OAKLAND, Calif. — I am the envy of all my peers. I am blessed with a special gift. I sit cross-legged outside the Dodgers’ clubhouse as reporters come spilling out of the small room near the front.
“You gotta go in there,” says a writer from Cleveland, who exits Tommy Lasorda’s office with a full notebook. “He’s talking about linguini!”
“Not interested,” I say, filing my nails.
“You gotta go in there,” says a columnist from Pittsburgh, who has run out of notebooks and is writing on his arm. “He’s talking about Sinatra and Sammy. He says Sammy might have a made a good shortstop — if he took off all his rings! HAHAHAHA! Can you believe that?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I say, stifling a yawn.
One by one they go in, searching for a quotable figure in this LA-Oakland World Series. One by one they come out, laughing, holding their sides, overjoyed with all this juicy material.
“How can you resist?” they ask me, “How can you sit there and not write this down?”
“I can’t help it,” I say, pointing to my press pass. “I am from Detroit. Do you know what that means?”
I tell them what it means. It means I have a problem. It means I work eight months a year with a small, white-haired manager named Sparky Anderson, who could talk the paint off a kitchen wall.
I’m supposed to be impressed with Fatso?
“Oh, hee-heee . . . ahhhahaha!” says a reporter from Texas, stumbling out of the small room. “You gotta go in there. He’s comparing the Dodgers to the Lady of Lourdes in France. He says the Dodgers are a bigger miracle! Great stuff, huh?”
“Sure, sure,” I sigh, reaching for a cup of coffee, “anybody seen the cream?” Talking pasta — or grandchildren
I am becoming a curiosity in the press room. I am the subject of whispers and stares. There are rumors I have been hypnotized, that I have lost my hearing. Steroids. I have heard those rumors, too. Steroids?
“No hypnosis, no steroids,” I say, shrugging, “I have one secret. It is my blessing and my curse. Here is my secret: I have heard this all before.”
And I have. Tommy Lasorda says he is the happiest man in the the world. Sparky Anderson says he is the luckiest man in the world. Lasorda says this is
the greatest bunch of guys he’s ever managed. Sparky says that every year. Lasorda talks about his favorite pasta dishes. Sparky talks about his grandchildren. I have heard it before.
“Listen to this!” says a colleague from New York, rushing out with a tape recorder.
“Don’t tell me,” I say. “He talked about being a small-time manager in some place like Ogden, Utah. He talked about how nobody believed in his team this year. He talked about the president and what a hell of a job he’s doing. Or maybe the pope. The president or the pope. One or the other.”
“How did you know?” says my colleague, looking disappointed. “Were you hiding in the back or something?”
I shrug. I cannot help it. It is a geographical curse. This is the greatest verbal duel in baseball: Tommy Lasorda in the National League, Sparky Anderson in the American League.
Can I help it if I live on the other side?
“Did you know Lasorda used to baby-sit for Pat Riley, who grew up to be the coach of the LA Lakers?” someone asks.
“Did you know Sparky Anderson used to play baseball with Buckwheat?” I counter.
“Did you know Lasorda was never more than a mediocre pitcher in the big leagues?”
“Did you know Sparky was a forgettable shortstop for the Phillies?”
“Did you know Lasorda told the same story 15 times during the playoffs?”
“Sparky can do that in a doubleheader.”
“No problem.” Familiar stuff in Detroit
What can I do? If I were here from Seattle, I might be impressed. If I were here from Baltimore, I might never leave Lasorda’s side. But I am not from those places. I am from Detroit. I am in trouble.
“Come on,” motions a writer from Denver, “he’s on the Dodger Blue thing. Says he never wants to get his mail any place but Dodger Stadium. You’ll love this stuff. Come on in.”
“I don’t know,” I say, scratching my head, “he’s not gonna talk about Chris Pittaro, is he?”
The others come and go. They are shopping in a verbal delicatessen. Italy. Don Rickles. The hanging curve ball. I have this sudden vision of Lasorda and Anderson in the same World Series. I see Lasorda open with the secrets of ravioli, and Sparky counter with a good Pete Rose anecdote. I see Lasorda sing: “I bleed Dodger Blue,” and Sparky answer with: “Pain don’t hurt.”
I see reporters tripping over each other in a mad rush from dugout to dugout, forgetting who said what, or what said who.
It is not a pretty picture.
“Oh, this guy is killing me!” says a reporter from Chicago, carrying a novel-sized notebook. “What stories! What quotes!”
“Where are you going?” I say.
“More paper,” he says.
I have had enough. I will forget the manager angle. I will concentrate on the players. I will write about the most intriguing player on the Los Angeles roster. Something fresh. Something new for Detroit.
I enter the clubhouse. I approach the locker. The man is unshaven, with a gleam in his eye, and the No. 23 on his back.
“Wait a minute . . . ” I say.