I don’t know how I convinced the publisher of this paper to let me cover the Yankees and Mets in 1980 but I did. The Phillies won the World Series that year for the first time since their 1883 inception and when they came to Shea Stadium, I was right there on the field behind the cage during batting practice. I couldn’t believe it. Me! A lifelong baseball fan standing right there while Pete Rose himself, my hero, took swings. I walked into the Mets dugout and fondled some bats sticking out of the bat-rack. I drank from the same fountain that my beloved Mets drank from. Hey, I’m a guy who named his son after Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. Andrew Keith Greenblatt was born in 1986, the year the Mets won their second ever World Series. I told my wife at the time that I wanted to name him after either Dwight Gooden or Hernandez and she drew the line at Dwight. And it would’ve been his first name had his grandma Anna not died on the day he was born. Us Jews usually name our kids after dead family members.
I swallowed hard and went up to Pete Rose with my tape recorder in hand. Now, you’ve got to realize I’m used to interviewing rock stars. Rock stars know the value of talking to guys like me. It sells records. So they’re all so nice. Well, at least most of ‘em. Baseball players on the other hand have no reason to talk to strangers. So they don’t. If they don’t know you, they won’t talk to you. Nobody, though, had told me this. I thought that the times I went up to various Mets previous to meeting Pete Rose, they were just having bad days when they ignored me. And I do mean ignore. If a ballplayer doesn’t know you, he relates to you as he would to a gnat flying around his head. He won’t even acknowledge your presence. You could stand there and pepper him with questions and he’ll look right through you and say hi to someone as if you’re invisible. And he’ll spit. And oftentimes the spit will come real close to you. They’re not spitting at you, they’re spitting because ballplayers spit, and, to them, you’re not really there.
But I’m a slow learner. So I go up to the greatest ballplayer of them all, the guy that still has more hits than anybody who ever played in the Major Leagues. He’s taping his bat and looking down. I ask Pete Rose the stupidest question any reporter ever asked any ballplayer. What was I thinking?
“Hey Pete, Mike Greenblatt from the Aquarian Weekly. Hey, how did it feel to strike out three times last night?” As soon as I said it, I realized my gaffe. But you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, as the old saying goes. You can’t take it back once you click the send button, so to speak. Pete didn’t even look up. He kept taping his bat. I stood there with my tape recorder running and aimed at his face.
Once the laborious process of bat-taping was finished, Pete Rose put a finger to a nostril, and blew out of his other nostril a big green slimy ball of snot. This is another thing ballplayers do. He didn’t mean anything by it. I’m convinced of that. I’ve seen ballplayers do it on TV. The snot-rocket, this time, did hit my shoe. And then he left, got in the cage, and took his swings.
The next day at work something made me call up The Howard Stern Show to tell my tale to New York. He said I was disgusting and hung up on me.