Tuesday was Ron Johnson’s 54th birthday.
It’s too bad that he wasn’t on a plane with my broadcasting partner Steve Hyder.
For the past five years when RJ was Pawtucket’s manager and Hydes was one of the broadcasters, Steve would pull the same gag every time that the PawSox took a flight. Hydes would ask a stewardess to wish passenger Ron Johnson a happy 75th birthday (or a similarly inflated number). Invariably they did, and RJ good-naturedly played along.
Once on a Southwest Airlines flight, the crew even sang, “Happy Birthday.”
Now that was funny.
After five years of bogus birthday greetings, RJ finally tired of the gag late last season and Steve stopped making the request rather than annoying his friend.
But it would have been impossible to resist a “Happy Birthday” greeting on the actual day.
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Pranks on a baseball team are a time-honored tradition. Moments after Abner Doubleday supposedly invented baseball, a young farm boy from Cooperstown probably gave him the game’s first hot foot.
One gag that never gets old is the three man lift. Here’s how it works: A veteran player tells an unsuspecting rookie that he is strong enough to lift three men off of the ground at the same time. The rookie naturally thinks that it’s impossible and agrees to be one of the three people that the veteran will attempt to lift. The kid is told to lie on the ground in the middle of two teammates and the three of them lock arms. At that point, the rookie is pinned down while the entire team dumps a nasty concoction of whatever is available in the kitchen on top of him – catsup, mayonnaise, eggs, etc.
If you would like to see the three man lift, here’s one of the many examples that can be found on YouTube.
Clubhouse pranks are not strictly limited to players and coaches. Virtually anyone who enters is considered fair game.
When I was the broadcaster for the Syracuse Chiefs, our manager Bob Bailor decided to have a little fun with the beat writer from the local newspaper. After an especially good pitching debut by a young right-handed starter named Rob Wishnevski, our manager told the writer how incredible the performance was considering that the pitcher had always been a lefty until hurting his arm in spring training. Remarkably, just a few months later he was getting hitters out at the Triple-A level with his right arm. The writer was obviously skeptical, but when he approached Wishnevski at his locker, Rob played along with the gag and added a few more details. Sure enough, the headline in the next morning’s paper read something along the lines of, “Ambidextrous Pitcher Leads Chiefs to Victory.”
The players and coaches found it hysterical. The newspaper . . . not so much.
I can’t tell that story about a fellow member of the media getting “punked” without describing how it happened to me.
When I was hosting the Cincinnati Reds pregame show on Fox Sports Ohio, Kent Mercker was on the pitching staff and we often discussed golf in front of his locker. Kent is a skilled golfer who has a home at Muirfield Village near Columbus, OH – the home of the prestigious Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
Kent must have sensed that playing at Muirfield had always been a dream of mine (OK, I might have given him a few thousand hints), and he promised that he would invite me to play the course as his guest.
Sure enough, midway through season, Kent gave me a date and tee time to meet him in Columbus. It was the Monday after the Memorial Tournament and the Reds happened to have an off day in the middle of a homestand. It was the ultimate opportunity to play Muirfield because the course would still be in prime condition after hosting the world’s best pros.
After initially jumping for joy and thanking him profusely, I realized that I couldn’t make it. That was actually two days after my wedding date, and Peg and I would be on our honeymoon (I didn’t think she would go for a romantic night in the Columbus suburbs).
Mercker was ticked off, telling me that the course wasn’t even supposed to be open on the day after the tournament and said that he had pulled some major strings to set up our tee time. He made it abundantly clear that I had blown my one and only opportunity to be his guest.
I bought it hook, line, and sinker and felt awful . . . until he began cracking up and admitted that another member of the media had told him when I was getting married.
I had to admit – it was pretty funny.
And I really got a kick out of it when I eventually got to play the course.