Being a sports reporter is, at times, an absolutely horrible job. Sure you get to watch games, travel and interact with athletes, but there is a horrendous downside. (Which is pretty much everything else.) And this is never more disturbingly clear than when a reporter has their first (or 50th) awful experience with a half-naked, exhausted athlete. Sometimes they'll be openly dismissive, sometimes they'll yell, and sometimes, well, they'll fart in your face. Most of these stories never end up in the newspaper the next day. So now, Deadspin proudly presents "The Dark Side of the Locker Room" where current and former sports writers can share some of their most distressing interactions. If you've got your own story to share, please send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, Luke Burbank, the host of "Too Beautiful To Live" on 710 KIRO in Seattle, tells the tale of his career-changing run-in with Lou Piniella and the 1996 Seattle Mariners.
I was a really nervous, still-pimply 20 year-old trying to pretend I was some kind of real sports reporter.
My internship at the college NPR station was enough to get me press access to the Mariners' locker room, but that non-laminated day pass with "NBR" written on it wasn't exactly blowing Lou Piniella's mind-grapes the way I'd thought it would. It was August 1996, and the M's were locked in a tight division race with The Rangers. They'd come home for a make-or-break nine game stand. Somehow, I'd conned my way into an assignment doing a story about the insane breakout year A-Rod was having. This was going to be easy, just get some quotes from Piniella, and Griffey and Buhner and A-Rod and be on my way. Why wouldn't they want to talk about his awesome season? Well, because theirs was about to go to complete shit, that's why.
During the home stand, the M's managed to go 1-8 and fall completely and utterly out of the race. Every day I would go to the locker room hoping that they would not be in a super-pissed mood, and every day it would get worse. Baseball players (more than any other athletes, in my opinion) are total fucking babies when they lose.
Finally the last game arrived. The clubhouse was like a morgue. I was determined to get that goddamn tape no matter what. Here is a minute by minute account of that night:
6:02 pm (Pregame): In the trainer's office I can see A-Rod getting a rubdown or something. This is great. The clubhouse is totally empty and I am going to get my quote as soon as he emerges. There's only one problem. For some reason, my peeking into that room infuriates Mike Jackson. He runs up to me and starts screaming at the top of his lungs, 'WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!!!?' 'THE MAN IS GETTING TREATMENT!!' "I'm I'm just trying to to get my my quote" I stammer (literally holding back tears). 'GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE AFTER THE GAME LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!"
Never mind that MLB requires teams to open their locker rooms before games so that reporters can get quotes. Apparently Mike Jackson takes a dim view of this rule. One other problem, it wasn't even A-Rod in there. It was Rafael Carmona. His back was to me and they look like the same guy. I'm racist and I don't have a quote and Mike Jackson wants to rape me. Awesome.
7:15 (Game time): Terrified by my encounter with MJ, I figure I'll just lay low and hope to Jobu that they win. Then they'll have to be in a better mood. I leave a bucket of KFC in front of my Jobu shrine. It totally works. They win.
10:13 (Post Game): The Seattle Mariners are more pissed than ever. Pissed like Blazer fans in 1986 realizing Jordan was going to be Jordan just as Sam Bowie picks up another three in the key. I still don't know why this was. Probably residual anger from the previous eight games or something.
10:14: Ken Griffey Jr. is sitting, fully reclined, in a barca lounger in front of his locker. This is a bad spot for this huge-ass chair, because his locker is also right next to the only narrow hall out to the field. This means everyone trying to go play in the baseball game has to hug the wall to try to get around his chair. He is playing Nintendo on a flat screen TV (very, very fancy for 1996) and eating a chocolate bar. Five different times I try to ask him a few questions. Not only does he not respond, he is totally unaware that another human being is trying to talk to him. I am basically Bill Murray during the ghosty part of Scrooged. I finally give up.
10:16: Still terrified of a "Mike Jacksoning," I cower behind a huge empty couch. Apparently I also accidentally lean on it, because from across the room Chris Bosio starts hollering. "WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!!" "GET OFF THAT COUCH!!" I stumble, dazed, towards a completely naked Jay Buhner.
10:18: During his time as a Mariner, Jay Buhner was known as quite the prankster. Of course, as me and my friend Bill often discussed the line between "prankster" and "total asshole who purposefully vomits into your work hat" is kind of a fuzzy one. So anyway, Buhner is completely completely naked. No towel. No undies. Nothing. And that's not even the creepy part. He agrees to talk to me (jackpot!) but during the entire interview he refuses to look at me. Instead, he goes to work on, and is completely fixated with, an ingrown hair literally ONE MICRON from his dong. If I want to interview Jay Buhner, I will also be interviewing his dong. That is just how he rolls. Desperate, I do the interview. It actually goes OK.
10:23: Wonder of Wonders! A-Rod is clean, showered, not Rafael Carmona, and walking out of the locker room by himself. I run out to talk to him. He is totally polite, and professional, and cardboard. But he's not yelling at me, or ignoring me, or naked, so I consider the interview a big success.
10:37: I'm just one interview away from having my story: Sweet Lou.
10:48 : All hyperbole aside, Lou Piniella is the most terrifying man ever in history ever. And he really needs to buy some new underwear. He's sitting in his office behind his desk. No shirt (what is this with the nakedness?), just some tattered tighty whities, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The office is very small. The beat reporters (these dudes are plenty grizzled themselves and have interviewed him a thousand times) seem terrified of him. They stand with their backs up against the wall and nervously call him 'Skip.' He's like a tiger that you raised from when it was a little cub. You feel mostly certain he remembers that you two are cool, but on the other hand, he might bite your face off out of sheer boredom.
After everyone else has asked their questions, I finally summon the nerve to squeak mine out.
"Um Skip?" I say meekly. "Could you um, talk about the amazing season Alex is having?"
'Huh?' Piniella asks, his head cocked, perfectly angled for a face-biting.
"Um, could you talk about how well Alex Rodriguez has been playing this season?"
Piniella gets up slowly, and comes around from behind the desk. The rest of the reporters scramble to get out of his way. He's heading right for me. He gets up right next to me, I can see his balls through a hole in his underwear. He puts his arm around my shoulders, pulls me in so close I can count each individual whisker, and says... "Not tonight kid, not tonight."
"Perfect," I think. "That's the final memory of my sportswriting career: Lou Piniella's balls."
I never went back there again.