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Policy in new CBA will affect teams' rookie costume tradition

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day talks about the collective bargaining agreement and his view on the new rookie hazing rules within the agreement. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)

Tucked into Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement is an anti-hazing and anti-bullying policy that will put a stop to some of the costumes players are made to wear late in their rookie season.

The new rule prohibits teams from "requiring, coercing or encouraging" players to engage in activities that include "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic," according to an Associated Press report.

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In many major league clubhouses,  it is a tradition to have rookies dress up in elaborate costumes – from superheroes to schoolgirls, from Gumby to Ghostbusters – late in the season, often during their final road trip of the season.

In some ways, the tradition has developed into a sort of indoctrination for rookie major leaguers, and in the past, it was kept behind the closed doors of the teams' clubhouses. But with the advent of social media, photos of players dressed in outlandish costumes have often leaked in recent years.

Paul Mifsud, MLB's vice president and deputy general counsel for labor relations and social responsibility, said as much, telling the AP on Monday that the new policy was born partially "in light of social media, which in our view sort of unfortunately publicized a lot of the dressing up of the players ... those kind of things which in our view were insensitive and potentially offensive to a number of groups."

Mifsud added that some players complained about the tradition.

Most players take it in stride and see it as a part of the end to their rookie season. When Manny Machado was a rookie in 2012, he was snapped walking out of Camden Yards toward the team bus wearing a tutu and black dress shoes.

Among the most outlandish, second baseman Jonathan Schoop wore a schoolgirl costume – blonde ponytail wig and all – and Caleb Joseph donned a Baywatch one-piece swimsuit – also with a blonde wig – out of Yankee Stadium in 2014 as the team traveled from New York to Toronto for its final road trip of the season. This past year, rookie costumes included Hyun Soo Kim dressed as a green Teletubby and Donnie Hart in a ballerina outfit before the team's final road trip of the season.

Other first-year members of the travel party – trainers, massage therapists, bullpen catchers, even translators – also are made to wear costumes.

This isn't any big clubhouse secret. Many of these photos can be found through a quick Google image search, which also reveals that many other organizations have the same tradition.

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"I've been around long enough that I've been dressed up a couple times; I've dressed people up many more times and I think it's kind of silly," Orioles reliever Darren O'Day, the team's player union representative, said of the rule. "The way it was before, you had to depend on club leadership to not put guys in bad situations. It's mostly fun-loving. I get it. It's a different world now with social media and instant access to everything."

The owners and players went down to the 11th hour to negotiate a new CBA this month, with both sides making concessions. That this policy was included shows that no stone is left unturned during negotiations.

"I'm not going to lose sleep over it," O'Day said. "We'll find other ways to make these guys feel [a little] uncomfortable. It's part of the team bonding, to feel like once you've gotten over that obstacle, you feel a little bit closer to the team. You've gotten through your rookie year. It's kind of fun. It's not an easy year, I can tell you that."

The policy states that its purpose is not to "prohibit all traditions regarding rookies or players, but rather to prohibit conduct that may cause players physical anguish or harm, may be offensive to some players, club staff or fans, or are distracting to the operation of the club or MLB."

So the policy doesn't appear to kill the costume tradition overall; it just places restrictions on it. Superhero costumes are still allowed, according to the AP report. That means that Tyler Wilson's Robin (Batman's sidekick) costume or the full-body Ghostbusters Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man that Mike Wright wore two years ago should still be in play.

The rule regarding costumes is just one piece of the anti-hazing and anti-bullying policy in the new CBA, which was ratified Tuesday. The policy also prohibits players from being forced to "to consume alcoholic beverages or any other kind of drug, or requiring the ingestion of an undesirable or unwanted substance." It also specifies that "players may not engage in a pattern of verbal or physical conduct that is designed to demean, disgrace or cause mental or physical harm to a member of his club."

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"I was actually just updated on that," Wilson said. "And with the whole hazing process, why would we make it more difficult for a rookie or somebody just coming into the league? Why would we make that transition more difficult? They're a part of the team. We're all in it together and we have the same unified cause, so any type of hazing or negligence toward any other person, I don't think that's going to be a problem for our organization."

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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