Pearlman on Retiring Big Unit: Good Riddance, Dick

Posted in Baseball at 12:13 pm by

There’s a great picture of Randy Johnson that GC uses often here (above) and it involves both a drum set and a perfectly executed Heavy Metal Parking Lot affect on its subject’s part. The photo is great not just because Photos of A-Holes With Drum Sets is kind of a foolproof visual subgenre, but also because it seems to get at something essential about Johnson. As brilliant a pitcher as Randy Johnson was — and Tim Marchman’s argument that Teh Unit was the best left-handed pitcher in MLB history makes a lot of sense to me — there was always something kind of small and ridiculous about Johnson that deflated somewhat the greatness of his achievements. Even as Johnson announced his retirement on Tuesday and some artisan got to work on casting Unit’s epochal mullet for a Hall of Fame plaque, Johnson’s greatness remains secondary in my mind to his transcendent unpleasantness.

Probably my own anti-bully bias deprived me of the ability to better enjoy Johnson’s brilliance, but thanks to his obvious and unrelenting surliness and his numerous instances of rumored/substantiated jerkery, Johnson always came off to me more as a Bully Savant rather than a generation-defining ace. That is, as a small, vain and nasty schoolyard bully who happened, as it turned out, to have a surpassingly rare talent for throwing a baseball. It shouldn’t take away from his achievements on the mound, really, but I just have the sense that Todd from Beavis and Butthead should be listed among Johnson’s Baseball Reference player comparisons.

Jeff Pearlman, who doesn’t suffer bullies and jerks (or, seemingly, all that many people in general) gladly, gives Johnson a less-than-reverent sendoff at his blog. Even John Rocker thinks this is a little harsh:

I have nothing but negative thoughts for Randy Johnson, a brilliant pitcher but a pathetic human being. I covered baseball for a good chunk of time. I had direct access to such unpleasant men as Will Clark, John Rocker, Barry Bonds, Arthur Rhodes. But nobody”and I mean absolutely nobody”possessed the pure dismissive cruelty of Randy Johnson.

I™ve heard it a million times”no one cares how athletes treat the media. Well, I care. And Johnson was a punk. He bullied reporters, he snarled at reporters, he occasionally threatened reporters. He is one of the far-too-many professional athletes who believes the ability to throw a round piece of animal skin 100 mph grants you the right to treat other human beings as dog excrement. Just ask anyone who covered Johnson during his days in Montreal, Seattle, Houston, Arizona, New York and, lastly, San Francisco. He was a first-class pitcher and a first-class creep.

Buried lead alert here: Arthur Lee Rhodes is a jerk? I guess we’ll have to wait for Pearlman’s long-rumored unauthorized bio of the veteran reliever to find out more.

12 Responses to “Pearlman on Retiring Big Unit: Good Riddance, Dick”

  1. Marc says:

    So you think Randy Johnson is a big meanie and Jeff Pearlman agrees with you? Fascinating stuff…

  2. David Roth says:

    Yeah, that’s about the size of it.

  3. Doug S says:

    I have an old friend who both attended college with Johnson and then covered him as a beat reporter, and I always enjoyed hearing about RJ’s latest douchiness.

  4. Les Goldwall says:

    So, let me get this right. Jeff Pearlman is Jay Mariotti’s pseudonym? Because that sure sounds like Mariotti to me.

  5. David Roth says:

    Well, the difference would be that Pearlman actually talked to the guys he’s slagging. Mariotti is way too big-time to go into a locker room.

  6. ben schwartz says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that guys like Johnson are dicks to reporters so much as how much reporters take from these guys. beat reporters have to be there, but they need to toughen up and quit idolizing these guys. ted williams was an asshole, too, and yet it’s the boston media in retrospect that are chided for daring to crticize him. david halberstam’s old school ideal of a reporter having no friends if they’re any good comes to mind. as he put it, “a reporter with more than two friends at his funeral is a disgrace to the profession.”

    anyway, i certainly don’t mind bitching about sports writers around here, so i don’t know why athletes shouldn’t. i certainly write about chicago reporters with disdain. mariotti is a buffoon. however, keith olbermann — buffoonish in so many other ways — also refused to visit locker rooms so that access to players wouldn’t alter his objectivity in reporting on them. I kind of admire that distance. when “real” reporters complain that bloggers are just jealous because they have no access to locker room interviews, i keep that in mind — or that I don’t miss not meeting brad penny in his jock strap.

  7. David Roth says:

    I’m with you on the jockstrapped Brad Penny issue, obviously. Although I guess the easy answer to this is that Olbermann’s distanced objectivity is a different thing — he has been a TV guy pretty much for his entire career, and I just kind of think there’s a different standard there. Mariotti’s buffoonery, for me, comes from the disjunction between his shtick and his approach — the guy specializes in very ad hominem, very damning rip jobs, but lobs them from a great, safe distance. (TJ Simers, for instance, does the same thing, but at least had the nuts to actually put himself in a position to get punched by Jeff Kent every few days)

    Pearlman, I get the sense, actually got called names by all these dudes, and to the extent that it has given him what to write about, I guess I have to salute him for that. But I don’t want his gig, obviously. I know I got on Chico Harlan’s “I’m better than this” shit in this very space, but it doesn’t mean I can’t relate to his unwillingness to get “both teams played hard” quotes from Austin Kearns after every game. I can relate, and I don’t want to do that, either. Given whatever it is I’m trying to do as a writer (um), I don’t think a lack of access has really hurt me, either.

  8. Nick says:

    “Buried lead alert here: Arthur Lee Rhodes is a jerk? ”

    My cousin worked on Arthur Rhodes’ house a few years ago and claims he’s a great guy.

    So there!

  9. David Roth says:

    Case closed? I need to send Pearlman an email (reporting!) and find out what’s so jerky about Arthur Rhodes. I always thought he was kind of cool, at least when he still used all three names.

  10. David Roth says:

    So, I did email Pearlman. And while I said I’d keep the specifics of his (impressively prompt and frank) response off the record, I can say that Rhodes is not truly a heavyweight, Will Clark-grade douche. Maybe welterweight. So rest easy, um, everyone who was worried about that.

  11. Tim Midgett says:

    Jesus Christ, cry me a river. Ooh, mean to reporters. Who gives a shit.

    I bought used CDs from RJ before he was rich and HoF-caliber, and he WAS a dick.

    Also the only pitcher whose starts I made every time I possibly could, even after I left Seattle.

  12. dmac says:

    Tim: Anything good? Or is Randy Johnson’s taste in music as bad as his haircut?

    This post reminds me I need to watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot again.

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