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Sour notes in clubhouse

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Between 1990 and 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates won three consecutive National League East titles, prompting revival of memories of the Pirates' 1979 World Series championship and their adopted song, "We Are Family."

Picked up by such players on the '79 team as Willie Stargell and Dave Parker, the Sister Sledge tune symbolized the mix of nationalities and backgrounds in the Pirates' clubhouse then.

But even families bicker, and several arguments among Pittsburgh players of the 1990s centered on - among other things - music.

Andy Van Slyke, who patrolled the Pirates' outfield, recalled an incident in which a player picked up a Latin record from the team's stereo and snapped it in half.

"There were always quarrels about it," Van Slyke said of the stereo in the clubhouse. "You're dealing with athletes who have tremendous egos. Some guys figured they would battle for it, and others didn't care."

In a sport in which even talking about changing the batting order or urging a player to run out a ground ball is fodder for controversy, the topic of music in the clubhouse can sometimes be a thorny issue.

The Orioles might have acquired their own powder keg by trading for Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa, who reportedly played, among other artists, the songs of adrenaline-inducing Whitney Houston in the Cubs' clubhouse.

(When Sosa left the room, other Cubs would change the music, according to Rick Morrissey, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. One player went so far as to take a bat to the boom box.)

But Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli has banned loud music in the clubhouse before games, perhaps defusing any potentially explosive situation.

What kind of music will be played before and after games? What's the volume setting? Who has authority to change or turn off the music?

Seemingly harmless questions, yes, but music has divided teammates and darkened the clubhouse atmosphere. Consider the following incidents:

In May 1997, Cleveland Indians outfielders Chad Curtis and Kevin Mitchell exchanged blows after Curtis objected to lyrics of a rap song Mitchell was playing in the clubhouse. Curtis bruised his thumb in the scuffle, and Mitchell was released by the club four days after the incident.

In July 1998, Seattle Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson, incensed at the volume of David Segui's music, got into a fight with the first baseman. Segui eventually landed on the disabled list with a back injury.

In April 2000, Curtis (again) and Royce Clayton went at it in the Texas Rangers' clubhouse over the rap lyrics of "Thong Song" by Sisqo on a compact disc owned by Clayton. Although no major injuries were reported, Clayton blasted Curtis on a Web site, describing him as "someone who hit one or two home runs in a World Series and thinks he's Willie Mays."

It should not be shocking that something as seemingly trivial as popular music can turn players into candidates for The Contender.

Michael Farber, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated who detailed the unusual rules and anecdotes of locker rooms in a 3,870-word piece in January 2002, said squabbles between "alpha males" are not unusual.

"Imagine a family with one TV set, 25 males and one remote control," Farber said. "If you've got the clicker, you're the head of the household. It's symbolic of the resident top dog. It may be viewed [by players] as a perk or a privilege."

Like the players and the stadiums they travel to, clubhouses have changed dramatically. Spreads of food that would make a presidential inauguration look like lunch in the kitchen are laid out. Leather recliners and sofas can be found in some clubhouses, and video game systems are available in others.

Former St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays utility player Tom Lawless said clubhouses take on great importance because players spend at least 162 days in them - 81 games at home and 81 on the road.

"It's your second home. You're there more than at your own house," said Lawless, a roving minor league base-running and infield instructor for the Orioles. "You live there. You've got to learn how to behave and how to act."

Easier said than done. Though relatively few cases of serious disputes over music have been documented, former Orioles second baseman Rich Dauer said he witnessed several conflicts during his 10-year major league playing career.

"It's competitive," said Dauer, a bench coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. "Everybody at some point feels like they want to be in control. When you get 25 athletes in one room, you're going to get a lot of energy."

The issue over who determines what is played boils down to control, according to Morrissey.

"I think it is a control issue," he said. "Athletes use music to get pumped up, and that's no small thing to the players."

Not every clubhouse allows music. The Atlanta Braves have outlawed music for much of manager Bobby Cox's tenure. When Ned Yost left the Braves' coaching staff to become the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2002 season, one of his first rules was to forbid music, too.

Sometimes, it's not the music that's to blame. Rich Donnelly, the third base coach for the Brewers, said he remembers watching Pirates second baseman Jose Lind react to a bad night at the plate in 1992 by picking up a bat in the clubhouse and smashing a stereo.

"He kept his head down and he had a nice, short stroke," Donnelly said. "It was probably the most contact he made that night."

But Farber said the trend toward personal space has persuaded many players to keep their music - and sometimes their personalities - to themselves.

Anaheim Angels left fielder Vladimir Guerrero spends most of his pre-game routine playing video games by himself, and many players are abandoning stereos and boom boxes for portable compact-disc players and headphones.

And Van Slyke said many players understand there's a greater prize outside the clubhouse.

"I think certain players are going to have conflicts, but at some point, don't you have to think about your job?" Van Slyke said. "If you're any kind of decent human being, you're going to let a teammate change the station."

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