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"And I'm cracking on everybody. Nobody better get around the sword when it's swinging! If you first meet me in the clubhouse, you'd say I'm very insulting. Loud. Maybe you'd even think in terms of a bully. I'm yelling at our catcher, Ed Ott, 'You can't throw, Eddie!' But it helps the club. I'm sure the next time Eddie throws, he'll be thinking about that. You can't be thin-skinned and be a Pirate."
There are stuffy teams—"I hear that when you get too loud in the Dodgers' clubhouse, they call you aside and say, 'We don't do that,' " marvels Pirate infielder Phil Garner. There are teams, notably the Red Sox, that have traded away all their blithe spirits and now seem generally sullen. There are teams, like the Yankees, which kid around rather obliquely, exclusively, edgily. And then there are the Pirates.
Pittsburgh traditionally has the loudest, trashiest-mouthed, loosest, most uproarious dressing room in baseball. Balls of tape fly through the air. People are forever doing unflattering imitations of each other, lifting each other up bodily, defaming each other's ethnic heritages and threatening each other's lives. "I'll reach down your gullet and pull out your heart!" Bob Veale used to exclaim.
"Brotherly love is so much bull," says Garner. "You get 25 guys together, some from Puerto Rico and some from the ghetto and some from rich white neighborhoods and some from poor white neighborhoods, and a lot of them are bitter about the way they grew up. Are you going to tell me they will all love each other? But this team gets it out into the open and brings everybody into it."
Take the case of Lee Lacy, who came to the Pirates this year from the Dodgers. "I think Lacy is rejoicing over getting out of that white-collar thing in L.A. and seeing, hey, some fun," says Parker. Along about the third day of training camp Lacy was getting a rubdown when—Yiiii!—a hideous old bald-headed man with warts sprang out at him from beneath the training table, right up into his face. Horrified, Lacy drew back his fist. Then he realized it was just Pitcher Jim Rooker wearing a pullover mask.
The next thing Lacy knew he was being asked if he had ever seen Trainer Tony Bartirome "lift three guys." This is an old Pirate trick that Bartirome acquired years ago from a Pittsburgh guy named Socko McCarey, who is said to have picked it up somewhere back in the '20s. The way it winds up is not with Bartirome lifting three guys but with the person who has never seen the trick—always the middle one of the three guys, and in this case Lacy—being immobilized on the floor. His pants are then unzipped and filled with shaving cream, baby oil, liniment, Afro-American cosmetics, soup, chocolate milk and whatever other liquids or semi-liquids are handy. Lacy arose thus anointed and cried, "All right! I love that spirit!"
The spirit has many mansions—one feels that Evel Knievel, Huey P. Newton, Tennessee Williams and Charo could move in, and the Pirates' clubhouse would work them into its mix—but Parker is currently the most imposing house on the block. He tends to refer to himself simply as "the team."
"Don't worry about the players!" he yells at clubhouse attendants who are attending to others instead of immediately bringing him some fresh item of equipment. "Take care of the team!"
Later, he reflects on his clubhouse style. "I don't think I'm talking in an arrogant vein," he says. "It's in a joking vein. But, then again, if somebody takes it seriously, it holds up anyway. I'm telling everybody what I can do, and they're thinking, 'He's joking, but, well, he can do it.' So what the hell."
In recent years, as a matter of fact, the Pirates may have been working out their tensions too well in the clubhouse. They tend to play sloppy defense and to put off making their greatest concerted effort until too late in the campaign. Last season, for example, they mounted a dramatic charge in August and September, with Parker batting .381 and .415 in those months, to rise up from fourth place and put a real scare into the Phillies. Still, they finished second by 1� games in the National League East. And home attendance was bad even during their hot streak. Pittsburgh, it seems, is too much a football town.