press several varyingly valid reasons for the ban, among them that unnamed players had complained about it. What followed, publicly, was many people in and around baseball defending the sanctity of male ballplayers dressing like women.
Meanwhile, over at ESPN, Buster Olney provides testimony that the dress-up days made at least some players uncomfortable with a recollection of what happened in 1995, when then-22-year-old reliever Armando Benitez refused to wear his costume.
Rather than wear the clothes provided to him—Olney tentatively remembers a ballerina outfit—Benitez refused to change out of his uniform, staying at his locker even as his teammates boarded the bus. Eventually, other players were sent back in to retrieve him: first Manny Alexander, another rookie from the Dominican Republic, and then Rafael Palmeiro. Neither of them came out of the clubhouse, leading to sterner measures being taken:
The next negotiator off the bus was Mike Flanagan, the longtime Orioles pitcher who was serving as the team’s pitching coach that year. Part of the message that he intended to impart to Benitez, he told me later, was that even if the Orioles’ veterans wanted to give him his clothes back, they couldn’t do it: his suit had been sent ahead to the airport on a truck bearing the team’s equipment.
Flanagan went through the clubhouse door, and it wasn’t long after that that he emerged, followed by Palmeiro, Alexander and, yes, Benitez. The pitcher was wearing a white dress shirt, his baseball pants, and socks. As Flanagan passed me, he rolled his eyes as if to say: Wow.
Later, Flanagan told me that when he walked into the room, Benitez had Palmeiro and Alexander cornered in the shower with a bat, angrily insisting that he would not wear the costume picked out for him. Flanagan said he told Benitez, “Armando, get on the damn bus.”
And away they went, the crisis averted.
As Olney points out, this and other tensions over the tradition were probably about more than just being stubborn: “Year to year, the occasional tension over this, that I recalled, involved young players who spoke little English.” Although the game has become more global in the more than two decades since, baseball hasn’t done a lot to address the reality that a whole lot of its rookies are at a linguistic and cultural divide from its veterans. The ritualized hazing intended to bridge generations of players fails to do that if it highlights these dissonances.
But even if 100 percent of baseball players were fine with wearing tutus as a hilarious commentary on how not feminine they are, it would still be sexist as an institutional practice. The camaraderie may be real but participating requires rookies to buy into and perpetuate the premise that it’s bad to be a woman. Baseball should be past that. The Cleveland Indians’ support for Chief Wahoo doesn’t absolve the mascot of its racism, and no amount of sparkles can redeem the pandering nature of Ladies Nights. When the humor is predicated on mocking people perceived to be weaker than you, it’s bad. The ban is good—for the sake of players who might not find that kind of hazing funny, and for the overall viability of Major League Baseball.