GOODYEAR, ARIZ.: Only in baseball could dressing up like the Easter bunny have a serious purpose.
The Indians’ clubhouse Monday looked as if a giant Halloween party had broken out, with players and coaches decked out in all manner of costumes: Nick Swisher, who organized the event, wore an authentic Ohio State football uniform; Justin Masterson was wrapped in what looked like a bear rug; manager Terry Francona had on a baby’s outfit.
Swisher decided — that like the Miami Heat and the Arizona Diamondbacks before them — the Indians should produce a Harlem Shake dancing video, which probably will be posted on Indians.com and from there can go viral on the Internet.
A reporter remarked to Francona that it took guts to wear his costume.
“I agree,” he said. “I had a choice. There was a little bunny rabbit, but I couldn’t get into it. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. This was all Swisher’s idea, which shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody.”
There was more to the stunt than having a good laugh in the clubhouse, and the fact that Swisher came up with the idea is instructive.
“Nothing but little costume Monday,” Swisher said, laughing. “Everybody brought their own: BYOCM [bring your own costume Monday].”
Of his own attire, Swisher said, “Have to rep the OH.”
Swisher played baseball for the Buckeyes and donated $500,000 toward the renovation of the campus ballpark a few years ago.
But there was actually a point to the fun and games other than fun and games.
“You have to have some fun,” Swisher said. “We’re going through the grind of spring. We have a lot of new guys here, and we’re trying to get to know each other, establish a team identity.”
Is it really important for players to bond? After all, the Oakland Athletics of the ’70s famously fussed and feuded among themselves and still won big. Of course, they had a common enemy: owner Charles Finley.
The role of loyalty
On the other hand, it should be easier to win if there is peace and tranquility in the clubhouse, if players can feel close to one another.
“That’s the idea,” Francona said. “You can’t really force it, but you can help it along. And if it happens overnight, it wouldn’t mean as much.”
A happy player isn’t necessarily a fat and sassy player.
“If they care about each other, they can police each other and correct each other when they’re wrong,” Francona said. “I definitely believe in that. And I see a lot in this group that I like.”
Jason Giambi, at 42, has been a part of more locker rooms than anyone on the spring roster and endorses the idea of a clubhouse where everyone has everyone else’s back but, “You still have to pitch and hit and catch the ball.”
Francona has managed teams that failed to have a sense of togetherness.
“That’s what we fought in 2011 [managing the Red Sox],” he said. “It worried me the whole year. We had a fantasy football draft every year, whether we were winning or losing. We’d pick a night and do it after a game. That year we did it in Toronto.
“As I was watching, I thought ‘These guys don’t like each other as much as I remembered.’ It bothered me. You can’t make them like each other, but it certainly helps.”
The Red Sox fantasy draft was conducted in late August or early September. From Sept. 7 through the rest of the season, the club lost 16 of 19 to fall from second to third, missing the playoffs, and Francona was excused from his duties.
Whether the players’ detached attitude from one another played a part in the collapse will never be known for sure.
“The most important thing is for guys to be fiercely loyal to each other on the field,” Francona said. “They don’t have to hang out with each other.”
Swisher wasn’t quite satisfied with the turnout for Monday’s Harlem Shake production.
“I tried to get [General Manager Chris] Antonetti to do it,” he said, trying to keep a straight face.
Maybe Antonetti will see the light and participate in Swisher’s next extravaganza.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.