Everybody has their favorites and everyone wants to believe that their favorite teams and players are the best – even if they’re nowhere near the top.
And just like those we cheer are those we love to hate.
For every favorite player I have in every sport, I have just as many athletes that I detest. Sometimes the hatred runs deep – fans of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, or the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, citing a few examples, know exactly what I’m talking about.
I recently had two opportunities to change the way I view two sports personalities that I held disdain for. In one case, my attitude changed completely. In the other, the dislike only deepened.
But nobody can say I didn’t give either the opportunity.
I attended a recent game when the Oakland Athletics visited Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
While I brought very few cards of visiting players, I did stick a Hideki Matsui card in the stack. Just in case.
I wasn’t a Matsui fan from day one. I thought he was one of those arrogant Japanese players who came over here insisting that he play either for the Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, who along with the Japanese-owned Seattle Mariners, likely are the only major league teams that some Japanese fans are familiar with.
As Matsui stepped out of his cab in front of the stadium, my friend and I cautiously approached him and politely asked for his autograph.
He stopped and signed for us and several others who quickly flew to the scene when they saw who was offering his Japanese John Hancock.
Matsui never grumbled. He acted like he was in a hurry, but I could hardly blame him for that. He was headed to work and was being interrupted by a bunch of crazy-looking fanatics.
The game featured a “Salute to the Kansas City Athletics,” with several former A’s players on hand to sign autographs.
Long before Matsui’s cab pulled up to 1 Royal Way, Kansas City, MO, long before the gates opened or most fans made their way into the stadium, former Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda stepped out of a car.
Ever since I was a budding teenager growing up in Southern California, LaSorda was probably – more than anyone – the one sports figure I just couldn’t stand.
He seemed to be a complete phony to me. Watching Dodgers games on television, it seemed as if every time the cameras snuck in on LaSorda in the dugout, he was slumped over, arms folded, looking as if he wished he were anywhere but a game. Whenever he saw that camera on him, however, he became the world’s biggest – pun slightly intended – cheerleader.
LaSorda also had a thing for cussing, seemingly trying to see how many words had to be bleeped from each interview. In short, he was a real work of art.
We approached him with the same respect we later showed Matsui, politely asking for an autograph.
He screamed at us.
He began shouting, loud enough for those driving on Interstate 70 to hear, “No! I’m only signing for kids!”
Of course, the five of us looked around and saw exactly zero kids.
My friend decided to try to soften the curmudgeon up with a little humor.
“Well, I used to be a kid,” my friend replied.
“I DON’T CARE!!” LaSorda shot back, almost appearing as he were about to begin snarling like a vicious dog, spittle forming around the corners of his mouth.
Long since retired from baseball – he was a horrible player who didn’t last long in the majors, and a vastly overrated manager who was fed talented teams that seemingly should have won several World Series – LaSorda had no reason to continue his tiring act.
Except it wasn’t an act.
And while I learned that my opinion can change based on how athletes and entertainers treat the fans that pay their exorbitant salaries, I also learned that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.