A-HOLE FAN DIGEST: The Muhammad Ali Autographing Incident

Earlier today, we published a story from an anonymous reader claiming that ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy accosted him at a charity event. Here's how the story ended up being complete bullshit.

I've removed the story in question, because the guy who sent it in emailed me later on to tell me that, in fact, Murphy never threatened to kick his ass. Instead, I'm going to run this version of the story from ASU assistant SID Randy Policar. What we're left with is the rather sad story of an autograph hound stopping at nothing to get a signature from a very frail and vulnerable boxing legend. A brief warning: the bolded sentence below may cause spontaneous bouts of weeping.

Let me start by saying that there was no "security" at this event, per se. It was all volunteers. It wasn't an ASU event, so I was there as a volunteer as well. When Ali arrived at 6:45, a group of volunteers (myself included) helped get him to the golf cart that he was to ride in. His wife and sister-in-law were with him. There was a group of 10-15 people with items to be signed, and Ali's wife and sister made it clear that A. he was not physically able to really sign and B. he would not be signing anything tonight due to an exclusive memorabilia contract that he had.

Ali was brought up to a suite at Scottsdale Stadium for him, his wife and his sister-in-law. While it is true that Coach Murphy was one of the first to greet him, I can promise you, in no uncertain terms, Pat Murphy DID NOT have Muhammad Ali sign anything for him. I was in there the entire time Coach was, and Murph went in there to welcome him and to thank him for lending his name to the charity event. He asked Ali if it would be ok if he could take a picture with him and his wife, and if his daughter could get a picture. He also asked if Ali would like to meet Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier, MLB players who were also in attendance. Ethier and his 18-month old son were brought in and spent a few minutes with him, then Pedroia and his three-month old came in. Ali was very excited to see the little boys and held them on his lap while posing for some photos.

After the players left, fans starting pouring into the suite. Ali's wife became concerned about the number of people in there, but was still very gracious and allowed most of them to shake Ali's hand and pose for a photo. The person who wrote the email, and I know exactly who it is, came into the suite with a giant poster and other items to be signed. He shoved past the other people in the suite and basically pushed a pen and the poster into Ali's face. Ali's wife told the gentleman that Muhammad could not sign, because of contractual issues and because he was doing a private signing the following week. The man started to protest and Mrs. Ali offered to take his name and phone number down and told him she would call him and try and work something out so he could get something signed. He gave her the information and she put it in her purse. She was clearly frustrated at how pushy he was, but she handled it well and no one raised their voice. The man then got a photo with Ali and left the booth. During this time, Murphy was not in the Ali suite, but next door with Pedroia and Ethier.

After Ali was taken down to the field on his cart, they sang the national anthem and woman performed a song to honor Ali. He stood up and waved to the crowd and then greeted some young baseball players who participate in a little league that was founded and originally funded by Coach Murphy. After that, Ali got back in his cart to leave.

At this point, the people on the field at Scottsdale Stadium were either participants in the home run derby, Sandlot All-Star (little league) players and parents, volunteers or media members. During the song to Ali, I saw the emailer jump the fence and come on to the field. Once Ali got onto his cart, this guy once again shoved a pen and a Sports Illustrated into Ali's face. He was told again by Ali's wife and sister-in-law no autographs, but he kept pushing, begging and pleading with Muhammad to sign. Ali's wife reminded him that she had taken his number and was going to call him, but he completely dismissed her. The crowd was all over the guy, yelling at him to show some respect and heed his wishes, but he didn't care at all. Eventually, Ali relented (and honestly, at that point, what choice did he have, the guy was not going to move) and began to sign the magazine.

I swear to you, it took Ali around three or four minutes to sign his name, because of his physical condition. He had to be held up, because he could not stand on his own. Ali did thumb through the magazine, and eventually got into the cart. The emailer's claim that he was thrown into the backstop by ASU security is a patently ridiculous statement. First off, it was not an ASU event, so there was no ASU security or any other type of security, just the volunteers. Second off, I saw it, he was asked to back off and refused. There was no physical assault of any kind. When Ali's cart drove off, one of the volunteers who helped set up the event escorted him off the field and out of the stadium.

I can also tell you that I spoke to Ali's wife prior to the whole incident, and they were planning on staying at the event to watch the home run derby. We already had begun preparations to bring Ali back up to the suite. But after the stunt that the emailer pulled, they decided to leave and not subject Ali to anything else like that. I thought Ali handled the whole situation well, as did his family. This guy was told no by numerous people, was given special treatment by Ali's wife to try and accommodate him, and still didn't like the answer he got. So he decided that the rules didn't apply to him and did whatever he had to in order to get what he wanted. It was a selfish act by this guy, who had already gotten a photo with Ali, something more valuable than a signature if you truly are a big fan. He got his moment with The Champ, but it wasn't enough for him.

To call a guy "the biggest asshole he ever met", the same guy who was putting on a Charity Event is just stupid. This guy clearly didn't care about the charity, or where the money was going, or the point of the event, he wanted Ali's autograph and felt he was entitled to it because he spent $99 to get in. Coach Murphy worked really hard to get Ali to come to the event, in the hopes that having his name attached would help raise money for a good cause, and this guy disrespects Ali and his family all because he wanted an autograph. Pat Murphy put on a charity event to raise money for an organization, The Crossroads, that is near and dear to his heart. He didn't put on an autograph show. Coach has donated thousands of dollars to charities throughout the country, he just doesn't advertise it.

He saved old game balls that were used once and tossed and donated them to inner city schools who couldn't afford baseballs, he donated sporting goods to Boys Town in Omaha so they could have new equipment to use. He's donated over $100,000 back to ASU for facility improvements and to help get his assistant coaches more money, and he started his own little league for kids who couldn't afford to join. He paid for uniforms and equipment and let them use a field for free, just so he could let underprivileged kids enjoy baseball. If those are the acts of the "biggest asshole", then maybe the world needs more assholes like Pat Murphy.

Coach doesn't know I sent this, and I was not directed by my superiors to defend him. I just wanted to set the record straight because I know Coach Murphy and his family and I know what kind of person he is. He can get mad and get heated, but he has a heart of gold, I promise you. It was a great event for a great cause, and I would hate to see his name dragged through the mud and the event tarnished because of half-truths from one person, who ultimately, got what he wanted, regardless of how it was obtained.

Sorry I got a little long winded, but I wanted you to hear what happened from my perspective.

I followed up with the reader (we'll call him Asshole) who sent in the original story for a clarification of what happened. Here is our exchange.

ME: Did you lie when you wrote this, Asshole?

ASSHOLE: I did not, but the details are distorted enough to cause issues. It was a funny story that has gone too far.

(19 minutes later)

ASSHOLE: Some information may be false…

(43 minutes later)

ASSHOLE: Drew, Murphy did not say those things to me...

Well, thanks. I'm glad we cleared that up. You asshole. I hope you get beaten like a redheaded stepchild.

UPDATE: The Pat Murphy Home Run Derby was established to benefit The Crossroads. You can learn more about that charity here. And, of course, my deepest apologies to Pat Murphy an the ASU athletic department.