Regular readers of this blog (Hi Dad!) probably know that my first two years out of college were spent working for the Nashua Pride, an independent baseball team that played in the Atlantic League at the time. On one hand, it was one of the best jobs I've ever had: I got to watch quality baseball almost every night, met (and actually had conversations with) guys like Butch Hobson and Dante Bichette, and dressed up in a moose suit on the Fourth of July.
On the other hand, it was one of the worst jobs I've ever had: I turned out to be a complete failure as a salesman, almost single-handedly killed a deal that the team owner had been working on for months to put a team in another city, and dressed up in a moose suit on the Fourth of July (seriously, nothing signifies "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" like that goddamn suit).
During those two seasons with the team, one of my single greatest achievements was a feature article on the Pride that appeared in ESPN: The Magazine. It was done in 2003, when I was an intern, and put together for the most part by the PR Director at the time, but still - I was a member of his staff, the guy he referred to as his assistant, and therefore played an important role.
This story came to mind when I read Jeff Pearlman's Page 2 article on ESPN.com this morning about the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks and its roster full of former major leaguers. It was, for the most part, a solid article that accurately captured the hopelessness that exists in independent leagues; players work as hard as ever and plead their cases to anyone who will listen in an effort to reach the major leagues, but the sad reality (as Pearlman points out) is that most just quietly fade away when time finally runs out.
One aspect of Pearlman's story that I didn't agree with, however, was his portrayal of Ducks co-owner and coach Bud Harrelson as the "resident goodwill ambassador". Actually, I can't really disagree with that because I've never seen Harrelson in action around the ballpark. He could very well come off as a pleasant individual who regales husbands with his stories of the time he fought Pete Rose, charms wives with that charismatic confidence that only professional athletes possess, and kisses babies while slipping a free ticket to a future game into their pocket.
All that may be true - like I said, I've never actually witnessed Harrelson's interactions with the general public. One thing I DID witness, however, was Harrelson's interactions with ME, and I came away with one very strong impression of the man:
Bud Harrelson is a douchebag of the highest order.
Here's the scene: once or twice a year, our front office took a trip somewhere - the All-Star Game, the winter meetings, things like that - for an official league function. We had a lot of free time on these little excursions, which typically lasted for a few days, but also had to put in our appearances at various league-related gatherings. Not a big deal, usually.
Well, one night, we had some sort of informal dinner to attend (one of my coworkers took great delight in referring to it as a "mixer"). Don't remember exactly where it was (although it must have been either Camden or Atlantic City), or why it was - just that we were in a reasonably nice, open, banquet-style room, a very nice place, and the meal was a self-serve buffet.
For some reason, I got there a little late, so everyone else had finished round one by the time I grabbed my first sandwich and started searching for a seat at a table with anyone I knew. After some looking around, I finally tracked down my general manager, who was sitting at a half-full table with none other than Bud Harrelson.
My position in media relations and my love of baseball history guaranteed that I would know Harrelson. He was Long Island's version of Butch Hobson, a guy who had played locally and successfully at the major league level and brought a certain cache to the franchise. I always objected to the classification of Hobson as a "New England Legend" in our official press releases, but how far was it from the truth, really? Both Hobson and Harrelson certainly had their legendary moments - Butch's were the thirty homeruns as a number nine hitter and the rearranging of bone chips in his elbow between players, Bud's was that meeting of the minds with Pete Rose in the playoffs one year in the early 1970s. Butch had always done well to live up to that position, treating those around him (except for umpires) with respect even in the most difficult of situations. Bud, from my experience...not so much.
So I sat down at the table and was preparing to eat my sandwich when Harrelson looked my way. Was he gonna talk to me, maybe tell a baseball story? That'd be cool - who doesn't love a good baseball story? I sure do.
As you probably know, there was no baseball story forthcoming. Instead, Harrelson looked over at me, noted my round frame and uneaten sandwich, and asked (loud enough for everyone to hear clearly), "Are you STILL eating?"
Wow. I mean, wow. Thanks, dick. Thanks for making me feel like a huge fat ass (note: I WAS a huge fat ass...still am) in front of everyone in the room, when really, all I am is hungry after a long day of classes about promotions and media relations and other fascinating topics. Classy move, you old bastard, classy move.
In retrospect, I should have told him to go fuck himself and continued about my business. That might have at least earned me some respect in the eyes of my boss, who pretty much sat there, heard what was said, and waited to see how I would handle it. I'm not sure anyone in our organization liked anyone with the Ducks anyway, and vice versa; at the very least, a nice verbal altercation would have proven my mettle.
Unfortunately, I forgot that I have no mettle, realizing it only as I muttered something about being hungry, downed my sandwich, and got the hell out of there. What can I say - I'm no Pete Rose.
So there you have it - "Bud Harrelson Is A Dick Because He Made A Crack About My Weight" in 5,000 words or less. If you read the entire thing and feel like you wasted the last ten minutes of your life, blame Jeff Pearlman. (Also, blame Pearlman for writing this sentence:
"Nary a one of the 13 ex-major leaguers listed on the 25-man roster of the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League belongs here, in a small brick clubhouse where the TV is normal in size, the cuisine du jour is a lumpy bowl of tuna fish salad (with a Jackie Gleason-sized fly buzzing around it) and the groupies are big-breasted, long-legged, scantily dressed … and 100 percent imaginary."
Either Pearlman didn't spend too much time around the players during their leisure hours or the obligatory "wink, wink" after "imaginary" was removed by the editors. Regardless of the reason, I am here to tell you that groupies do in fact exist, even in the independent leagues. I know because I've seen them with my own two eyes. And that's all I have to say about that.)