LOS ANGELES -- There is a certain no-holds-barred quality to clubhouse humor. What can appear jarring to outsiders is part of daily life on a Major League Baseball team.
So, when Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez practically force-fed Juan Uribe a banana after the second of his three home runs Monday night -- in the dugout and in front of TV cameras -- none of his teammates in the vicinity seemed to think much of it.
Puig and Ramirez have taken to calling Uribe “King Kong.” It all started a few weeks ago when Ramirez went to Universal Studios, saw a billboard of the famous Hollywood icon and posted it on Instagram, asking if fans thought it bore a resemblance to the Dodgers' third baseman.
“I don’t think I should be involved with that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after the Dodgers’ 8-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Monday. “Only they can do that.”
“They call me a monkey,” he said. “Do I look like a monkey?”
Uribe can take a joke, even one that's borderline tasteless, particularly since he is often the one dishing the grief to other players -- in two languages. Brian Wilson usually gets it in English, particularly when he walks out of the clubhouse in some bizarre outfit, which is to say, on nights that end in "y."
For Ramirez and Puig, it’s a chance to get a little revenge on a man they embrace practically as an older brother. What little brother doesn’t live for that opportunity?
If it seems as if Uribe is the team clown, though, he’s quite a bit more than that. In some ways, he’s the conscience of the clubhouse, someone who commanded respect even when he was struggling to hit .200, and he is universally beloved now that he’s playing Gold Glove defense nearly every day and chipping in with his bat. He did more than chip in Monday, launching three of the Dodgers’ six home runs.
Near the end of 2012, when Uribe was batting .191 and practically stuck to the bench, it was widely speculated the Dodgers would simply release him. They didn’t, and now they’re awfully glad they continued to believe. After the Luis Cruz flameout, the Dodgers would have been stuck without a third baseman. Instead, they have one with a better-than-solid .760 OPS and one of the steadiest gloves in baseball.
"The one thing about Juan: He always, always, always played quality third base,” Mattingly said. “The thing that opened our eyes was how good a teammate he was last year. Luis was here tearing it up and the darling of L.A. last year for a period of time, and Juan was a really good teammate. He gained a lot of respect in that clubhouse.”
Uribe admitted the curtain call he received from more than 50,000 fans Monday was an emotional moment for him.
“I always wanted to be a person who has respect and shows that I care and have a good heart,” Uribe said. “Good or bad, you still have to be the same person.”