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March 6, 2012

Wezen-Ball

What the Batboy Saw

by Larry Granillo

Growing up in a city roughly 250 miles from the nearest Major League Baseball team, I was always jealous of kids living in those cities who were able to go to a big league game practically any night of the week. If only I lived so close to a big league stadium, I'd think, I'd get to see Cal Ripken and Jose Canseco and Ryne Sandberg and everyone else constantly. It was a dream that was only strengthened by articles like "Confessions of a Batboy", published in the September 1991 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly.

In the article, Mark Haas told tales of his five years as the batboy in the visiting team clubhouse of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Haas won the position in 1985 as a 15-year-old through an essay contest from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and held on to the position through the 1990 season. During that time, he got to experience the Bash Brothers, the miracle Twins, the pathetic Orioles, and Hall of Famers like Wade Boggs, Nolan Ryan, and Bert Blyleven from a unique perspective.

For example, Haas described his time with the 0-21 1988 Orioles:

The Orioles came to town early in the 1988 season. They had lost their first 10 or so games (on their way to losing 21 straight) and the locker room was a tomb. The players moved like zombies, dressing and undressing in slow motion.

When the reporters entered, they were met with dead silence. They looked at each other timidly, as if they were scared to ask questions. And the players avoided making eye contact with them, probably hoping to slink away unnoticed.

Meanwhile, then manager Cal Ripken Sr. kept walking through the clubhouse clapping his hands and yelling encouraging things like, "C'mon, you guys! Wake up! You can do it!" And the players nodded slowly, filed into the dugout, then shuffled onto the field and lost another game. And the Indians swept the series.

Or those late-1980s Blue Jays, who aren't exactly remembered for much one way or the other anymore:

The Toronto Blue Jays were a strange group - they had the worst team chemistry I've ever seen. George Bell never seemed to like anyone on his team. There was so much tension between him and (then) manager Jimy Williams. When they weren't ignoring each other, they were arguing.

The team was very cliquish, and there was a lot of animosity between cliques. Rance Mulliniks was supposed to be the team captain, but he just sat in front of his locker reading novels.

But it wasn't just players who made their presence felt in the clubhouse. Haas' time in the clubhouse happened to coincide with the worst stretch of Yankee baseball in recent memory, when George Steinbrenner was still the man no one could predict.

Even though I never met Steinbrenner, he had a way of making his non-presence felt. One year he wanted to punish his team for playing poorly, so he booked them into a rinky-dink hotel miles away from the stadium. The hotel was so small it didn't have bellboys, and players didn't get their luggage until a day later. The team was furious. The traveling secretary kept apologizing to everyone and making excuses. He and I ended up carrying the luggage into the hotel.

The biggest stars of the time were playing for Tony LaRussa's Oakland Athletics. There wasn't much nice to say about that squad.

The Oakland A's, a team bursting with millionaires, was a team of tightwads. Standout hurlers Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley were not known for their largesse. And though Jose Canseco often walked around with a wad of $100 bills so thick he had trouble folding his wallet, he never gave me a cent.

There was one observation that, in retrospect, seems quite interesting.

When [Canseco] and Mark McGwire took BP, McGwire would watch Canseco's swings with a look of awe. "Look at all that power," McGwire would say, shaking his head in disbelief.

According to Haas, the best tippers during his time in Cleveland were the California Angels, the Minnesota Twins, and the Milwaukee Brewers. Though Haas only earned $20 a game in payment from the team, those high-tipping squads might give him "$400 or more for a three-game series - more if the team took the series and left in a good mood."

Bert Blyleven was also a great tipper, according to Haas, but the $50 tip from the Dutchman was well-earned (Bert's pranks weren't limited to his teammates, it seems). A very young Ken Griffey Jr. was also near the top of Haas' list of nice superstars. He even tells a story about going out to buy the Kid "a Nintendo game set...because he didn't want to go out and be recognized." After bringing the system back to Griffey, he "went up to his hotel room and played video games for hours."

The greatest praise, however, was saved for Texas strikeout king Nolan Ryan.

The prize for the nicest person in baseball goes to Nolan Ryan. Here's a guy who deserves to be treated like royalty for all he's done for baseball, yet he's as even-tempered and well-mannered as a good neighbor.

Before I left for my first quarter at Boston University, Nolan said, "Do well in school," in a warm, fatherly way. When I saw him the next summer, he asked, "So how was Boston U?" That was real nice, because most players don't remember things about the lowly batboy.

I must have read this article at least a dozen times as a kid, every time wishing that I lived close enough to a big league club to luck into such a dream job. It never happened, of course, but I was grateful for having the chance to experience it vicariously through Mark Haas.

Addendum: Haas closed the article by saying that he had decided to devote his time towards a career as a physician at Boston University. In 2007, as Roger Clemens was making his ill-fated trip to Capitol Hill, this letter appeared in the Boston Globe:

What the Batboy Saw:

From 1988 through 1991 I was the visiting team batboy for the Cleveland Indians. I was the envy of many baseball fans, as I got to spend the bulk of my teenage years with every American League team that traveled to Cleveland.

One of my pregame responsibilities was unpacking the players’ travel bags and organizing their lockers, which often meant unpacking a variety of medicine bottles and unlabelled containers of powders and creams. There was little doubt about the contents of these various containers, just as there was never a question about the likely use of the needles packed in eyeglass cases and travel toothbrush carriers….

Mark Haas
Cohasset, MA

It looks like batboy Mark Haas never actually stopped writing about baseball.

Related Content:  The Who,  Clubhouse Presence

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