Never mind the wacky getups they were mandated to wear on Sunday. The Red Sox order and the Fenway sky presented the real rites of rookie passage into the big league fraternity Tuesday night. Alay Soler and Lastings Milledge came out of that game shaking like paddled freshmen. Of course, few of the Mets played like seasoned veterans. The 3-2 curveball Lester threw Wright? The last man to draw a swing like that from an overmatched batter was Charles Schulz.
But back to the dresses. What is that anyway? Seriously. Every year, usually in September so as to capture more kids, the vets make the rooks put on outrageous costumes, often something slinky and/or hoey. Everybody has a good laugh. Everybody but Jeff Kent who famously refused a pimp's outfit at Olympic Stadium in late 1992 and, as recounted in The Worst Team Money Could Buy, was rewarded for his stance by teammates who hounded him with “Hey, Clark, where're your clothes?”
Kent…Clark…get it? Ballplayer humor.
Milledge and Soler put on their silly outfits and went from Rogers Centre to the airport through customs (Montreal…Toronto…that's why they try to pull this stunt in Canada) onto the plane and to the hotel in Boston with reportedly good humor. Their older if not necessarily more mature teammates ribbed them and now they're certified as OK. Dress like girls, be two of the boys.
But seriously. What is that? Maybe it didn't used to get mentioned, but before Kent cried foul — remember we got him in August and he claimed he'd already done his dressup as a Blue Jay rookie earlier in the season — I'd never heard of this particular prank being an annual ritual. In Worst Team, Kent's crankiness was put in a particularly bad light when compared to Gregg Jefferies' acquiescence a few years earlier. All right, so the Mets were doing this in the late '80s? Did they do it to Doc and Straw? Did Lou Brock lay it on Keith Hernandez? Did Don Cardwell snatch Tom Seaver's trousers out of his locker, shove a miniskirt in his mitts and order him to “put it on, rook”?
David Wright's take on Lastings Milledge's costume — “I'm getting worried about Lastings, he's liking it too much” — was at once mildly amusing and, I dunno, a little disturbing. David Wright wouldn't knowingly offend a flea. He'd offer two minutes of sincere appreciation for fleas and how they helped him prepare mentally for line drives to his left before saying something hurtful about them. But Wright's and everybody's “hey, he sure likes dressing up like a she,” as all-in-good-fun as it is, seems overly retro and not in that pleasant Camden Yards way.
During one of the commercial breaks on SNY in which they show off how well they covered sports in the last week, there was a clip of a retired football player, Esera Tuaolo, promoting his book Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL on Daily News Live and explaining how miserable it was being a closeted homosexual in his chosen profession. He said something to the effect of nobody in a locker room ever made a remotely non-negative remark about the concept being gay. Not the friendliest of atmospheres for a guy like that.
A long PC stretch from one lineman's private hell to our first-place Mets having a little time-honored fun with everybody, including the jokees, in on the joke? Maybe. My playing career peaked with a stint as catcher in a teeball league, so I'll freely admit I don't know what life is really like in a Major League clubhouse. I probably don't wanna know. My idea of a well-executed workplace prank was to craft a carefully worded memo that made the new hire think he or she had to use the pay phone across the street for all business calls. If I got a single “is this real?” in 15 years, I considered it a success. (Trade magazine offices were never really hotbeds of rookie hazing.)
Maybe what Milledge and Soler were subjected to was harmless and without implication for the republic's well being. But if Alay says through an interpreter, “I couldn't get loose because my right shoulder stiffened up after they gave me too tight a bra,” then there should be hell to pay.