JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Jon Rauch: Unemployable Dolt

So earlier today I was at the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training camp up in Dunedin. As far as teams go, the Jays are always excellent to deal with. Jay Stenhouse, the media guy, is top shelf, and the players are covered with enough infrequency to be agreeable to most requests.

Today, while waiting around for Scott Podsednik, I spotted big Jon Rauch, the 6-11 reliever who happens to be the tallest player in major league history. I don’t know Rauch, and before today I’d never seen him in a clubhouse. However, while watching him pitch on TV last year I thought to myself, “If I ever meet this guy, I’m gonna do a column about his neck tattoo.”

Yup, Rauch has a neck tattoo. And other tattoos—all over his body. It’s a truly unique (some would say hideous) display of blue ink, up and down and all around this mountain of a man. In particular, though, I’m riveted by neck tattoos. As in, who the hell would ever get something applied to their body that would, literally, eliminate them from being considered for, oh, 70 percent of jobs.

Anyhow, after waiting and waiting and waiting for Podsednik (he eventually arrived, and was delightful), I approach Rauch. He was sitting at his locker, flipping through mail.

“Jon, hi, I’m Jeff Pearlman from Sports Illustrated dot com.”

He didn’t look up. “Yeah?”

“I wanted to see if we could talk for a minute.”

“You have two minutes.”—still not looking up.

“Uh, OK. I wanted to ask about your neck tattoo.”

“No, I don’t talk about it.”

“Really?”

“No, I’m tired of talking about it.”

“OK”—and I walked away.

Now, for the record, I’m not mad at Big Jon for not talking to me, or for not talking about his tattoo. It’s his right, and I’ve never resented an athlete turning me down. Hell, I once flew to Chicago just to profile Paul Konerko. When I got there, he said, “You know, I just don’t like the attention. I’d rather not do this.” Hey, no problem. What I loathe, however, is the rudeness that permeates through professional sports.

In my life, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked a question or approached without looking up at the person. Have you? Seriously, have you? It’s the rudest, most dismissive way to behave, and I don’t get it. Again, I don’t know Rauch. Maybe he’s a wonderful guy. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe he hates SI.com. Maybe I smell. But reporters go through this stuff all the time—clubhouses being like frats, where the ballplayers are the cool guys and the writers are the geek freshman plebes.

Along those lines, the wife was watching the NBA Slam Dunk Contest a few days ago. She said to me, “You know what’s weird? There are people giving the players towels and water when they sit down, and the players don’t even acknowledge them.”

Sadly, it’s not weird. It’s life.