We're bringing back our popular "Dark Side of the Locker Room" series, which you'll remember was a compendium of journalists' bizarre, amusing and previously undocumented encounters with athletes (and often athletes' genitalia). Got a story? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's story is from Richard Hoffer, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. He is the author, most recently, of Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
You'd think these stories — and there quite a few of them now that I think about it — would be born of some unwholesome prurience, or voyeurism. In fact, sports writers are not particularly interested in the relative size of their subjects' members. Really. Nakedness in a locker room is a working condition, and is no more provocative or remarked-upon than a three-piece suit in some other (perhaps — I say, perhaps — more dignified) occupation.
Still, there are these stories. I don't want to name names, but a colleague of mine is famous for his set-piece of a certain football player's magnificent appendage. The point of the story is not how immense it was — it may or may not have been the size of two orange juice cans duct-taped together, I don't remember — or even whose it was. I don't remember that either. The point is that just about anything can be a worthwhile challenge for our observational powers. I have heard the story many times but have never heard it repeated. The filigrees of elaboration have become a kind of improvisational theater, a one-man show, like Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain. Anyway, the last time I heard it, there was, for the first time, the mention of substantial veining, "like ivy encircling a massive trunk." I remember two writers in attendance doing spit takes.
My own contribution to this genre, a little entry about Pedro Guerrero, is slight in comparison. Probably everyone who ever covered baseball, which features the most immodest mind-set in all of sports, has a similar anecdote. Dicks are always out, flaunted, bandied, waved and wiggled in a clubhouse. It's the most exaggerated exhibitionism this side of the Internet. And everybody was used to Pedro, in particular, flaunting, bandying or wiggling his. He was a good hitter in those days, but also wildly inappropriate, even by the standards of baseball. If you were in your interview crouch, transcribing some Dodger's quotes, you knew to jump if you felt something brushing your neck.
Even so, it was something of a shock that night when Pedro, naked as always, slathered his member across the banquet of post-game cold-cuts. It must have finally occurred to him that he simply could. I want to say he did it with relish, but that goes without saying. In any case, the clubhouse was seized with a kind of trauma, the players' eyes wide, their mouths agape at the singular destruction of dinner. We'd all seen Pedro wield his instrument in any variety of ways but never in the vandalism of free food.
Now I've been telling the story for all of these 30 years, more often than not when alcohol was available, but even so have never stooped to describing the offending anatomy. Whatever the veining, I'll leave it to others who were in the clubhouse that night. The size, the state of its circulation, the grip — none of it important. To me the whole point of the story rests with the sudden appearance of Bill Russell, that innocent from Kansas, returning to the clubhouse after one of those dugout interviews, the ones where the star of the game chats with the radio guy for a free Timex or a car wash coupon.
My memory can't be perfect and who knows if, after all this time, a flourish hasn't crept into the anecdote, an embellishment, a harmless ornamentation. It's been 30 years, after all. But I'm quite sure, I can see it in my mind's eye, that Russell surveyed the spread before him, however strangely unattended, and set about making his customary sandwich. Free food is free food.
I seem to remember that at one point Russell looked up from the construction of this monstrosity, perhaps puzzled by the stunned silence around him or just the unnatural attention he was receiving. Why, in this normally ravenous clubhouse, was he the only guy at the buffet? And why was everybody looking at him? Still, all that food. As I recall he paused just briefly — "What?" he said — then bit deeply into that meaty torpedo.
Then again, he may have said nothing at all. Like I said, it was a long time ago.
Again, any sports journalist out there with a story to tell — print, online, broadcast — should send it along to email@example.com. You know you've got a million of them.