NEW YORK — Jonathan Schoop, stylish in a black polo, gray jeans and black Gucci sneakers, strolled into the Orioles’ clubhouse just after the 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline on July 31 and looked around. Before him MLB Network speculated about which team was about to acquire him; behind him the lineup listed him hitting second and playing second for Baltimore. He grinned. “Should I take my clothes off, or what?” he asked.
No one answered. He decided he might as well put on his Orioles uniform, likely for the last time. He slid out of his polo and into a black undershirt—and then his phone rang.
Schoop never did put on that uniform. His last time wearing the O will remain as Sunday’s home win over the Rays. Traded to the Brewers, Schoop joins Zach Britton (lost to the Yankees), Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day (all to the Braves), and his best friend, Manny Machado (Dodgers) in leaving Baltimore in the last few weeks.
It feels a bit like the Rapture has come to the Orioles clubhouse. Players walked in this week not entirely sure who would still be there. The dust has settled. Anyone who could help a contending team—and fetch the right price—is gone. In their place is nearly an entire roster—15 players—of prospects and $2.75 million in international bonus pool money. After a deadline-day loss to the Yankees, Baltimore sits at 32–75, easily the worst record in baseball. The rebuild has begun. The assets have been reallocated. But what of the people?
“A lot of people don’t really think of the human element,” said leftfielder Trey Mancini, choking back tears. “Everyone just sees names on the [TV scroll], but we spend more time with each other than with our own families.”
The ones left behind mourn their friends and face the fact that their front office has all but given up, that really it would be better for the future of the franchise if they lost the rest of their games. And the ones taken away try to help a bunch of strangers win a championship while they learn where the bathroom is.
First comes the agony of not knowing. As the trade deadline nears, players become progressively more glued to their phones. Friends and family check in incessantly. No, Mom, I still don’t know anything. Players take the field day after day surrounded by people they know they may never see again. Gausman heard his name in rumors and tried to prepare himself for life without the only team he’d ever known. Schoop’s agent had warned him that morning that there was a 50% chance he would be traded; by the time Schoop climbed into his Uber to head to the ballpark, it was “more than 50,” he said once it was done and he was a Brewer. He was back in his polo as he prepared to leave the ballpark.
Everything about a midseason trade is chaotic, but clothes, as it turns out, are not actually the least of a traded player’s worries. His new team will provide a uniform, of course, but what about all the accessories? Practically everything the traded players own has orange piping or patches. So an early call has to go out to a new arrival’s shoe sponsor, his glove sponsor, his bat sponsor. Often a guy who expects to be a rental will request black and white; otherwise he will join Ben Zobrist and Mike Clevinger in trying to ascertain an appropriate cleat color for his new team.
Off the field, the new player must navigate life in a new city—even as he spends at most half his time in that new city. The new team is responsible for putting the player on a plane, and will often help with housing. Baltimore shortstop Tim Beckham, acquired at last year’s deadline from the Rays, elected to live in the team Sheraton, then eventually a Four Seasons for the rest of the season rather than negotiate a lease. He also ensured that Tampa Bay would pick up the payments on his apartment in St. Petersburg.
“You spend a lot of time talking with traveling secretaries,” Beckham said.
He learned his fate on the road, leaving his girlfriend to box up his belongings. Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce, a veteran of six midseason major league transactions, likes to joke that his wife can pack their house in an hour.
Eventually the stuff arrives. They navigate successfully through the hallways of their new home ballpark. They break in their neutral cleats. Sometimes they spray champagne in October. But the emotions take longer to fade.
And on trade day, they are painfully raw. “It’s kind of a sad day, to see the band broken up,” Gausman said through tears. He mentioned how excited he was to play meaningful games with the Braves and how disappointed he felt that he hadn’t won more for Baltimore. Then a reporter asked him about specific goodbyes.
“There’s still some guys I haven’t talked to,“ Gausman said. Then he had to stop the press conference. He was crying too hard to go on.