Major league baseball is now in post-season play, the wake of a 162-game season that began in April for each of 30 teams, and for all that competition grinding away cross-country and hither and yon, days, nights and weekends, the big question remains:
Who does the laundry?
A year ago this month, I asked that question, put it out there for the world. Next season, we thought, would have the answer but, so far as we’ve heard and read and viewed, not a peep.
Think on that: Each game day, the Royals and 29 other teams in the American and National leagues, begin looking well – shoes shined, uniforms neat and freshly laundered, caps on straight (with a couple of exceptions), the dugout a monument to neatness with bat shelves stocked, racks and pegs for caps and gloves, trainers’ bags tucked away at the ready, drink coolers filled and glistening, boxes bulging with sunflower seeds and bubble gum, the bench itself the pride of Mr. Clean.
Every game, home and away, begins on a backdrop of neatness. At game’s end, win or lose, the dugout scene is a landscape of devastation, of clutter and filth, the floor ankle-high in spittle, seed shells, drink cups empty or not, the bench littered with sweaty towels, torn bandage wraps, and wads of other unmentionable what-not. Thus the dugout post-game.
Imagine the locker room.
“For years, I’ve wondered about the unsung heroes of professional baseball, the people who do the wash,” I wrote.
“Imagine the landscape of a major league locker room, the post-game detritus, the dirty uniforms, the piles of soggy towels, goo-stained rags, clusters of beaten, soiled shoes (“cleats”), the wads of discarded T-shirts, underwear, athletic supporters, sliding pads, elastic wraps.
“The mountains that go into a night’s wash for a baseball team would stun even the most hardened landfill manager.”
It is a story that, as an editor and a reader, I’ve needed for lo, these many years. A few years ago, a News-Record reporter, Laura Christopher, began the search by asking the Royals’ front office, but the search went futile and Laura went to a career coaching softball. Nonetheless the story looms, like the promise of rain on a drought-hardened plain. Who does the laundry, where and how? In the deep caverns beyond the clubhouse and locker rooms? At what hours? And how does it work for a team on the road – is there a visitors’ laundry room, or do the managers pack up all those soiled rags and towels and uniforms and haul it around until they get home? What’s the schedule for those who keep a team clean and clothed? And who does the ironing?
Again: What kind of equipment is needed – industrial washers and dryers, and great mangles? How much time is needed for a full run? What are the cycles for, say, a uniform from game day through the wash to the next game day? Spare uniforms? How many? And what of the superstitious player, the one who insists on a certain home, or away, uniform over another?
And, at least two full chapters are needed to tell the travails of handling the wash during long road trips. As we mentioned, are there facilities for the visitors’ wash, or (heaven help them) are the dirty clothes hauled along in bio-hazard bags until time for a giant wash at home?
What do teams spend on uniforms, including the throw-back duds and get-ups for ceremonial occasions? Do they have a detergent budget?
THE SIZE of this matter is itself telling. There are 30 major league teams. On game day, at least 18 uniforms will see action for each of them: nine players, three relief pitchers, a manager and five coaches. For 30 teams, a bare minimum of 540 uniforms will see action each game day. Over a 162-game season, 87,480 dirty uniforms – at the very least. (The Mets have been known to use as many as eight or nine pitchers in a game. Then there are pinch hitters, pinch runners, pinch whatevers. As I said, at the very least.)
Then there are towels, jackets, socks, underwear, and other mentionables and unmentionables that need cleaning. It’s a big job. And a big story.
Why is it still untold?
– JOHN MARSHALL