Anyone who’s stepped inside a major league clubhouse and posed a question during a pregame or postgame media scrum has probably committed an embarrassing gaffe. The odds increase the longer you’ve worked the beat.
Colleagues can sympathize, but it doesn’t prevent us from teasing the guilty party. Boxers don’t land as many jabs as we do.
The shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic is intended to keep people safe. It’s also protecting the media from doing something stupid.
Many of the exchanges became instant classics that have lived through the years. I’ve come up with a few examples.
* Reliever Todd Williams tried to issue an intentional walk to the Marlins’ Miguel Cabrera in the 10th inning of a June 22, 2006 game at Camden Yards. Williams’ first lob caught too much of the plate and Cabrera looped a single into center field to score Hanley Ramirez and break a tie. The Orioles lost 8-5.
Catcher Ramón Hernández, who hit a leadoff homer in the eighth that broke a 1-1 tie before Chris Ray blew the save in the ninth, waited for the ball as if camped under a popup. He hopped to his right, had to reach back over the plate and never touched it.
Pitchers no longer are required to throw four balls in order to issue an intentional walk. Hold up four fingers and let the batter take the base.
If only that rule was in place back in 2006.
Reporter: “Is that where you meant to throw it?”
Williams: (cold stare)
* The Orioles surrendered a crucial run on a close play at the plate. I don’t remember the exact game or year, but the story involves Javy Lopez, who spent the 2004-06 seasons in Baltimore.
Lopez was one of the nicest guys in the clubhouse, so the following exchange came with a smile.
Reporter: “What did you see on the play?”
Lopez: “I was the designated hitter today.”
You had to be quick to get Lopez because he was usually the first player out of the clubhouse. We were so glad that he lingered that night.
* Orioles ace Mike Mussina was hit in the face by a Sandy Alomar line drive in the sixth inning of a May 15, 1998 game against the Indians at Camden Yards.
Mussina suffered a broken nose and a cut above his right eye. Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells rushed onto the field before the play had ended and Mussina underwent X-rays and other tests at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“It was weird to go on playing the game after that,” said center fielder Brady Anderson. “You know you have to do it, but you really feel like walking off the field.”
“I knew it was bad. I heard it,” said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. “It sounded like a ball hitting off a concrete block, it was so solid. He was on his side. There was blood gushing out everywhere.”
The media gathered at Mussina’s locker the following day to check on his condition.
Radio guy: “How did it feel?
Mussina: “Let me hit you over the head with a bat and you can tell me how it feels.”
* One of the local television stations sent a news reporter to gather sound in the clubhouse. He joined the media for a postgame interview with switch-hitting second baseman Brian Roberts.
Television guy: “I noticed that you were batting right-handed earlier in the game and then you switched to left. Why did you do that?
Roberts: “Um ... because they brought in a right-hander?”
The television guy nodded his head, unaware that he crossed up Roberts more than any breaking ball. And Roberts’ response, in the form of another question, was epic.
* First baseman Derrek Lee had a disappointing tenure with the Orioles, who caught him at the tail end of his career in 2011. They had a knack for doing it.
Lee was traded to the Pirates for someone named Aaron Baker halfway through his only season with the Orioles, a month after he hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning of a June 25 game against the Reds. He hadn’t homered since May 8.
“I knew I got that one,” Lee said. “I put a good swing on that one. If that one didn’t go over the fence, we would have had some problems.”
The game drew an announced crowd of 45,382, the second sellout of the season. It also was Fireworks Night, which might have been a contributing factor.
Media guy: “Have you ever hit a home run on Fireworks Night?”
Lee: (startled): “Fireworks Night? I have no idea. Will have to look that one up.”
* The Orioles went wire to wire in winning the division in 1997, but lost to the Indians in the American League Championship Series. A young reporter, assisting in his paper’s coverage, approached veteran outfielder Eric Davis, who could be a challenging interview if you caught him on a bad day.
This was a bad day.
Reporter: “Does this especially sting because there could be turnover in the offseason with several aging veterans looking at free agency and it may be tough to get back to the playoffs in 1998?
Davis: “How do you know? Are you Dionne Warwick of the Psychic Friends Network?”
I laughed again just typing that sentence.
The reporter wasn’t wrong. Manager Davey Johnson resigned in one of the most tumultuous offseasons in franchise history and the Orioles strung together 14 consecutive losing seasons.
* Willis Roberts was a starter and reliever for the Orioles from 2001-03. He showed flashes of his potential, but couldn’t sustain it.
Roberts was in the midst of another slump when he turned it a solid outing that the club hoped would get him on a roll. The Orioles used bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks as an interpreter for Roberts, before teams began supplying them, and it led to this gem:
Media guy: “Do you think this game was a quantum leap for you?”
Hendricks: “What the (expletive) is a ‘quantum leap?’ “
The question eventually was relayed to Roberts, but not word-for-word.
* This last one doesn’t count as a clubhouse exchange - it fits more cleanly in my spring training memories article from last week - but it’s become a classic among media members who witnessed it.
A small group of us ate dinner at a Hooters in Fort Lauderdale. Just for the wings and March Madness. Nothing else.
We agreed to split the bill evenly and explained our plan to the waitress. A simple maneuver because of the math. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but we’ll go with $100 split among four of us.
The waitress couldn’t work through it despite our attempts to assist her. She was extremely nice and quite good at her job, but the bill was torturing her.
We found a napkin by the register on our way out the door that had numbers written in ink. She was trying to do the division.
(It took the Orioles less time to win one.)
Before we finally gave up and let her hand us one bill, she pointed to her shirt and said, “It says Hooters, not Harvard.”
A line that is repeated every spring since that glorious day.