Gabe Kapler on joking/hazing/bullying in baseball

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We talked a bit last week about hazing and bullying in Major League Baseball. Mostly we talked about how people don’t talk about it much.  One of the reasons people don’t talk about it much is because there are not any clear lines between pranks, hazing, bullying and any number of other things that can be either malignant or benign, depending on the spirit and motivation for the incident and how it is received by its target.

Into that wades Gabe Kapler, who has plenty of first hand experience with all of that. He has a thoughtful column up over at Fox Sports.com today in which the gray area of all of that is explored, along with some fun and illuminating anecdotes.  One takeaway is pretty key:

Although I vowed to myself that I would never be the ringleader of any similar incident, I began to authentically connect with the idea that through ribbing, hazing and light illumination of faults, coming of age can occur.

In some cases, this can even speed up player development as toughness off the field can spill over into plate appearances. No way to quantify, of course, but I can attest to feeling more confident after understanding banter and thereby feeling more connected to my teammates; the chest puffed out slightly further is always beneficial on the field. The confidence is derived through fitting in societally, being accepted. I’ve finally fulfilled my rite of passage; now I belong. Now I can go play and know my teammates are beneath me, partially supporting my weight.

That’s key because it makes a good argument for the sort of bonding rituals that, in some instances, can be taken as hazing or even bullying but which are useful if everyone involved understands what’s going on.

It’s also key because Kapler’s particular story involves being messed with after some youthful and regrettable self-promotion on his part.  His experience goes a long way towards explaining why baseball’s culture is what it is and why you don’t see many self-promoters in the game. Or, when you do, why they are so often singled out as “problems.”

Anyway: good read. With some thoughts to keep in mind as the larger conversation about bullying and hazing works its way toward Major League Baseball, as it inevitably will.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”