The Clubhouse

I’m sitting in the hallway outside the Yankees Clubhouse mustering up the nerve to go in. As I wait, Andy Pettite, El Duque, and Mariano Rivera all arrive and enter, and then the door opens and Joe Girardi, my favorite Yank, comes out. He’s outfitted from the waist down, but wearing a gray cutoff on top, and I have to stop myself from swooning. Up close I can see the cut of his biceps, and as he walks past I ogle his firm, rounded buns. I know, I know. It’s inappropriate behavior for a journalist. But I can’t help it. The Chippendales of the Bronx are parading past me. How can I not do a few butt checks?

Inside the room, though, I’m prepared to avert my eyes. I have to maintain professional decorum. I can’t give a bad name to the female journalist who’s already walked in. I take a deep breath and approach, vowing not to look at any swinging bats, as hard as it might be. But when I get inside I can’t help but feel disappointed. Nobody’s naked. Out of the ten or so Yankees standing or sitting around the room, not a single one is showing skin. Granted, it’s pre-game, not post-, but I’d expected a flash of some flesh.

And the room itself looks nothing like a locker room. I had always assumed the clubhouse would have a concrete floor, wooden benches, hideous metal lockers – but this one looks more like a cheesy rec room. It smells like shaving cream, not sweat. The floor is covered in blue carpeting, pop music is playing on the speaker system, and around the perimeter are small white cubbies, where the players keep their deodorant, Lubriderm, outfits, and shoes. They call those cubbies “lockers.” Roger Clemens’ jockstraps hand on hooks in his cubby, and the floor of Paul O’Neill’s cubby is crowded with gainer’s fuel.

To the left of this changing area, through an archway, is the shower area, but all the heads are out of view. The only flesh I see is the torso of an boxer-briefed guy shaving over a sink, but he’s so far away I can’t even see his face in the mirror. To my immediate right is the manager’s room, to the far right is the players’ lounge, and to the far left is the training room. Those four areas are all off-limits to journalists.

Which means the debate over women reporters in the clubhouse seems a little moot. In 1977, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke sued the Yankees for equal access, and a female judge ruled that women sportswriters needed access to the Yankee Clubhouse in order to do their jobs. In 1990, the locker room debate was raised again, when Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson alleged she was sexually harassed in the New England Patriots locker room – claiming a group of naked players surrounded her, exposed themselves, and made crude comments. Olson sued the Patriots owner, general manager, and public relations director, and several members of the team, and settled for a reported quarter of a million dollars. But because of fallout from the scandal – she received repeated phone threats and hate mail, the words “leave Boston or die” were graffiti-ed on her apartment walls, her tires were slashed – she moved to Australia, where she lived for five years, covering cricket and rugby.

But just a few months ago, when it seemed ladies in the locker room had become as commonplace as shower slippers, retired Green Bay Packer Reggie White wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal saying he had seen “seen a lot of female reporters and camerawomen ogling guys in the locker room” and urging players and their spouses to go to court to stop the policy. Several days later Knicks guard and devout Christian Charlie Ward passed out copies of White’s article in the locker room before a game, saying women in the locker room violated the sanctity of his marriage.

As I stand in the Yankees Clubhouse, though, I find myself thinking more about decorating than nudity. Although the Yankees spent almost half a million dollars to renovate it in winter 1998, adding a Jacuzzi and two big-screen TVs, you wouldn’t really know by looking. The décor consists of navy blue leather couches, four concrete pillars with the Yankees insignia, white leather folding chairs, fluorescent lighting, and ugly tan garbage bins. Players are supposed to put their dirty laundry in the four gray bins in front of the pillars, but some have made bad tosses, so shirts and socks lie on the floor directly next to them. I head to the back to check out the players’ lounge, and in addition to the two humongous TVs, I find wood paneling on the walls and a circular table that looks like it came from Denny’s. Bachelor pad city.

As I cringe and step back toward the main room, I see Derek Jeter walking toward his cubby. I smell my armpits – not bad – take a few halting steps toward him, and introduce myself. He shakes my hand and I vow to lick it as soon as I leave the room. I ask what he thinks of women being allowed in the clubhouse and he says, “You have to look at it in a professional way. If you’re a reporter, whether you’re a man or a woman, you have a job to do. I don’t look at [women in the locker room] as being a problem.”

What a mensch, I think.

Jeter gives a few more interviews and then the players begin to head out to the field to warm up. I follow, and lean against a rail by the dugout. The stadium is empty – fans won’t be let in till an hour and a half before the game – and the Yanks are lying on their backs on the field, spreading their legs wide and stretching them with red and green elastic strips. Kinky. Then they stand up, put their hands on their hips and do a little torso rotation. Ricky Ledee is having trouble with the isolation, the way guys always did in gym class; instead of rotating his top part he’s rotating his pelvis. It looks pretty good. The guys lie down again and pull their legs to their chests and I bite my lip. Suddenly it seems like the field is a helluva sexier place than the clubhouse itself. I’m standing ten feet from prostate men, writhing, doing scissor kicks, and taking orders. It doesn’t get much hotter than that. Plus the sky is clear, there’s a breeze on my face, and I can ogle to my heart’s delight without any of the guys noticing. Somehow the rec room just doesn’t compare.