Code of Silence

Confining comments to clubhouse becomes a loose stitch in baseball

July 20, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

It's a saying, a concept, that has been floating around sports for decades.

"What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse."

It's part of the essential code within baseball, within all of professional sports, really. When it came into vogue is tough to pinpoint.

These days, with allegations of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs, with investigators questioning club personnel around the majors, with Congress seemingly watching baseball's every move, the concept of clubhouse confidentiality may seem quaint.

There was a time, though, that the unwritten rule of keeping your mouth shut wasn't so unwritten.

"We used to have signs all over every clubhouse in that era. `What you see here, what you hear here, what you say here, let it stay here when you leave here,'" said Orioles first base coach Rick Dempsey, who began his 24-season playing career in 1969 with the Minnesota Twins.

"That was always the saying, and you saw it posted in every clubhouse that you went to. It was kind of a little rhyme, but it is what we came into baseball with and learned."

There will always be a degree of secrecy once the clubhouse or locker room door closes.

And there will always be some sense of betrayal if that bond is broken. That's natural. [Please see SILENCE, 5C] That's the way it is in sports and in life in general.

"My grandfather worked in a steel mill for 35 years. They had unwritten rules and codes," Orioles reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "Everything has its own unwritten rules.

"I think that is part of being who you are."

Baseball's code was first brazenly breached with journeyman pitcher Jim Bouton's book, Ball Four, in 1970. The behind-the-scenes tell-all that included stories of drugs, alcohol and adultery shocked a nation. Bouton's fellow players were, to say the least, miffed.

"He was a turncoat, sure," former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell said about Bouton. "I don't think any of us were real happy about it."

In early 2005, a similar sentiment greeted former All-Star Jose Canseco's biography, Juiced. Canseco detailed his own use of performance-enhancing drugs and painted a 1990s baseball culture filled with rampant steroid use. He also named names of other alleged users, including potential Hall of Famers such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.

Former teammates and opponents alike quickly panned Canseco as an opportunistic fiction writer looking to make a quick buck. But his accusations developed merit as baseball limped through the so-called steroid era with images of McGwire refusing to testify about the subject under oath and Palmeiro failing a May 2005 drug test.

It's undeniable that Canseco's clubhouse observations -- even if embellished --helped lead to a federal probe and subsequent changes in Major League Baseball's steroid policy.

The latest affront to the code occurred this season, when a federal affidavit was filed in an Arizona court detailing an alleged confession by former Oriole and then-Diamondbacks reliever Jason Grimsley, who was caught possessing human growth hormone.

Grimsley, like Canseco before him, named names. Although the specifics have been blacked out in the filed document, it may be only a matter of time before they become public. As they did Canseco and Bouton, some members of the baseball community hammered Grimsley for breaking the code.

"To go and start throwing other guys under the bus is definitely wrong as well," Chicago White Sox reliever Jeff Nelson, a New York Yankees teammate of Grimsley's in 1999 and 2000, told reporters. "Take the blame. You should take the hit and not have to be putting it on anybody else."

In the Orioles clubhouse, where Grimsley spent time each of the past two seasons, there was a twinge of that sentiment.

"Where I am from, you get caught. You go down by yourself. You don't bring everybody else down," Hawkins said. "I was raised if you get caught, you go down by yourself. I've always felt let the police do their own damn work."

That said, Hawkins said a distinction must be made. He said he has had relatives and friends who have had federal run-ins, and he has learned a lesson from those encounters: If federal officials "want you, they'll get you, one way or another."

"They don't play fair," Hawkins said. "They may put it out there to make him look like, as they say on the street, a snitch. But they don't play fair, and nobody says they have to. But you have to play fair. So we'll never know until it all comes out. Everybody has their day in court."

Before anyone judges Grimsley as a violator of the code, said Orioles veteran Jeff Conine, his specific situation must be considered.

"When you've got the federal government and the IRS breathing down your neck, most people will say things they wouldn't normally say," Conine said. "That's a whole different animal than what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.

"You are talking major stuff with possible jail time. This is not a clubhouse brawl or something. This is very serious stuff."

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