Sunday, April 01, 2001

Baseball losing its pranksters

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Baseball pranks, which have long been as much a part of the game as playing pepper and chewing tobacco, are dying out. Humor remains a clubhouse staple. But practical jokes? Practically gone.

        “You don't see much of that anymore,” Reds closer Danny Graves said. “Guys don't set each other's shoes on fire and stuff like that anymore.”

        The king of comedy in the Reds clubhouse is Pete Harnisch. But most of his best material comes when he needles teammates and takes shots at himself.

        The other day in spring training, Harnisch loudly announced: “Big game today. Harnisch is pitching.”

        He was pitching against Boston's Pedro Martinez, so he added: “I know, I don't like our chances, either.”

        “Pete doesn't do pranks,” Sean Casey said. “He's just humorous.”

        But in honor of April Fool's Day, we thought we'd recall some of the more famous pranks that made their way into the Reds clubhouse and others:

        • The Three-Man Lift: The premise is a player — Dave Parker, for example, was the lifter in the Reds' gag — can lift three other players. Three guys would lie on the floor about to be lifted. They would lock arms, as Parker strutted around getting ready for the lift.

        What the guy in the middle didn't know was the other two were actually holding him in place and he was about to get nailed with shaving cream, talcum powder, mustard and ketchup.

        Former Red Glenn Sutko allegedly fell for the gag twice.

        “They don't do it anymore because it's too well-known,” visitors clubhouse manager Mark Stowe said.

        “That's good, because they ruined our carpet,” said Bernie Stowe, Mark's father and senior Reds clubhouse manager.

        • The Mongoose: The Reds used to have a steal box that was called the “Mongoose Cage.”

        Johnny Bench or some other player would find a rookie to whom to show the mongoose. They'd poke it with a stick to get it riled up and then urge the victim to take a closer look.

        When they did, a spring would let loose and send a stuffed animal that looked like a mongoose into the victim's face.

        Roger Wilson, the former visitors club manager, inherited the cage and continued to nail rookies until the spring broke.

        • Spring Training MVP: A couple of Houston Astros cooked up this one when a rookie was having a monster spring.

        One day they posted on a board: “Spring MVP wins a free big-screen TV.” They went so far as to list past winners. The rookies left Florida expecting a delivery early in the season.

        • Elmer Concepcion: Larry Bowa was responsible for this gag. Bowa was playing with the Philadelphia Phillies and was considered one of the top defensive shortstops in the National League. His chief rival was Dave Concepcion.

        One day before a Reds-Phillies game, Bowa asked Concepcion if he changed his name to Elmer.

        “No,” Davy replied innocently. “Why?”

        “Because I keep seeing E-Concepcion in box score.”

        Bowa had a good laugh, and Concepcion had a new nickname.

        • Up on the Rooftop: One of the best Reds gags of all time took place at Wrigley Field in 1993. Tom Browning slipped away during the game with his uniform concealed under a sweatsuit.

        As the game continued, the Reds players looked up to see Browning waving from a rooftop above Wrigley's right field bleachers.

        It should be noted that Reds manager Davey Johnson was not among those amused by Browning's gag.

        • Mr. Red: Denny Neagle has been among the league leaders in gags since breaking into the majors. One night while the grounds crew went out to sweep up during the fifth inning, Mr. Red joined them, as he often did.

        But Mr. Red was really Neagle. He got a pretty good rise out some teammates with what he said as he walked past them heading off the field.


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