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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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He wasn't with us after the last part o' May, but I roomed with him long enough to get the insomny. I was the only guy in the club game enough to stand for him; but I was sorry afterward that I done it, because it sure did put a crimp in my little old average.
—RING LARDNER My Roomy, 1924

The first "roommates" were Adam and Eve, and as you know, that didn't work out too well. Some problem with apples and snakes, which isn't as unusual between roommates, especially of the sports variety, as you might think.

Former Ram Defensive End Fred Dryer, for example, used to drive his roommates crazy in training camp by boiling up vegetables. "The smell was everywhere," says former Ram Quarterback Ron Jaworski. If it's not apples, it's asparagus. And Art Spinney once scared the considerable pants off his old Colt roommate, Artie Donovan. He told Donovan there was a cold six-pack of beer under the covers of his bed, but it wasn't a six-pack. It was a dead groundhog. If it's not snakes, it's groundhogs. Or bats. Spinney's teammate Alex Sandusky once threw a live bat into a room where the Colts' Buddy Young was, and Young jumped out the window.

Yes, there are eight million roommate stories out there, and what follows are but a few of them. No doubt some of the best and the juiciest are lost to the shadow of time and the cloak of anonymity. Or they've already been reported by Jim Bouton. Rooming with somebody is one of the common experiences of the American athlete and, probably, athletes the world over. True, Homer, the first sports-writer, made no mention of roommates in his writings, but then the Greeks made fewer road trips. We must conclude that Grecian shotputters never addressed each other with that classic term, rooms. Tom Seaver and Buddy Harrelson, who used to room together on the Mets, still do. And so do many other roommates, past and present.

There are many fine reasons for pairing up two large men in a small hotel room on the road, or in a small dormitory room during training camp: They can discuss strategy, they can keep each other's mind on business, they can bolster each other's confidence, etc. But the bottom line is usually the bottom line—that is, two to a room is cheaper.

As player salaries have increased, the roommate concept has waned, particularly in baseball, where it was most common. Rooming alone was not unknown in previous generations—Ted Williams and Willie Mays both had single rooms almost from the start of their careers—but now it's not just All-Stars who have that privilege. Probably 90% of today's baseball players room alone on the road, usually paying the difference between the single-room charge and half of the double-room charge out of their own pockets. It generally runs to no more than $1,000 a season, and it's deductible as a business expense. Some players even have singles written into their contracts, and rare indeed is the superstar who has a roommate. One who does is the Brewers' Robin Yount, who says, "One reason I haven't asked for a single room is that Bob McClure and I have such good times together."

Most players would rather room alone for the obvious reason. "There's more privacy," says Milwaukee Pitcher Moose Haas. "You can come and go as you please. Bill Travers [who was traded to California in 1981] and I did everything together when he was with us, but we had adjoining rooms. We'd leave the connecting door open and use both." Two close room-alone friends on the Yankees, Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, do the same thing.

Ballplayers have reasons other than privacy for rooming separately these days. Players used to talk baseball constantly; now they have more on their minds than the game, and they have agents, lawyers and stockbrokers to converse with. Oh, an occasional oddball like Pete Rose will talk about his average against lefthanders on windy days in May, but he'll also discourse on the Mizuno line of sporting goods, which he endorses, if you care to listen.

Roommates are currently more prevalent in pro basketball and hockey. While several teams—the Lakers and the Bucks, to name two—have single rooms on the road, other NBA clubs have at least one or two roommate combinations. Most NHL teams double up their players, sometimes on a rotating basis. That may have started with the legendary Canadien coach, Toe Blake, a superstitious man who frequently changed the roommate lineup after a loss and kept it the same if his team was hot. Even the Great Gretzky has a roommate when the Edmonton Oilers take to the road.

Roommates are also still the rule in pro football, where an element of palace control remains. It would be difficult for teams to provide single rooms for the 100 or so candidates they parade in for training camp, some of whom will be around just about long enough for a cup of coffee and a wind sprint, though during the season there are some NFL players who by virtue of superstar or veteran status get single rooms.

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