I’ve mentioned before that I may be the only person in the St. Louis area who couldn’t care less about the Cardinals.
While friends of mine closely follow their progress through spring training and know who they traded for or acquired during the off season, I can’t even name a single player on the team. The only time I see their games is when I’m playing poker and all the TVs are tuned to Fox Sports Midwest. This lack of knowledge of the town’s biggest obsession hasn’t negatively impacted my life at all, except for one misadventure when I worked for KMOX, the Cardinals’ radio flagship.
For some reason, management decided it would be a good idea to send me to Jupiter, Florida, to do my afternoon show from Roger Dean Stadium, the team’s spring training home. I always hated doing my shows on location. They were never as good as when I was in the studio. I tried to get out of it by warning the Program Director, Steve Moore, that I wouldn’t have much to say about the Redbirds, nor would I recognize any of them if I bumped into them. He brushed my concerns aside, saying that the station’s sports guy, Mike Grimm, would be down there, too, and he’d introduce me to enough people to help me gather information. Besides, he said, the station could make extra money from sponsors if I did the remote.
It was the middle of March and quite cold in St. Louis, so I wasn’t going to turn down an all-expenses-paid trip to sunny, warm Florida — but I still had some trepidation. The only Cardinal I had ever talked to was Ray King, a southpaw pitcher I knew solely because he listened to my show every day and would call from time to time to jump in on whatever topic I was discussing. He was always fun to have on, and I was aware he’d had a big season the previous year, but I’d never met him face-to-face. Still, I figured I’d find Ray and start with him, which might lead to other players agreeing to talk.
Unfortunately, the day I showed up at the stadium in Jupiter was the same day that Mark McGwire testified before the House Government Reform Committee, which was investigating steroid use in baseball. McGwire had badly fumbled his testimony, refusing to answer any direct questions. It immediately became the topic du jour, something I’d have to address extensively on my KMOX show.
That’s what I had on my mind when I walked into the Cardinals dressing room with my press pass and recorder and headed straight for Ray, who was standing in front of his locker. I introduced myself and asked if I could ask him a few questions on tape to use later that day. He replied, “Paul, you know I love your show, but I’m not gonna talk about McGwire.” I could tell by the testiness in his voice that he wasn’t interested in any kind of conversation, no matter how hard I tried, so I gave up after a couple of minutes. As I looked around at the rest of the team, they all had their backs to me, and everyone I approached waved me off.
So, here I was in the middle of the major league franchise that was caught up in the biggest news story of the day, yet I couldn’t do anything with it. I asked Mike if anyone had opened up to him, but he hadn’t had any luck, either — even with manager Tony LaRussa, who usually gave him a good quote or two every day.
Now I was facing a four-hour radio show with a giant hole in it. I had other things planned, but was relying on getting a few guests out of the Cardinals. Since none of them would be available, I asked producer Fred Bodimer for help back home. He tracked down John Rawlings of The Sporting News, who was always a money-in-the-bank guest, and a couple of Cardinals beat writers. None of them had squeezed a comment out of the players, either, but we managed to kill a few segments anyway, with the addition of plenty of calls from listeners.
When the show was over, I was pissed off. More than anything, my ignorance had shone through. I hadn’t wanted to go in the first place, but let myself be talked into it. To make matters worse, the weather had been almost as uncooperative as the Cardinals — gray and not-so-warm. Most of all, I was unhappy because, despite Fred’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I knew the show had sucked.
Yes, I’d have to continue talking about the steroids story the next day, and on many days after that, but at least I could do it from the confines of the studio, where it was a lot more comfortable and there were no ballplayers around to shun me.