YOU OFTEN hear a major league clubhouse before you step into it. Thumping bass lines rumble through the closed door and echo down the concrete tunnel. Frequently, however, the music in the Reds' clubhouse qualifies—by big league standards, anyway—as easy listening. One May afternoon at New York's Citi Field, "Meet Virginia" by Train led into "Free Falling" by Tom Petty, which gave way to "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls. By the time a weirdly slow version of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" trickled out of the iPod speaker in the visitors' clubhouse, Brandon Phillips had had enough. "What the f--- is this, man?" the second baseman shouted.
Of course Phillips knew exactly what it was: another playlist curated by Bronson Arroyo, the only Red who has been with the team as long as Phillips has. Arroyo, 36, might be the major leaguer whose musical tastes most tend toward the premillennial. ("They don't even know who Pete Townshend is, bro!" he says of his teammates, aghast.) But that is far from the only superlative for which Arroyo would contend in an MLB yearbook.
He would also be in the running for best hair (his blond locks skim his jersey's shoulders), strangest diet (he consumes seven small meals a day), oldest cellphone (a Samsung acquired in 2006 that flips open), most likely to perform in a rock club immediately after a playoff game (which he did following Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS, in a venue across the street from Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark), least likely to be found on a treadmill ("I run less than any major league pitcher," he says) and slowest fastball by a nonknuckleballing righthander (his heater, such as it is, averages 86.9 mph).
"I've always been a bit against the grain when it comes to—well, everything I do," Arroyo says. In fact, almost everything about Arroyo suggests one of those flaky pitchers who enter the league, exasperate teammates and management with their oddball ways and are soon teaching high school P.E. But this is far from the case. For one thing, despite the fact that Arroyo carries just 195 pounds on his 6'4" frame, he might win another MLB superlative: most durable. Since 2005 he has pitched 1,8312/3 innings, more than anyone else but the Yankees' CC Sabathia and the Nationals' Dan Haren, and reached 200 innings in every season save one, 2011, when he reached 199. For another thing, Arroyo's peculiarities have made him not an outcast on his team but a leader. The Reds thrive off his easygoing nature ("He doesn't worry about the gnat while the lion's eating him up," says righthander Homer Bailey) and admire the things that make him unusual. Most of them, anyway. "That's my boy," says Phillips, a three-time All-Star, "[but] his clubhouse music is terrible. Whatever he plays, it sucks. Everything else is good."
"Yeah, I run a lot of stuff in there," Arroyo says. "If we throw a team party, I'm the guy throwing it, coming up with the theme, everything. Dressing up the rookies in costumes, that's me."
In an industry that values conformity, Arroyo has carved out an unusual life and career that work not only for him but also for his teammates. "People just see him as a good-time Charlie, which he is," says Reds manager Dusty Baker, "but on the other hand he's very, very dedicated, takes pride in his job. He's his own man [but] conforms to the rules of the team."
Arroyo does what he thinks is right. Others have come to see that, but they didn't always.
ALMOST ALL the Idiots are gone now. 'Tek, Petey, Schill, Wake, Johnny, Manny: retired, retired, retired, retired, virtually retired, can't quite concede that he should be retired. Of the 50 players who helped the 2004 Red Sox end the franchise's curse of 85 seasons without a championship, only three remain in the big leagues: David Ortiz, still an All-Star designated hitter for Boston at 37; Kevin Youkilis, the oft-injured 34-year-old Yankees third baseman; and Bronson Arroyo.
"I don't know how long Youkilis will hang on," Arroyo says. "I think his body plays a little older than he is. He's younger than me. I think Ortiz can DH for a while. Probably going to come down to me and Papi, who can last longer."
Back in '04, none of the Red Sox could have imagined that Arroyo, then 27, would be one of the last of them standing—least of all Curt Schilling, the burly veteran ace. After one early spring training outing in which Arroyo threw three shutout innings against the Yankees, he celebrated a bit too vigorously in the local bars. The next morning he told a team trainer that instead of running sprints he preferred to ride an exercise bike. "The trainer sold me out and told Curt," Arroyo recalls. "Curt came in, and he was just chewing me apart, saying, 'Byung-Hyun Kim is trying to hand you the fifth spot in the rotation, you're f------ it up by being a young punk.' But he didn't know me."