Getty ImagesNever mind the nudity, it's a clubhouse thing.
I get asked all the time what it's like to spend so much of my life inside a major league clubhouse. Each time my answer is the same: When you stick 25 dudes together for hours and hours, several days in a row, for eight months at a time, some weird stuff happens. I mean, some really weird stuff.
To be honest, we're naked a lot. In the treatment room, the showers and the locker area, there's a steady stream of nudity. It may seem as if we're just acting like 12-year-olds -- okay, maybe we are -- but at the end of the day, getting naked is our way of coping. We do silly things to relieve the tension or break the monotony. Even when you're playing well, team chemistry can have its ups and downs. One day you're in first place and everyone is getting along, then you lose a couple and the fans are all over you. Guys start to feel the heat, and you need to lower the temperature. We do crazy things to keep from going crazy. And for some reason that usually means someone is getting naked.
Once a week or so, instead of taking batting practice on the field, we will take it inside, in the stadium batting cage. And for a lot of guys, that is an invitation to bare all. Without fail, a teammate will decide to take off his clothes and rub some sort of condiment -- mustard, peanut butter, whatever -- all over himself before he steps in to take a few swings. The sight of a big fella covered in peanut butter taking swings at a baseball tends to keep things light. Even BP pitchers get in on the act. Some days I'll show up in the cage, and the guy throwing to me has on his birthday suit. Let me tell you, nothing tests your focus more than trying to hit a baseball thrown by a man with his junk hanging out.
In my experience, I'd say there are about five guys on each major league team who know how and when to take matters to an elevated level. It's never guys you'd expect, either. I've seen the quietest player grab the mic on the bus, strip off his clothes and do a stand-up routine about the bus driver. Often, the fattest, hairiest guys on the team -- the ones who've never lifted a weight or run a sprint in their entire lives -- will take off their shirts to do bench presses or run wind sprints in the middle of the clubhouse. You've probably heard of Jason Giambi's legendary gold thong. He's not the only one with that particular piece of clothing. I know a number of players who wear those tiny little things, in all different colors and patterns.
Dining areas tend to be favorite spots for a bout of spontaneous nudity. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my name called as I'm eating a plate of spaghetti, only to turn around to see a teammate's bare ass in my face. It's disgusting, but I take it in stride because it makes other guys laugh. And when you're laughing, you're usually playing well.
If it sounds like an MLB clubhouse is a little like Animal House, that's because it kind of is. But veterans will also use nudity as a tool to test the mettle of young guys, to strengthen the team bond. After one game not too long ago, one of our veterans decided he wanted to give a recent call-up a pep talk, break down his at-bats and critique a few of his plays. He walked over to the rook, leaned in real close and began to dispense knowledge. Not unusual at all. Except all the vet was wearing was a really tight undershirt. No pants. No underwear. He just stood their stone-faced, with his hands on his hips and his ass in the wind as he lectured the rookie on how to get better. The kid listened, but it took everything he had not to burst out laughing. Those two were closer after that.
Players will also use nudity to mess with the media. I admit, I've been a little more naked than was necessary during postgame media scrums. It's a trick that star players have used for years. Don't want to answer questions? Leave your clothes off. Chances are, reporters won't come near you. If I really feel like messing with the beat guys, I'll wear a shirt and nothing else. Especially if they've been writing negative stuff about me. At first they think it's safe to approach, until they realize it's not.
When you're naked as much as we are, you get comfortable in and with your own skin. I know of an AL pitcher who is so consumed with the size of his penis -- he thinks it's too small -- that he is constantly screaming, "Look what God did to me!" And there's one NL hitter who is known for lauding his giant, elephantine testicles.
I realize this all makes us sound like children. But as long as we keep laughing and winning, I don't really care.