Mets: No more horsing around
Popular hazing tradition for Chicago visitors left to legend
CHICAGO -- A baseball tradition has died an understandable yet sorrowful death here, at the intersection of Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue, an Andre Dawson throw from the shore of Lake Michigan. The tradition has gone the way of Sunday doubleheaders and complete games. And its passing literally has removed some color for the game.
No longer are rookies hazed as they once were, and with the end of that practice went the hazing event, peculiar to Chicago, that annually led to clubhouse laughs and, eventually, clubhouse acceptance of the plebes. Moreover, the city's bean counters began to frown on the practice that was a minor but constant drain on the public coffers.
So it is now that visiting veterans no longer urge -- no, no longer order -- the new men to deface the statue of General Sheridan and his horse. The rookie-rites ritual entailed applying orange paint to the part of the horse that distinguished the animal as a stallion. It involved only National League teams because of the statue's proximity to Wrigley Field.
The morning after the deed was done, the same veteran players would arrange for members of Chicago's finest to enter the clubhouse with arrest warrants for the perpetrators. The ruse never failed to break up the clubhouse.
But, alas, no such deception has been or will be part of the Mets' weekend on the North Side. This team that has lost most of its regulars to injury, has lost most of its pranksters as well. American League refugee J.J. Putz, if he was at all aware of the ruse, would have been a candidate for "getting" the multitude of big league neophytes the Mets have assembled.
"Too bad. I think I would have appreciated something like that," Nick Evans said Friday, safe in the knowledge that he no longer could be deceived. Evans has lost his official rookie status, but he still would qualify as prospective Mets foil. "I've never heard of that. But I like it."
"They got me and Gerald Clark when I was with the Padres in '92," Gary Sheffield said Friday afternoon in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley. "It was awful. I was all paranoid. The last thing you want to do as a rookie is go to jail. It was horrifying."
Sheffield hardly was a rookie in '92; he had played parts of the preceding four seasons with the Brewers, then an American League entry. In '92, he was new to the Padres, new to the league. Initiation was required.
"I figured I knew the ropes by then, but they got me," he said. "And they got me with the mongoose in Cincinnati, too."
The manager of the visiting clubhouse at Riverfront Stadium had a caged something that was presented to the unsuspecting players with a story and a convincing warning. Once the cage was uncovered and inadvertently unlocked, a mechanical creature would leap at its frightened prey.
"I fell into the laundry basket, trying to get away," Sheffield said. "I lost my mind."
But the statue painting in Chicago was more popular among the Mets. More players fell for it.
In 1995, neither Jason Isringhausen nor Bill Pulsipher were aware. The rookie pitchers were set up by -- who else? -- John Franco. They were eager to pass the test. Their painting met with Franco's approval, but not with that of the Chicago police. The following morning, Isringhausen and Pulsipher, dressed for the game, were apprehended and told to change back into their civvies. They would be taken downtown for booking.
And the two bought it until Pulsipher reached for his tie. One of the cops told the other to confiscate it. "We don't want him hanging himself in the cell," he said. The clubhouse erupted.
"That whole thing is gone now," Brian Schneider said Friday. "The city got tired of paying to have the paint removed. For a couple of years when we came in here, we'd get notices from the police telling us, 'Never, never, never, never paint the horse.' They were serious. ... I think it's been a while since anyone got taken."
"No, Nomar [Garciaparra] and [Jeff] Kent were the veterans. They got [Jonathan] Broxton, [Chad] Billingsley and [Andre] Ethier in 2006," Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen said. He was the Dodgers coach then. "They fell for it hard. It was great."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.