Part of the reason I love baseball is that no other sport gives you as much freedom for goofing around with teammates. Pranks and baseball go together like peanut butter and jelly, which is why you’ll often catch some if you pay attention.
On Sunday morning, I went to Deadspin.com and immediately saw the headline, “Jeff Francoeur’s Teammates Pulled A Hilarious Month-Long Prank On Him.” Turns out, one of the El Paso Chihuahuas (AAA) players had even made a short film out of this: The guys spent an entire month convincing Francoeur that one of their pitchers was deaf.
“What an idiot,” many of them said.
Francoeur, a nine-year Major Leaguer, joined El Paso this season and missed a bit of the manager’s sarcasm one day in practice. After that, pitcher Jorge Reyes (with much help from the team) spent the entire month pretending to be deaf, and “Frenchy” totally bought it. He didn’t find out until the players held a clubhouse meeting and showed him the video, and his reaction was priceless.
Until I watched the video, I would have told you that my favorite baseball pranks came before my time. If you Google something along the lines of, “Most superstitious athletes ever,” you’ll see household names such as Michael Jordan and Patrick Roy, but you’ll also see Kevin Rhomberg. Or, it might be drawn out to “Kevin ‘Touch Me, Touch Me’ Rhomberg.” Here’s why:
This former Cleveland Indian was notorious for having an uncontrollable physical quirk: If anyone touched him, he had to touch them back. It wasn’t a game, just his nature. When his teammates caught on, they (being typical ballplayers) decided to have as much fun with this as possible.
They often touched Rhomberg in the dugout and then go hide somewhere, leaving him confused. When he became confused, he had to touch everyone around him, because he didn’t know any better. Once, a teammate touched him with a ball in practice and then threw it out of the field; Rhomberg allegedly spent two hours searching for the ball.
If you were wondering, he’s fine: Rhomberg is co-owner of a baseball academy in Ohio and (probably) does not have to deal with scheming teammates anymore.
Francoeur’s monthlong blunder might have edged out the stories of Rhomberg’s tormenters to become my favorite baseball prank ever.
But, that’s just my opinion. What do other baseball fans have to say?
So, I called up our high schools’ head coaches this week and asked just one question: “What’s the best baseball prank you’ve ever seen or been a part of?” Although some had trouble picking any one prank or moment that stuck out, I did hear a few good ones.
Mike Fryrear, Plant City High School: “One that happened at UNF when I first came in as a freshman. Not one guy said a word to me for a week straight. The prank was trying to make me uncomfortable, and they were trying to teach me respect — I was the new guy coming in.
“I got a hit to win a game at the beginning of fall, and the team didn’t say a word to me,” he said. “I snapped on them, and they all just started dying laughing. Even the head coach. They were waiting to see how long it took me to snap.
“Then the coaches and players gave me a big hug, and dumped a bucket of ice on me,” Fryrear said. “I was pretty upset at the whole situation — I barely knew anybody, and even my roommate was in on it. We would talk to each other, as roommates, but once we got on the baseball field, he wouldn’t say a word to me. It might have been a practical joke that went a little too far, but it was fun and entertaining. “
Of course, turnabout is fair play.
“We pulled the same prank the next year on another freshman, and the guy came in and snapped his bat over the bench,” Fryrear admits. “We were dying laughing, and we kept the bat as a souvenir. At the last game of the year, we taped the bat back together, and we all signed it as a team. It was a gift for him. It was pretty memorable, and he still has the bat framed up in his study room.”
Eric Beattie, Strawberry Crest High School: “I’ve seen Icy Hot in jockstraps, although one of the funniest things I’ve seen happened in a ‘Kangaroo Court.’
“One of my managers in minor league ball (Greenville Drive — Boston Red Sox Single-A affiliate) was Gabe Kapler,” Beattie says. “One of our players found a picture of Kapler in a cheetah-print speedo, posing for some fitness magazine. They blew it up, printed it out and wrote in big letters, ‘Gabe is the Babe.’
“They put it in the ‘Kangaroo Court’ box,” he says. “Gabe was the judge, and he didn’t know what was in the box, and he pulled the picture out on the bus. I’m sure he probably thought he was safe, (because) he was the judge. It drew a lot of laughs.
“We also put grip tape on the back of people’s shoes, and, during a post-game speech, someone would bring a lighter and light the end of the tape on fire,” Beattie says. “It would eventually go up to the top of their shoe. Nobody ever got seriously injured, though.”
Maybe a little cruel, but all in good fun. Boys will be boys.
* The short version of ‘Kangaroo Court’ is that it is a mock justice system used by baseball teams to punish players who have engaged in unruly behavior or committed mistakes on the playing field. The offenses are written down and placed in a box, which the judge pulls from when ‘court’ is in session. Punishments are not actually severe: They may be monetary, or they may be embarrassing. Either way, it’s meant to be humorous.