Longtime Listener As a recent book tour proved, a sports-talk guest is all too often a silent partner

January 18, 1999

George Carlin, with whom I guested on a late-night talk show
last week, gave the best advice I have yet heard on how to
promote a book. "I wrote mine and forgot everything in it," the
comedian said of his best-seller Brain Droppings. What, then,
did he talk about on talk shows? Carlin shrugged and said, "You
can't go wrong attacking God and children."

The fact is, you can say any blasphemous thing you want as a
touring author because nobody is listening, probably not even
God. Trust me. While flogging my own sports book, Road Swing,
around America these last 10 weeks, I have been the subject of
relentless--one might say unprecedented--media inattention. A
sportswriter in Milwaukee interviewed me for 10 minutes without
allowing me even to speak. A radio host in Kentucky conducted a
similar Q & Q: After five minutes I put down the phone, vacuumed
my apartment and returned to hear him still in mid-monologue
about the media's mistreatment of Adolph Rupp.

Occasionally I am allowed a few words. In a Minneapolis
bookstore I delivered a 60-minute sermon on America's alarming
obsession with sports, then grandly offered to entertain
questions. An epic silence ensued, during which my armpits burst
into flames, before a single hand finally floated up from the
audience. The man cleared his throat and said, "Do you think
relief pitchers should be eligible for the Cy Young?"

The same evening I suggested that America's alarming obsession
with sports had reached its apotheosis with the election of a
former pro wrestler as the governor of Minnesota. Six minutes
later I signed a copy of my book to Jesse (the Body) Ventura.

The Body was until last July a sports-radio host. Hardly
surprising, given his name: I have now discussed grave sports
issues of the day with radio hosts named Coach, Common Man, Dark
Star, Dream Weaver and--in Des Moines--the Round Guy. Each must
be addressed as such on the air, so that you're made to feel as
ridiculous as you do when forced to order, in a fast-food
restaurant, the Char-Chicken Choco-Taco Mexi-Melt Fiesta Fingers.

On one station--I can't remember where; I'm guessing Deep
South--I took a call from a man named Bump. I don't mean to
suggest that all-sports radio is shameful, but why do the hosts
and callers all seem to be using pseudonyms?

While flying to Los Angeles to promote my book--about America's
alarming obsession with sports--I read that Houghton Mifflin has
published an American history textbook for fifth-graders in which
the Great Depression is given less space than the baseball career
of Cal Ripken Jr. When I incorporated this fact into my spiel,
most hosts and callers responded that Ripken's career has lasted
longer than the Great Depression. Not all of them, I now fear,
were being ironic.

I don't mean to complain. I am genuinely grateful to be
America's guest, particularly on television, where authors are
usually bused to a bad neighborhood called C-SPAN2. At least on
TV you know where you stand. On any given talk show the author
is always on last. This is an immutable law, an FCC regulation.
Bob Costas recalls how self-conscious he felt about preceding
eminent author David Halberstam on one program. A former
late-night host himself, Costas foresees a day when the
following teaser is read on a talk show: "Up next, Nelson
Mandela. But first, Yasmine Bleeth."

Personally, I'd rather hear Mandela on the radio, addressing
various Mad Dogs, Bulldogs and Bullfrogs. Heaven knows, this is
one nation that needs healing. And heeling.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO [Drawing of man in front of several people talking]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)