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Jim Bouton
March 25, 2002
A former big leaguer and author of the groundbreaking Ball Four explains what the Ruben Rivera incident was really about
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March 25, 2002

Locker Room Confidential

A former big leaguer and author of the groundbreaking Ball Four explains what the Ruben Rivera incident was really about

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There is a sign in many baseball clubhouses that says, WHAT WE SAY HERE, WHAT YOU SEE HERE, LET IT STAY HERE WHEN YOU LEAVE HERE. It's not about keeping the opposing team from learning the game plan. It's about avoiding embarrassment over the foolish things that go on in a clubhouse.

The kind of thing that reserve outfielder Ruben Rivera did, for example. In a Winona Ryder moment, Rivera stole Derek Jeter's game glove and a bat and sold them to a memorabilia dealer for $2,500. After the theft was discovered, Rivera fessed up and returned the items. A few days later he was released from the team.

So why did the story get beyond the locker room? If there really was such a thing as the sanctity of the clubhouse it should have protected Rivera. But it didn't, for the simple reason that Rivera is a marginal player. Imagine if Jeter had taken Rivera's glove and sold it. Would we have heard about it? Would Jeter have been kicked off the team? Fuhgeddaboudit. Some player or coach would have pointed up and said, "Boys, that's why we have that sign."

Some years back I wrote a book that revealed what went on in a clubhouse, mentioning, among other things, that Mickey Mantle had hit a home run with a hangover. The reaction was interesting. The players said, "Who is Jim Bouton to be saying that about Mickey Mantle?" The implication was that it would have been O.K. for Mantle to have said stuff about me, and it would have been. Call it the sanctity of the star system.

The most furious reaction to my book, however, came from the sportswriters. That's because the sanctity of the clubhouse protects them, too—from competition. People who wrote columns with titles like "Clubhouse Confidential" and "Inside the Locker Room" called me a Judas and a Benedict Arnold. Today they have Rivera down there on the list with the terrorists. They said his career was over, and good riddance. You can always count on sportswriters to enforce whatever rules baseball wants to enforce.

Or not enforce. Like the very brief story in New York's Daily News two weeks ago that disclosed that in 1989, in the midst of the Pete Rose investigation, umpires Rich Garcia and Frank Pulli, were secretly put on two years' probation for "associating and doing business with gamblers and bookmakers" in violation of baseball's most important rule. Pulli is now an umpire supervisor and Garcia is in line for a similar job.

Why did we just find out about this now? Because the one thing more important than the sanctity of the clubhouse, besides the sanctity of the star system, is the sanctity of the commissioner's office.