Photo by Robert Burroughs
For sheer grotesquery, though, nothing tops the “jackelope” head mounted on a plaque in pitcher Goose Gossage’s locker.
Tony Gwynn sat in a canvas-backed chair and peered into the wooden cubicle in front of him. “What’s in my locker?” he asked, repeating the question that had been posed to him. “Well, here’s a rubber stamp that says “Tony Gwynn’ on it. I’ve never used it. Here’s a ball of putty that I squeezed to strengthen my arm when I hurt it earlier this year. And here’s a media guide from the All-Star game.” Gwynn was, of course, the only Padre player to make the National League All-Star team this year. “Other than that,” he said, scanning the walls and shelves of the locker, “I’ve just got the usual bats, gloves, underwear, and shoes.”
Gwynn had overlooked several items, though, including a container of Skoal tobacco, an orange plastic spittoon, and a bag containing a record album by the O Jays. Gwynn is fond of music, particularly jazz, rock, and rhythm and blues, and often stops by record stores to pick up new albums on his way to the stadium for a game. “I like Grover Washington, Jr., Cameo, Steve Winwood… all kinds of stuff. I even like Phil Collins” he said. “If it’s got a good beat to it, It’ll probably like it.” But don’t try to tell Tony Gwynn that there is some foot-stompin’ country music out there. “I don’t like it. It’s all the same,” he said bluntly. Then he shook his head, silently saying “Uh-uh” to even the thought of country music.
A baseball player’s locker is a doorless wooden stall for storing uniforms, shoes, mitts, and other equipment. But look at a locker closely and you’ll find more, including clues to a player’s personality, and usually, evidence of his interests outside baseball. Inside Tim Flannery’s locker, for instance, is a picture of him surfing on a ten-foot-high wave. “A friend of mine took that last winter at Jake’s in Del Mar,” said Flannery, who lives in Encinitas. “During the winter, I surf twice every day. I go out around 5:30 a.m. and again when the sun goes down. I do it to relax.
“I grew up in Redondo Beach, but heck, I’ve been surfing down here [in San Diego] since 1970. That was before I ever even heard about the Padres. Some of my favorite spots are Cardiff reef and Jake’s. But my favorite place in the whole world is Hollister Ranch, which is north of Santa Barbara on Point Conception. There’s ten and a half miles of untouched California wilderness up there, and it has some of the best surf anywhere. The only way to get in is by boat— and you can’t legally go there at all unless you own 100 acres or more of the Hollister Ranch. I tried to sneak into it for years, but I finally got together with three other guys a couple years ago and bought 118 acres. When I injured my ankle earlier this year, I went up there for three days by myself and slept on my property, in my struck. It’s a magical place. There are deer running on the beach, and you can see abalone at low tide. When you get right down to it, it probably looks like San Diego County did before it was developed.”
Flannery paused for a moment to think, “What else do I have in my locker?” he asked out loud. “Let’s see— I usually have a few baseball cards of my favorite players.” He reached deep into his locker and pulled out a small leather-shaving bag. When he opened it, it was empty except for baseball cards of Jerry Royster and Graig Nettles. “Nettles I like for all the things he’s taught me over the years,” Flannery said of the Padres’ former third basement. “Royster— he’s just my man. We platooned at second base for a couple of years when he was with the Padres, and we got to be pretty close. He still calls me once a week [Royster is currently playing for the Chicago White Sox], and we get together in the winter to play golf.”
Flannery’s and Gwynn’s lockers are on the east wall of the Padres’ clubhouse, which lies at the end of a long corridor deep in the bowels of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Like most major-league clubhouses, it is a carpeted, brightly lit room where a radio seems to blare through the stale air and the smell of perspiration twenty-four hours a day. All four walls are lined with lockers, but according to Flannery, the east wall is “the preferred area.”
However, equipment manager Brian Prilaman, who assigns lockers to the players, said he “normally just throws [a player’s locker] wherever I have space. It is rare for a player to ask for a specific locker, he added, although this year Benito Santiago, Carmelo Martinez, and Luis Salazar— dubbed the Three Amigos by Martinez, since they are the only Hispanic ballplayers on the team— requested that their lockers be next to each other. But proximity to friends aside, there are no superior locker locations, Prilaman said.
