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Mike Downey

All the Bad News That's Fit to Print

March 15, 1987|Mike Downey

Baseball season has arrived. I know that now. It officially began the other day in Florida when a Dodger catcher named Gilberto Reyes threw out the first "you guys" of the season.

Whenever I hear a "you guys," I know that spring training has gotten serious and the time has come to play ball.

For the first couple of weeks, training camp is cool and casual. Forty or 50 guys do stretching exercises, and four or five others walk out of camp in contract disputes. That's about it.

Then the exhibition games begin. It looks and sounds like real baseball. Somebody wins and somebody loses. And after the game, the day's key players are asked to say a word or two about the game.

One afternoon last week, the Dodgers were tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Ken Howell on the mound and a runner on third base. Gilberto Reyes was catching.

After one of Howell's deliveries, Reyes returned the ball to the pitcher--but over his head. The ball got away, the runner on third came home, and the Dodgers lost the game.

As is standard procedure, a couple of people stopped by Reyes' locker afterward to ask him what happened.

He talked of his mistake for a couple of minutes and then came out with it, officially getting the baseball season under way:

"You guys always write about the bad things I do, never about the good things."

Attaway, Gilberto. Take your cuts, Babe. Feels just like midseason, don't it?

What's a baseball season without a "you guys" to tell off? Never forget the baseball player's credo, that no matter how badly you mess up, make the reporters look like vultures and everything will be all right.

Remind them in the strongest terms that what the next day's headline should have said was: "Reyes Returns Ball to Pitcher, Almost Every Time."

Also: "Reyes Grounds Out Hard in Dodger Loss." And: "Dodgers Lose, but Catcher's Ninth-Inning Error Not a Factor."

"You guys" shouldn't be so negative all the time.

I have been one of "you guys" for so long now, I have built up an immunity. I have been told for so long that "you guys" are idiots that I tend to agree with it. I are an idiot.

Once, about a year ago, I even found myself nodding in agreement when the University of Alabama basketball coach, one Wimp Sanderson, said his team was voted too low in the national rankings because "you guys don't know anything about basketball."

Only later did it occur to me that Alabama was rated lower in the United Press International coaches' poll than in the Associated Press writers' poll, which must have meant that the coaches knew even less about basketball than the writers did, as I have long suspected.

I must admit, though, that I am worried about something. I am worried that instead of harping about "you guys," players and coaches are no longer going to speak to us guys at all.

From now on, I think, they are going to do one of two things: They are going to ask me to pay them to do an interview, or they are going to pretend that they cannot talk.

See, why should, say, Wade Boggs give me a few minutes of his time after going 5 for 5 in a baseball game when he can ask Sports Illustrated magazine if it will cough up a couple thousand dollars for a few choice quotes?

Sports Illustrated has decided that it will pay for good stories. A guy who told how he used drugs during his college basketball career walked into the magazine's offices recently and walked out with more than $20,000.

I can see it now: I am sitting in a dugout, talking to some outfielder, who is telling me how during his drug-using days, he was not only off with the crack of the bat, but off with the crack. Suddenly, he remembers that people pay big money for such stories, and asks me to put away my notebook until I produce my checkbook.

"Boss, I didn't get the interview," I will say back at the office.

"How come?" boss will ask.

"He didn't take VISA or MasterCard," I reply.

Then there is the other technique, popularized recently by Ronald Reagan, commander-in-chief and ex-jock.

Two days in a row, when asked about the Iran scandal, the President pointed to his mouth and whispered that he couldn't answer questions because he had laryngitis.

Some people think the President will use this response to Sam Donaldson for the rest of his term. Other people think the President should have used this response during the first six years of his term.

As for me, I have seen it before. One night in an NBA locker room, I watched an obnoxious Chicago radio announcer go up to Ricky Sobers, the basketball player, and ask him about the game. "Can't talk," Sobers rasped. "Lost my voice."

I liked Sobers, so later I went up to him and asked: "What happened, Ricky? Catch a cold?"

"Aw, hell, I ain't got no (bleep) laryngitis," Sobers said, laughing.

I am picturing a scene after a Dodger game. Gilberto Reyes goes 4 for 5, with a grand slam. All of his friends expect to see him on TV the next day and read about him in the papers.

But naturally, we mention nothing about him at all, because we are not interested in something good. Only in something bad.

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