Tales from MLB Clubbies

‘What you see here, what you say here, let it stay here when you leave here.’

Legend has it that there is a sign that says that in nearly every Major League Baseball clubhouse. It’s a lesson you start learning early as a player. I know as a high school player you pretty much keep your mouth shut about what goes on, if anything does at all. If you’re lucky enough to play in college the same goes there as well; and you might see or hear some stuff that is considered a bit more taboo then your high school days. A teammate that shoots up steroids. A guy who stayed out all night drinking whiskey and chasing skirts hours before he’s scheduled to start on the mound. You might have even been with him. Maybe that swollen elbow the outfielder has isn’t because of extra long toss; maybe he slipped on wet stairs because he was intoxicated. It could be a million things–you get the picture.

Few sons of the game break this holy rule. No matter your connection to the game you should at least know about this code of silence, a creed if you will. Telling stuff that you heard in the locker room; well that ain’t cool bro. That’s what softball girls do. But it happens. There’s too many eyes, ears, and more importantly mouths to keep it all shut behind those doors. That infomation filters down and becomes a bit more valuable when the stories involve the most talented athletes in the world that inhabit that sacred world.

We know two guys who have been employed right in the trenches of MLB locker rooms. They both held the same position. They were known as ‘clubbies’. They were probably listed on the payroll as bat boys but these guys were not just bat boys. They were guys who understood after a few days on the job that they were to do whatever they were asked. How did they learn that lesson? The almighty dollar is one of the ways.

The first guy we met was a guy we had a bunch of college courses with. He was from northern Ohio; Parma to be exact. One day before class it was just us and this fella. He knew we played ball and the professor was late. We were the only two that showed up for class. Somehow he got to telling us how he’d been a clubby for the Cleveland Indians a few summers back. That professor didn’t even end up showing up to that basket weaving class, but we received a whole other kind of education that day.

He began to tell us that as a clubbie for the Indians his job went way beyond grabbing bats and taping guys. Basically, it was the coolest fucking job on the face of the earth; and socially acceptable for a guy who was in his teens or college like this guy. He was a football player meathead, but this had made him a baseball fan. He went into telling us that the Indians actually structured it that they had two clubbies. One was for the away team and one was for the Indians. This kid was the away clubbie. His job was to do anything that the away players asked him and things really ranged from the obscure to extravagant.

The first story he told us is one that really stands out in our minds. One afternoon at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Jose Guillen suffered a horrifying injury. This guy had to drive Guillen to the hospital. As he sped through the Cleveland traffic that weekend afternoon, Guillen and his wife pleaded with this guy to just get there fast. Every second could have made the difference in Guillen losing at bats, or money. It was a critical operation. When he arrived to the emergency room Guillen said something to his wife in Spanish. Guillens wife pulled $800 out of her wallet and handed it to this guy and thanked him for getting her husband to the hospital in a prompt manner. When Guillen returned to Jacobs Field the next time he took good care of this guy and never forgot what he’d done for him and his career that day. They became friends on a first name basis.

He told us that other plays would commonly send him on errands for all kinds of things. One of the most popular errand runs was for a can of chewing tobacco, and it was a common occurence to be given a $50 dollar bill and told to keep the change for a $4 tin of Copenhagen.

Other times players would have weird requests. They’d ask for tape. There was a ton of tape in the training room. But one guy wanted green tape for his bat. He didn’t want white or black tape. So this clubbie ran out and went to several stores until he found green tape. When he returned with it there wa $200 waiting in his mailbox in an envelope with a thank you note from the player. He said that autographs were no big deal, that he could have gotten anybody anytime and he had a handfull of signed memoribilia that players had given him through the years. This near minimum wage job had plenty of perks. While this guy was no Kirk Radomski he had his stories and he’d seen his fare share of shit.

One thing that stood out to him? The women. He said that most of these guys were married but openly had girlfriends waiting for them around the clubhouse at any given time. Before games, after games. He said one common thing was for a lot of the players to have two cell phones, one for the wives and friends and another just for the road beef. This is something that has came out to the open in recent years if you’ve read Jose or Jessica Canseco’s book but at the time we were told this information this was not a commonly known fact. The astonishing thing to this clubbie was just the fact they were cheating at all. He said many of their wives that he got to know were some of the most beautiful and exotic women that the world had to offer, but yet these guys still had multiple women they were working with on the side.

I asked him about steroids. He said that he was sure it was going on in those very corridors but he did not really want to elaborate nor did he know an abundance of information. The way he put it, was that he did not see syringes hanging out of a guys bag but he knew that guys did them and guys actually did joke about batting practice feats that some players clearly shouldn’t have been reaching (i.e. the once light hitting shortstop was now suddenly going upper deck each day).

The next clubbie we actually met while working for the Cincinnati Bengals. In Cincinnati, this guy knew everybody. It was no surprise to us that someone with the Reds had hooked him up with his job as a clubbie just as someone had hooked up him with his cushy job in the front office of this NFL team. We talked to him often and as he learned that we were huge Reds fans, he told us some stories. He had obtained employment from the Reds because he was friends with the owner’s grandson. Right now? He’s selling for the New York Yankees helping them sling tickets for their new stadium. That’s probably an easier job then selling tickets for the Bengals.

He dealt with the Reds players. Things got really off the cusp for this guy in his journeys as a clubhouse guy. One outfielder who was with the Reds for a long time and was a popular player for the Reds and a good guy in the community was an absolute party hound. He said this guy took better care of him than anyone else.

One night the player invited the clubbie up to his hotel room after a game. When he arrived at the room the door was locked but music was blaring behind the door. He could hear voices of women. When the door was cracked open the player opened it and handed the clubbie a note and gave him some instructions. This clubbie was asked to go get the player a bag of pot and some other odds and ends that would help the player smoke the drugs. When the clubbie returned with the goods the door of the hotel room was opened to a Pandora’s box of what life has to offer. He said the player was hanging with other players and beautiful women, and the player told him he could have whatever he wanted. The clubbie hung out for a while and had a few beers but then elected to leave without partaking in anything illegal. Funny thing is, a few years later that outfielder publicly acknowledged that he had a subtance abuse problem and would be attending rehab.

Another thing he had to do in his role of glorified bat boy was to teach spanish speaking outfielder Melvin Nieves english. He said the club came to him and said they didn’t care how he did it, that he was to teach Nieves the english language and not to stop until he was done. He said that Nieves; who had been in the big leagues for several years was the worst speaking spaniard he’d ever heard. He said it was absolutely brutal. He tried and tried, hours and days and weeks passed and Nieves made no ground whatsoever. Nieves’ career ended that year and he still couldn’t speak a lick of the english language.

The only other thing that stands out in our mind is that when asked about steroids he said he was pretty sure that Tony Tarasco was doing them. Tarasco never made it into any type of report as being named a doper but that is what he told us.

So here you have a few stories and an idea of what it is like to take a glimpse into the Major League life. It’s not a life anything like we know. There is not a dull moment involved. As common peasants, it should be understood that was goes behind those walls is very private and guarded. Most likely, none of us will ever hear the darkest secrets.