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FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
Jack McCallum
May 02, 1983
Whom teams have joined together as roommates, no man shall put asunder—but sometimes it happens
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May 02, 1983

For Better, For Worse

Whom teams have joined together as roommates, no man shall put asunder—but sometimes it happens

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Football coaches still have the idea that players are going to talk strategy and motivation when they're alone together, and to that end, quarterbacks are often matched with quarterbacks, offensive linemen with offensive linemen, and so on. Maybe they do talk strategy and motivation; most probably they discuss Gilligan's Island reruns. In any case, for even the most solitary of players, rooming together is less of a burden in football. Nowadays, visiting teams generally don't arrive until the late afternoon of the day before a game. By the time the team meal and all the meetings are over, there's barely enough time even to discuss the Thespian qualities of Bob Denver before lights-out.

A movie about the broad spectrum of roommate life would be no blockbuster. Perhaps Andy Warhol, who once focused a single camera for eight hours on a sleeping man and called it a film, might like to direct this one. He could pan in on two men sitting shirtless on twin beds, one with a bag of potato chips at hand. A playbook, the local newspapers, a bunch of magazines and maybe The Sporting News would lie nearby; a copy of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel wouldn't be part of the scene.

The television set would be on. Often it is TV that makes or breaks a roommate relationship. Back in the '60s, Cleveland pitchers Gary Bell and Jack Kralick once came to blows over what show to watch, and Eagle linebackers Bill Bergey and Frank LeMaster "broke up" over the tube. Bergey felt that LeMaster, who was younger, should turn on the TV and change the channels. And Bergey liked to watch game shows and soap operas between 12:30 and 2 p.m., LeMaster's time to catch a nap at training camp.

On the other hand, Mike Caldwell and Jamie Easterly of the Brewers were almost perfectly matched roomies, once they pretty much settled the soap-opera issue. "We had to switch off and on on our soaps," Easterly reports. "Mike liked the ones on CBS, I liked the ones on ABC. I watched the ones at 2, he watched the ones at 3." And you thought war was hell.

Though it lacked the zest, not to mention the sales, of Bouton's Ball Four, Bill Bradley's Life on the Run is perhaps the best study of roommate life in the pros. Bradley wrote of the "overpowering feeling of loneliness on the road." He mentioned the ability he and his roommate, Dave DeBusschere, managed to develop to tune out each other's telephone conversations. And, yes, he even wrote about the TV set—DeBusschere liked it on, while the future senior Senator from New Jersey preferred the radio.

"Don't never call me a bug again. They got me roomin' with the champion o' the world."

"Who is he?" I says.

"I don't know and I don't want to know," says Heine; "but if they stick him in there with me again I'll jump to the Federals."

FOUR ROOMMATE STORIES THAT EVERYONE TELLS

•Oft-told tale No. 1 concerns Babe Ruth, a legendary carouser who by most accounts spent no great amount of time in his hotel room on the road. As early as 1920, his first year with the Yankees, that reputation was established—with a little help from his roommate, veteran Outfielder Ping Bodie. Asked about Ruth as a roommate, Bodie responded, "I don't room with him. I room with his suitcase." Several of Ruth's roommates have been credited with the line, but Robert Creamer's Babe, the authoritative biography of the Yankee immortal, gives the nod to Bodie.

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