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, author Jeff Pearlman shares his tale of contentious triumph over former major leaguer Will Clark. Pearlman is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of an upcoming biography of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. The book, being published by Harper Collins, is scheduled for an August 2008 release date. Working title: Boys Will Be Boys.
It was spring training 2000, and Sports Illustrated had me roaming Florida for the upcoming baseball preview issue. On this particular day I was down in Ft. Lauderdale, trying to uncover some insights into the wild, wacky, Pat Rapp-led Baltimore Orioles. While standing by a buffet table in the clubhouse, I was approached by Will Clark, who gazed at my press credential with a curious sort of expression.
"Why's your pass turned over?" he asked.
I looked down. "Oh," I said. "You're right."
When I flipped it to the proper side, Clark leaned toward me and read the small writing.
"Jeff Pearlman?" he asked.
"Jeff Pearlman! Jeff fucking Pearlman!" Clark's voice grew increasingly loud — the famous, cat-choking-on-a-lugnut Will the Thrill cackle in full bloom.
"Jeff fucking Pearlman! Now why the fuck would anyone in here want to talk to you? Why the fuck would we wanna talk to you, after what you did to (John) Rocker? Why?"
I just stood there, feeling sort of naked. I was 27 years old, and had yet to fully grasp that men like Clark were actually schoolyard bullies hiding behind a loud voice and the uniformity of a major league clubhouse. Truth be told, I was also naively unprepared for the backlash that followed the John Rocker profile. Though the story generated a fair share of controversy, all of it had come during the offseason.
Clark continued. "No wonder you have your pass backward, you fucking coward! Nobody here is ever going to talk to you. No fucking way!"
"Did you have a problem with the way I wrote that story?" I asked (dumbly).
"Are you kidding me?" Clark replied. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
With that he huffed off, seemingly satisfied that he had outed me to his peers. My head tucked to my chest, my confidence at an all-time low, I shuffled over to good ol' Delino DeShields, hoping he didn't share Clark's feelings.
"I guess you saw that," I said, referring to the browbeating.
"Yeah," said DeShields, grinning slightly. "But you've gotta consider the source."
A quick epilogue. In the spring of 2006 I was in Tucson to do some reporting for a book I was writing on Barry Bonds. Upon entering the Diamondbacks clubhouse one morning, who was the first person I saw?
Will Clark — a special assistant for the team. This being six years later, I approached Clark, re-introduced myself ("Oh, I remember you.") and asked if I could borrow a few minutes to talk Bonds.
"I guess so," he said.
"OK, well, what was your initial reaction when the Giants signed Bonds as a free agent?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You're not gonna talk to me, are you?" I asked.
"Nope. I would never talk to you. Look at what you did to Rocker. You think I forgot that? You think you could just walk in here and talk to me? You think ..."
For the record, I'm not saying my reaction here was righteous. Or, for that matter, professional. But I was now 33 years old; married, a father, a locker room veteran. I certainly didn't feel the need to take any more abuse from an obnoxious, beer-gutted has-been (nothing against beer-gutted has-beens).
"You know what," I said, "I don't have to listen to this shit. You don't wanna talk to me, don't talk to me. I don't care. But what you did back with Baltimore was bullshit, and it was cowardly. You obviously had the right not to talk to me, but to call someone out — someone you didn't even know — in front of the entire team was just pathetic ..."
"Screw you," Clark said. "You ..."
I interrupted him. "No, screw you. What are you doing here, anyway?"
We sparred for a few more minutes, and as Clark walked away I realized this was the first time I truly stood up to a ballplayer.
It felt great.