Flannery rejected that notion with a laugh. “This is the ‘in’ place to be. It’s like ocean-front property” he insisted—a reference to the high-salaried players such a Terry Kennedy, Steve Garvey, and Graig Nettles, who formerly had adjacent lockers on the east wall. But this year, Kennedy’s old locker has been taken over by John Kruk, who grimaced when he heard Flannery’s description of the location as “ocean-front property.”
“I don’t see no water,” Kruk said laconically. “I got this locker because no one else wanted it. It’s too close to the training room.
“See, they got one radio in the training room and another on the other side of the clubhouse, and this locker is right in the middle,” he said, explaining that the radios tend to drown out each other. “Plus, this is the closest locker to the clubhouse phone, so every time the phone rings, I’m the closest once and I’ve got to answer it.”
Whether or not Kruk’s is the worst situated locker in the Padres’ clubhouse, it is certainly one of the most crowded and disorganized. Kruk has all the usual accouterments you find in a baseball player’s locker— extra shoes and mitts, magazines, boxes full of fan mail ““ but he seems to have more of them, and he has stored them with all the care of a college freshman filling a dormitory closet. In contrast, the mitts in Bruce Bochy’s locker hang neatly on hooks, and his fan mail is arranged in small, orderly piles. “I like to know where things are.” said the big catcher, who wears contact lenses and is known among his teammates as Mr. Magoo. Even so, if there were such a thing as a “Neatest Padre Locker” award, Bochy would find himself competing in the finals against rookie pitcher Eric Nolte, whose locker is a model of utilitarian furnishing and organization. In addition, Nolte’s locker contains the clubhouse rarity— a book.
“It’s called Our Daily Bread, and each page has an everyday story with quotes from the Bible on it,” explained Nolte. “There’s a story for each day of the year and I try to read it every day.” He held up the book, which was open to the page for July 17. Realizing it was already mid-August, he smiled apologetically. “I’m kind of behind,” he said, and put the book down.
Nolte, whose parents are not particularly religious, said his roommate helped persuade him to undergo a spiritual conversion while the two of them were attending UCLA in 1982. “We got to talking about God one night, ” said Nolte. “My roommate asked me, ‘Are you a Christian?’ and I said that I really didn’t know what one was. Then he asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ into my life, and I said no, I didn’t.
“But I looked at his life and realized that nothing really seemed to bother him. He took everything in stride and always came out on top, whereas I let little things get to me. I had undergone ulnar-nerve surgery in my elbow that year, and it had really screwed up my control. And if I walked someone, I let it bother me. I had a terrible temper. Plus, I kind of felt that something was missing from my life. So that night I gave my life to Jesus Christ.
“Since then I’ve grown stronger spiritually. Knowing that he’s always with me has given me a feeling of confidence—I can’t really explain why. But when I’m out on the field, I feel that I’m not alone. And things have really started falling into place since I started giving credit to him and not taking it all for myself.”
Not far from Nolte’s locker is Marvell Wynne’s, where the emphasis is more on earthy matters. For one thing, Wynn keeps a Los Angeles Raiders cushion on the canvas chair in front of his locker, and he describes himself as a die-hard Raiders fan. They’re the bad guys— that’s their image— and I like that.”
Many would say Wynne has succeeded in creating a bad-guy image of his own. A sign above his locker reads, “Don’t come any closer or I’ll fart,” and there is a can of “Fart Busters” air freshener inside. “It got started from me passing as on the bench or on the [team] plane,” Wynne said of the references to digestive distress. “To let me know that they do notice, the guys got together and got me a can of ‘Fart Busters’ from a gimmick shop. Hey, I’m the fart master.”
“He can fart,” agreed outfielder Shane Mack, walking by.
Many players keep old batting gloves in their lockers, but Carmelo Martinez must lead the league in this department— he has at least thirty. “They wear out fast,” the perennially good-humored Martinez said with a smile. “Plus, they get hard with pine tar,” the sticky substance that players use to get a tight grip on their bats when they’re hitting. “I take some of the hard ones back to Puerto Rico with me in the winter” added Martinez, who lives in the town of Dorado, “I put ‘em in water to soften ‘em up and use ‘em when I hit in the batting cage I’ve got at my house. Sometimes I give ‘em to kids, too— they don’t care what kind of condition they’re in.”
