There aren’t many people out there who would consider giving Gabe Kapler a hard time. He was one of the nicest guys in baseball and arguably the most fit man in America’s pastime.
But Kapler faced some hazing in his early days as a pro ballplayer, and he admits in a recent FOX Sports column that it may have even helped him.
In 1998, Kapler won the Minor League Player of the Year award with Double-A Jacksonville — a Tigers affiliate. The following spring training, with a chance to make the Tigers roster, he was riding high and had his whole future ahead of him. That’s also when he fell victim to hazing. He was ripe for the picking.
“During an early stretch session on one of the backfields, we began to loosen as a team as usual and I quietly fell into my intense version of said warm-up.
“As was the norm, a particular staff member [let’s call him Bill] walked around the stretch telling stories and barking orders. This day’s story was about a young man who was ‘a little too comfortable.’
“That young man was me, of course, and Bill continued to tell the story of my ill-advised fan club. The tale was pretty innocuous — I thought — until a huge banner dropped from the outfield fence revealing an enormous image of me at my most exposed with a headline that read ‘You can join his fan club for $39.95.’”
Kapler admitted that he was furious when he went home and even “had a serious conversation with my then-wife Lisa, about the risk associated with snatching Bill by the throat the following day during stretch in front of the team.”
But he didn’t. He actually channeled that aggression into something positive and learned from it.
“I soon understood the methodology. I was being effectively taught a lesson about self-promotion that has served me well. And, I developed thicker, more calloused skin as a result.
“Although I vowed to myself that I would never be the ringleader of any similar incident, I began to authentically connect with the idea that through ribbing, hazing and light illumination of faults, coming of age can occur.
“In some cases, this can even speed up player development as toughness off the field can spill over into plate appearances. No way to quantify, of course, but I can attest to feeling more confident after understanding banter and thereby feeling more connected to my teammates; the chest puffed out slightly further is always beneficial on the field.
“The confidence is derived through fitting in [socially], being accepted. I’ve finally fulfilled my rite of passage; now I belong. Now I can go play and know my teammates are beneath me, partially supporting my weight.”
The former Tigers, Rangers, Rockies, Red Sox, Brewers and Rays outfielder witnessed plenty of hazing during his long career. From American Idol mini auditions on team buses for rookies to players getting odd concoctions dumped on them while using the toilet, Kapler has seen it all. However, he explains that this sort of “ribbing” might be considered bullying, but “it depends on the man enduring the experience.”
Kapler’s view on the very controversial matter is just one man’s opinion, but the longtime player and manager at the professional level clearly has experience on his side. Kapler is one athlete who took his personal bullying experiences and not only learned from them but improved his outlook on the game and being a pro from his incident.
“Maybe this is a world full of bullies,” Kapler writes. “While there is a relevant question of degree, a lot more of us live in glass houses than we’d like to believe on this subject.”