A few days ago a newspaper takeout writer I knowâ€”award-winning; highly skilled; great guyâ€”approached Jayson Werth in the clubhouse of the Philadelphia Phillies. The scribe was working on a piece about this or that, and he politely asked Werth whether he had a few minutes.
Werth’s reply? “Not for you, bud.” Then he walked away.
For a moment, let’s think about that. Let’s really think about that. In my life, I’ve been approached by some dazzlingly annoying people. Politicians, panhandlers, religious nutties, cell phone salesmen, editors. Neverâ€”absolutely neverâ€”would I speak to any in the manner Werth spoke to the writer (a man, for the record, Werth had never before met).
Not for you, bud.
Not for you, bud!?
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Not for you, bud!? Who the hell is Jayson Werth to speak to anyone with such blatant disrespect? (Brief synopsis: He’s a seventh-year journeyman compared to Ryan Church and Shane Spencer, among other lesser-weights, by Baseball-Reference.com). In fact, scratch that. Whether you’re Jayson Werth or Ryan Howard; Bad Ronald or the Rolling Stones … nobody has the right to talk to others as if they’re the grime beneath their shoes. We all live, we all eat, we all poop, we all die. Fame and money are nice and dandy and swell, but, well, big s%$#. (And Jayson Werth isn’t even famous.)
In a sense, Werth’s words sum up a primary reason I left Sports Illustrated as a baseball writer back in 2002. I just couldn’t handle chasing around these guys on a weekly basis. Others in the profession rave about the access that comes with covering the diamond, but the 3 1/2-hour clubhouse window is truly a blessing (time to talk) and a curse (time to talk). Literally, a solid 60% of a baseball writer’s life is devoted to standing in a corner of a room, waiting … waiting … waiting … waiting … waiting … waiting for, oh, Derek Jeter or Brian Giles to put down the Maxim so the scribe can slink over and ask a few questions (guaranteed to be answered in banal cliches). I’ll never forget the time Tim Worrell, a former Giants reliever, told me he’d talk in a few minutes, then sat down at his locker and read Field & Stream until it was time to take the field. In the real world, Worrell was being an anus. But within the confines of the major league clubhouse, he was merely playing the part.
I often think back to a piece Chris Ballard wrote a few years ago in SI, when he profiled Michael Redd of the Milwaukee Bucks. It was an excellent article, with one paragraph jumping off the page:
Unfailingly well-groomed (his father, James, taught him that “you’ll never meet a good companion if you aren’t clean and neat”), he’s the kind of polite, unassuming guy who says thank you to security guards when they hold the locker room door for him.
Sadly, this is the standard men like Werth and Worrell have set for pro athletes. If a guy so much as says ‘Thank you’ when a door is held open, we praise his decency and compassion. I remember, several years ago, sitting in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse, interviewing a pitcher named Ryan Franklin, when Arthur Rhodes screamed, “Hey, get out of my seat!” from across the room. “Is he kidding?” I asked Franklin, who embarrassingly shook his head, no. Literally, Rhodes didn’t need the chair at that momentâ€”he just hated anyone unworthy sitting in it.
So why do writers continue to do it? Love of the game, I reckon. But there’s more: Being a baseball writer means hanging with the popular kids. No, David Wright might not remember your name, or even care that you have a name. But you’re with him every day, in the razzle-dazzle world of professional sports. Your friends think it’s cool, your friends’ kids think it’s cool. Yeah, you might shop at Marshall’s (I do), routinely have grease stains on your collar (I do), smell like Turtle Wax (I don’t). You might spend your off time on eHarmony or the Jeannie Garth photo gallery.
But you’re in the gameâ€”hanging with Jayson Werth!