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Clubhouse Confidential
Michael Farber
January 14, 2002
When a bunch of alpha males get together daily in a confined space, lots of things—good and bad—can happen
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January 14, 2002

Clubhouse Confidential

When a bunch of alpha males get together daily in a confined space, lots of things—good and bad—can happen

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As with any attempt at social engineering, however, there's no guarantee it will work. Before the start of the 1995 NHL playoffs, Rangers coach Colin Campbell, now an NHL executive vice president, moved flighty forward Petr Nedved to a stall between Messier and veteran Kevin Lowe in hopes that their solid work habits and the accumulated gravity of a combined 12 Stanley Cups would rub off on the expatriate Czech, who had played for Canada in the 1994 Olympics. "I guess these guys wanted to know what it was like to be next to an Olympic medal winner," Nedved joked at the time. They didn't find him all that droll in New York. Nedved scored three goals in 10 games, and the Rangers were eliminated in the second round.

The trend in the NBA is toward circular locker rooms like the ones HOK Sport, the Kansas City-based architectural firm, designed for the Pepsi Center in Denver and consulted on in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. "It eliminates hierarchy," says Rick Martin, HOK's senior architect for arena projects. "The circle is a unifying element that directs focus to the center. A huddle is basically a circle."

Basketball locker rooms can be designed that way because they are the most sparsely populated of the four major sports. (An active roster has only 12 players.) Unlike baseball players, who might spend an hour in their dressing areas playing cards or loitering on the settee, NBA players generally prefer to congregate in the anterooms that compose the modern locker room complex. The actual locker locations of the formerly feuding Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles—in opposite corners of the room—are less important than where they hang out the rest of the time.

The most significant change to clubhouses and arena locker rooms during the sports building explosion of the past 10 years is their size. According to Joe Spear, HOK's senior baseball stadium architect, the standard 3,000-square-foot visiting clubhouse and the 6,000-to-8,000-square-foot home clubhouse of a generation ago have ballooned to 6,000 square feet for the visitors and 15,000 to 20,000 square feet for the home team. The era of chicken-wire stalls with an adjacent training room is as quaint as a 10-cent cup of coffee. In addition to the dressing area, the new clubhouses offer hydrotherapy pools, lounges, weight-training rooms, lunch rooms, video rooms, meeting rooms, doctors' offices, batting cages. "One team even discussed putting in a dentist's chair," Spear says.

The modern clubhouse is one Tattoo short of a fantasy island. It features oversized TVs, overstuffed couches, over-the-top postgame spreads, over-the-rainbow-sized rooms. The Giants' main dressing space is 2,788 square feet, spacious enough to give the impression it demands a passport and inoculations to travel to the other side. The stalls are made from cherry wood. A cook is at the players' disposal for many games. Clubhouse manager Mike Murphy's young assistants wash the players' cars and fetch their dry cleaning, perks hardly unique to San Francisco. When Expos manager Jeff Torborg broke in as a catcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1964, the only food in the clubhouse was crackers and a wheel of cheese. Sodas were available, but the player was expected to put a stroke next to his name on a board each time he took one so that the Dodgers could deduct the cost from his paycheck. Now Montreal, which eight years ago balked at providing free vitamins to the players, employs an on-site chef who offers Torborg's players the choice of three hot meals after every game. Gratis.

"That's why I get upset when I hear people in baseball refer to it as a locker room. It's not. It's a clubhouse," says new Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, whose former team, the Marlins, uses a nutritionist and offers players the clubhouse services of a barber. "That includes all the amenities a clubhouse implies. Players are getting here earlier and earlier, which is good. For a seven o'clock game, many guys are coming in around two. You want your players to be here thinking about baseball, and you want to give them an enjoyable environment."

"You want to make it like home," says Raines Sr. "For seven, eight months a year, these guys are family."

The amazing thing is not the occasional clubhouse fight—after all, what family, even one without a surfeit of alpha males in various stages of dress, doesn't have its squabbles?—but that they occur, on balance, so rarely. Indeed, the locker room might be among the most successful social experiments in modern society, a sanctuary of shared values and expectations in which singularity of purpose almost always overrides a disparity in nationalities, languages, race, positions. "The interaction is exceptional," says Dungy, the Bucs' coach. "Walk in there any day, and they'll be having conversations about everything from presidential policy to whether the Devil Rays' manager should have intentionally walked a guy in the 10th inning to whether Allen Iverson should have shot the three-pointer instead of driving to the basket."

"The whole thing is a matter of courtesy," says Tampa Bay's Lynch. "Sure we pull pranks and tie up the rookies, but we follow a locker room etiquette. My first year [veteran Bucs linebacker] Hardy Nickerson lockered next to me. Real nice guy. But one day he said to me, 'Rookie, we got to get one thing straight.' Then he put down a piece of adhesive tape on the bench between our stalls. He said, 'This is my space. You don't come in my space.' I said, 'Yes, sir.' That's how it works."

The most common point of contention is music. In May 1997 outfielders Chad Curtis and Kevin Mitchell tussled over Mitchell's choice of rap music in the Cleveland Indians' clubhouse, a fight that left Curtis with a bruised thumb and got Mitchell released four days after the incident. The next summer lefty Randy Johnson tussled with first baseman David Segui about the volume of the music in the Seattle Mariners' clubhouse, leaving Segui with a sprained right wrist.

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