This Week's Question: Most Embarrassing Moment
This week's question for Pandemic Baseball Book Club members: What is your most embarrassing professional moment?
Early in my career, Tony Lupien taught me a lesson when I asked to interview him about Ted Williams for a book comprised of 200 interviews with people who had interacted with The Kid. When I reached him on the phone, the first thing he asked me was, “What position did I play?” Umm ...
Then he said, more or less, “Why should I make time for you when you don’t even know what position I played?” I learned my lesson: prepare! Now, when I plan to interview a former player I do my homework first.
Tony Lupien played first base for the Red Sox. He didn’t appear in the book. I was too embarrassed to call him back again.
When my first book came out, I somehow managed to wrangle a talk at a huge Center City Philadelphia Barnes and Noble. It was a book about the Phillies, and it was a large B&N, so I figured there'd be a crowd. Or at least a smattering. Well, I showed up and found a sea of empty chairs. Eventually one person sat down, which led to a discussion with the B&N rep about what to do. Do I do the talk for one person? Yes, was his response; he showed up and I was there so I should talk. Once I started, maybe others would hear me and come over. So I walk over to the podium, and just as I am about to start I hear a large snore. The guy is out. Completely gone. So I packed up and went home. They gave me the poster, though, which is hanging in my basement. To this day I can't see it without hearing that snore.
I was 25 and had just moved to San Francisco from Orlando. The executive editor at the Orlando Sentinel had been hired in the same role at the San Francisco Examiner, and brought four of us with him from the Sentinel.
He was a brilliant newspaperman and a powerhouse. He called me into his office one day and told me to write a tongue-in-cheek column about the cutest 49ers. This was around the time of the film"10," with Bo Derek. The column would be a clever parody of how men are always judging women on their looks.
I was appalled and terrified. It was the worst idea I’d ever heard. Women were still getting a foothold in sports, and I was supposed to write a column about cute players?
The editor, excited about the brouhaha the column would cause, said he'd been in the business a long time and to trust him. I'd be "shaking up the status quo,'' he said.
With a pit in my stomach, I wrote it. The tongue-in-cheek and parody aspects of the column didn't quite come through, primarily because I had no idea how to write tongue-in-cheek or parody. I was immediately a laughingstock—that female sportswriter who was covering sports only to ogle naked players. I was on every female sportswriter's shit list. I had just made life more difficult for all of them. It also didn't go over real well with the players … or their wives. Oh, boy, the wives.
Going back into the 49ers locker room was one of the hardest things I'd ever done.
I wasn't sure I'd ever live it down.
Well, that's not quite true. I knew I'd live it down. I had no doubt that people would eventually see who I actually was as a person and as a journalist.
And they did.
But as I write this, I feel the pit in my stomach all over again.
When Jeff Passan came onto my podcast, I thought it would be smart to reference his 2016 book "The Arm," and discuss how he thought the culture had progressed since he wrote the book. Instead, I ended up accidentally saying the title of the unrelated movie "Million Dollar Arm," with Jon Hamm. I hadn't even finished the question before Passan pounced on my mistake. I fell to PIECES, stumbling over the names of the actual journalists who appear in the movie (I couldn't remember Jayson Stark?), and even stumbled over Jeff’s name (my co-host’s name is Jim Passon) going to break.
He was an absolute pro about it and had a great sense of humor, but I was absolutely mortified in the moment. It took everything I had to get through the rest of that interview. I posted it though, in its entirety, because I feel like you should own your mistakes. It was the best, toughest, most awkward interview I've ever done.
I ambushed Scott Boras after he spoke at an SABR convention and asked him, "Do you handle your high school clients and differently than college?" He told me, "We don't handle high school clients." Which I should have known in the first place.
In 2001, I was covering the first-ever opening day for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets. I had been there for a few hours when I experienced a sudden, severe pain in my stomach, and had an urgent need to use the men's room. The only one nearby was in the press box, and it was occupied. There was no answer when I knocked on the door, but when I heard the hand dryer go on, I figured I’d be inside in a few seconds. No dice.
