“I Used to Play a Little Ball Myself.”
Every couple of years, I see it happen again: somebody lies about playing minor league baseball.
A few years back, at a job I hated, I had a Monday morning client meeting. All six people in this client group were spectacular assholes, but one guy in particular stuck out. He wasn’t the loudest mouth or the biggest jerk among this group. But he had a kind of weird, competitive vibe that I picked up right away.
He wore a perfectly tailored summer suit and a watch that cost more than my car. Before the meeting got underway, there was some forced small talk as we offered the clients coffee and pastries. Headed for the coffee pot, I got up very slowly from the table and mentioned that I’d caught nine innings the day before for my recreational league baseball team. My knees and hips were sore and I had the usual post-game Monday creaks.
Suddenly, the Summer Suit Guy had a million questions. What league is that? Where do you play? How hard do the pitchers throw?
That final question has always struck me as rude. First of all, who the hell knows how hard anyone throws? You think we have radar guns in county rec leagues? And second, I always imagine that the person asking the question is sizing me up, wondering “could this guy possibly hit an 80-mph pitch?”
After I’d answered all his questions, he said, casually, “I used to play a little ball myself.”
Great! A topic we have in common! “Where’d you play?”
“Oh, it wasn’t any big deal. Just minor league stuff.”
At this point, sir, you’ve broken the seal. You have told me, after I just explained to you that I play in a rag-tag, twice-a-week, county-run hardball league, that you were paid to play baseball. No matter the league or the team, every player in the minors gets paid. They’re professionals.
I had no reason to doubt Summer Suit Guy. “Wow! Really? What organization?”
“Uh, the Pittsburgh organization,” he said, with only the slightest hesitation. “I never made the majors. I only got as far as triple A. It was a long time ago, back in the 70s.”
There was no turning back. He had just told me he was one step from the big leagues with the team I grew up worshipping.
“Amazing! Did you play for Charleston or for Columbus?” Those were the two teams that served as the Pirates’ triple-A teams in the 1970s.
“Uh … no,” he said. “I played for … uh … Johnstown.”
My expression must have given me away because Summer Suit Guy pushed back from the table and headed for the pastry tray, clearly wanting this discussion to end. And, while I’m no MBA, I do know enough about business that you don’t want to alienate your clients by pointing out their vanity lies. But I still didn’t understand he was lying.
“J…Johnstown?,” I stammered. “I was born there.”
I knew that, while there has been minor league ball in Johnstown, it’s been sporadic over the past 100 years and it certainly never rose to levels as high as triple-A.
At that moment, we both knew he was lying.
Summer Suit Guy was at the pastry tray, loading up. He returned to his seat and looked across the table at me, his expression daring me to say another word about minor league baseball. If this guy and his gang of dicks were to remain our clients, I had to shut up immediately and let Summer Suit continue his lie.
I did shut up and the meeting, while smarmy, ended successfully.
After Summer Suit and Company left our office, I told my boss the guy was lying about playing ball.
“So what?” the boss said. “We need the business. Don’t you dare let him know that you know he’s lying.”
Uh … too late. But that was just it: Summer Suit didn’t care that I caught him in a lie. As long as his colleagues believed his story about playing triple A.
A version of this story has unfolded at least four times in my career. Another time it was the Yankees ogranization and a guy who claimed to be a pitcher. Or an employer who swore he was an ex-White Sox infieder
What does it mean to lie to a stranger about playing baseball? Does it make you feel superior? Do you believe it yourself? Or do you lay awake late on the night that happens, haunted by your lie, praying no one will ever think to look up your non-existant record?
A few months later, on a business trip to the clients’ heaquarters, I was eating lunch with with some lower-lever IT guys when one of them noticed my thumb, which was purple and swolen. I explained that I’d taken a foul tip off the thumb catching the day before.”
“Awesome,” the guy said, biting into a sandwich. “I used to play a little ball myself.”