Among the more unusual decorations in the Padres’ Clubhouse is the fistful of bird feathers that dangles outside Garry Templeton’s locker. “They’re to ward off evil spirits,” the Padres’ shortstop said enigmatically. “It must work, because no one comes around my locker anymore— and if you ask me, that’s good.”
For sheer grotesquery, though, nothing tops the “jackelope” head mounted on a plaque in pitcher Goose Gossage’s locker. The jackelope looks suspiciously like a rabbit’s head with deer antlers grafted onto it, but Gossage insisted that “pound for pound, the jaceklope is one of the meanest things that ever walked the face of the earth. And they can climb trees, too.” He glared at a reporter with the same fierce look that is on his face when he stands on the mount late in a game, peering n at the catcher and preparing to let fly a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball. Then his face relaxed, and he grinned.
The jackelope and the album full of hunting photos in Gossage’s locker attest to his passion for hunting. Gossage grew up in Colorado, where his father taught him to hunt “and also taught me a lot about nature and animals. One time ““ I must have been eight or ten years old ““ we were out somewhere, and I started chasing this meadowlark with a broken wing. It kept staying right out of reach, though, just a few feet ahead of me, and I must have chased it for half an hour. I chased it so far I couldn’t chase it anymore. Finally, I walked back, and my dad said, “˜Come here, I want to show you something.’ And he showed me a nest full of eggs in the grass and told me that the meadowlark was faking a broken wing ““ that was just its way of protecting its young. That was pretty neat.”
His father died when Gossage was in high school, but Gossage still hunts antelope, mule deer, moose, and turkey on his 13,000-acre ranch northwest of Canon City, Colorado. Last winter he was joined by Padres’ pitcher Ed Whitson ““ also an avid hunter ““ and pitching coach Galen Cisco, among others. “I’m a trophy hunter more than just a hunter,”Gossage explained, “I like to kill the big bucks and the big bulls ““ something I can mount on a wall. But really, getting something is not the biggest thing. I just enjoy being out in the woods.”
Another intriguing item in Gossage’s locker is a can of Near Beer, a sly comment on the ban on clubhouse beer drinking that was imposed by former Padres’ president Ballard Smith last year. When the ban was announced, Gossage spearheaded a players’ protest and publically referred to Smith as “gutless”— a description that, taken literally, tends to fit anyone who doesn’t drink beer. In any case, the ban has endured this year while the protest has faded to a mild joke in the back of Gossage’s locker.
Family photos are a common locker decoration in the Padres’ clubhouse, as are photos of the players themselves. But reminders of past glories are surprisingly scarce. For a year after the Padres beat the Chicago Cubs in a five-game series to win the National League pennant in 1984, Tony Gwynn kept a bottle of champagne from the final post-game celebration in his locker. Now it is gone, though, and the only visible reminder of that high-water mark in San Diego baseball history is a camouflage kerchief that is nailed up outside Tim Flannery’s locker. “A friend of mine wore it during his two tours in Vietnam,” Flannery explained. “When we were two games down to the Cubs, he sent it to me for good luck, and we went on to win in five straight…” He shrugged.
Baseball players’ lockers are full of such secrets. Some are easier to uncover than others, but there is one thing no visitor to the Padres’ clubhouse could miss—the signs. Above Gossage’s locker is a sign that reads “Goose Heaven,” while Flannery has one that reads “Borderline Insanity.” Kruk has pasted up a seal of the state of West Virginia, where he was born and raised. And it’s these signs that declare in the most unequivocal terms what lockers are all about: a statement of self as well as a kind of staked-out personal territory for men who perform in front of a demanding public for eight months each year. Three or four hours before game time, it is not unusual to see players sitting in front of their lockers, quietly smoking cigarettes or simply staring ahead blankly, lost in thought. “It gives you a chance to get your concentration zeroed in before you go to work,” said Flannery. Added Gossage, simply, “It’s our home away from home.”