Five minutes went by, and the air dryer kept going on and off, on and off. I was like, c'mon man. When this went on for another five minutes, I knocked really loudly. No answer except for the hand dryer going on again.
Finally, my pain got the better of me. As I pounded on the door I shouted, "What the fuck, guy? Are your hands finally clean? I gotta GO!"
A few seconds later, a older man who I immediately recognized as Carl Erskine, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, opened the door with a sheepish grin, "I'm sorry, son, but I spilled something on my tie and I have to be on the field in a few minutes."
I was in no shape to chat. When I emerged a few minutes later, Mr. Erskine was right outside the door.
"I really am sorry, young man, I didn't realize there was an emergency situation at hand," he said, hand outstretched. "I hope you're OK."
I never felt so small in my entire life. I can laugh about it now, but man, that was embarrassing.
Mark C. Healey
My most embarrassing professional moment happened in about 2009-ish. It wasn’t in journalism, but to my mind, all the jobs you take when you're trying to become a writer count as part of your professional journey. It was my first day working at a restaurant in Brooklyn, running food and busing tables. Somebody whispered and pointed out that Usher was sitting in a booth in the back. Cool, I thought. An hour or so later, I found myself clearing his table. Somehow, I managed to drop a dirty butter knife, which bounced off of the table and onto Usher's lap. He picked it up and began to wipe it with a napkin. He stared up at me through his sunglasses. He kept staring and staring and wiping this knife for what seemed like forever. I was sort of leaning awkwardly over the table, muttering apologies, waiting for him to hand me the knife. Years seemed to go by. Finally, Usher's date gently elbowed him in the ribs, and he grudgingly handed the butter knife to me. I finished clearing the table. I was asked not to come back.
Designing the sports section for my high school newspaper, I was tasked with generating a headline to describe our swimmers coming off a successful week. Naive as I was, I took the cliched route. In big 36-point font read the headline: "Swim Team Makes a Big Spash." I guess you could say I took the 'L,' literally and figuratively.
I'll never forget playing in a media game before a Washington Bullets game in 1975 in the Capital Center in Landover. I was pretty fair basketball player, but not that night. I just kept missing and missing and missing. I was terrible, but I am from the John Starks school of shooting: You can't make a basket if you don't shoot. So I kept shooting and missing. I think I went 1 for 20, kinda like Starks against the Houston Rockets so many years later. Some people who came early for that night's game even started to boo me. No idea who won, but I certainly lost.
On my way off the court, I passed Elvin Hayes, the superstar forward for the Bullets and a player I had gotten to know. I stopped when I saw him. He had a big smile on his face, and he was shaking his head and laughing. Finally, he stops laughing long enough to say, "And you have the nerve to write and say that I had a bad game? That was the worst exhibition of basketball I think I've ever seen."
Well, he might have been right. It was embarrassing, no doubt.
But it was also pretty cool having my game critiqued by a future Hall of Famer.
In 2005 I was assigned a feature on Nick Swisher. It was early in his rookie year with the A's, and I had not yet met him. After studying his media guide headshot, I approached him in the clubhouse as he stood in front of his locker hours before game time.
"Hi, Nick," I said, even as he turned toward the far side of the room and began to walk away.
"Um, Nick?" I said again, plaintively.
He walked. I followed. "Say ... Nick?" I repeated with increasing urgency.
Finally he turned around. "I'm not Nick," he said.
It was Joe Blanton.
To be fair to me, Blanton was another rookie I had yet to meet. Also to be fair to me, he was standing in front of Swisher's locker when I spotted him. To be even more fair to me, although it's difficult to conceive of looking at the two of them now, their rookie-season media guide headshots are remarkably similar.
To be fair to the situation, there's no getting around the fact that it was an embarrassing mistake. The only person acting like a rookie in that room was me.