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's story comes from venerable Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski, who shares this tale of turbulence with former Royals' relief pitcher Jeff Montgomery. Posnanski's online musings can be found here.
Man, I've been on the dark side of the locker room a few times. And I'm supposedly one of the nice guys. Here's one, had to be like 10 or 11 years ago, and I wrote a column ripping Jeff Montgomery, the old Royals relief pitcher. I don't recall all the details, but Jeff had been quoted ripping the manager, and he was also pitching lousy, and those two didn't seem to blend too well in my mind. So I ripped him pretty good. I couldn't tell you now if it was "fair." Maybe it wasn't. It was a long time ago. It probably was fair.
I'd had a pretty decent relationship with Jeff. I respected him and all that and I knew he was a competitive son of a gun, so I thought he might have something to say the next day. Of course, I had to be there to take it. That's part of the deal. So I start driving to the stadium, and I turn on the radio, and they're interviewing Jeff, and he's just ripping me. So I have a pretty good idea what was coming.
I go to the locker room to find him. He's not around. I wait by his locker for a while, and a few guys are telling me, "Man, Jeff's going to kill you," and I'm smiling and nodding, "Yep, he's going to kill me," like a complete jackass.
I'm not much good in those sorts of settings. But the job is the job.
Finally, Jeff shows up and he gets right up in my face, and he says, "I've been looking for you." And I say, "Yeah, Jeff, I've heard. That's why I'm here."
Then he grabs the Royals PR guy, and says, "Follow me." And we go back to the stairwell that was behind the clubhouse. It's just us three now, and Jeff starts wrapping a towel around his hand, like he's going to hit me with it. And then, all of a sudden, he jumps forward, raises his fist, and looks like he's about to hit me, only he stops and he shouts, "I should KILL you, man."
And then he starts screaming. I don't know how long we were in there, but it felt like quite a long time. He's screaming, and he's pacing around, and every so often he gets close to me and raises his hand like he's going to hit me, and then starts pacing around again.
Now, I'm not going to tell you I'm the bravest guy around, because I'm not. I'm a bald, chubby-to-fat sportswriter. At first, I had that, "Damn, I'm going to have a fight with Jeff Montgomery and he's going to pound on me like Sonny pounded Carlo," feeling in my stomach. But after a couple of minutes, I realize he really isn't going to hit me, there isn't going to be a one-sided fight, and then it's like I have one of those out of body experiences. Suddenly it's like I'm looking down on the scene, and I'm thinking, "WOW, this guy is mad. Look at him. He's really, really mad. He's like crazy mad. Look at this guy, pacing around, stomping around, that towel wrapped around his hand, he's really mad. I mean, this guy is mad."
And then, it becomes sort of a mini-struggle not to laugh. Well, I don't know that I was every close to laughing, but he WAS mad.
My favorite part was when the thing ended, and Jeff says, "Do we understand each other?" and he stomps off. The PR guy turned to me and in a shaken voice whispers: "I just want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of that."
Now, as mentioned before, I had a lot of respect for Jeff. And I still do. When the screaming ended, I went outside and there were like five TV cameras around and reporters and they were all like, "What happened?" I walked by, and then went over to Jeff. And he said: "That was between me and Joe, man to man, and I'm not going to talk about it," which I thought was cool. At least he called me a man.
A couple of months later, he retired. And I wrote a pretty positive retirement column: he deserved that. I wrote a little bit about the incident and talked about how Jeff was really good pitcher who succeeded because he was a battler. He never backed down. He seemed to appreciate that.
A few years later, I ended up competing in the Royals fantasy camp, which Jeff happened to run. He was going around the room asking people which number they wanted. He turned to me and said something like, "Hey, Posnanski, what number does Mr. Sportswriter want?"
I said, "What number did you wear, Jeff?"
He said: "Twenty-one."
I said: "Yep. That's the one I want. You know you're my hero." Nobody around the room got it, but Jeff smiled, and nodded, and we understood each other.
** It's a good thing, looking back, that Paul O'Neill had not been in the fantasy camp seven years earlier.