As previously mentioned in this space, Sergeant Slaughter is coming to Bowie on Thursday for Army Night against the Harrisburg Senators, during which he'll sign autographs, pose for photos and put losing team members into the Cobra Clutch. [Actually, no joke, he told me that he'll be putting fans in headlocks and Cobra Clutches, for free. What a deal.] Baysox players and coaches will also be wearing Army themed camouflaged jerseys, which they're apparently borrowing from the mothership in Baltimore, where the players don't need any help disappearing.
Anyhow, the Sarge is doing media appearances to promote Army night, allowing us to have the learn the following things:
Somewhat bizarrely, he isn't worried about UFC eroding wrestling's popularity: "They just don't have the following, the fan base," he said. "It's probably a little bit too over the edge for a lot of wrestling fans. I think they'd rather be more entertained by a guy walking in the ring with feathers and a long robe than with gloves on the hands, kicking somebody. I did it, not professionally, but I've gone in and sparred with a few of those guys. It's just a different sport. You have to train for it and get a different type of conditioning. You've got to be ready to feel some pain and hurt."
He's heard how much he looks like Bill Cowher: "I did meet Bill one day at an airport in Pittsburgh," he told me. "There is a pretty striking resemblance. He has a little more hair than I do, but I can't hold that against him."
Kirby Puckett was a fan: Slaughter's favorite team as a youth was the Yankees, "because that's the only one we could get on the transister radio," he told me, "but the Washington Senators moved their team to Minnesota and that's where I grew up, so I became a Minnesota Twins fan. A lot of the players on the Twins used to wear my t-shirt underneath their uniforms when they played: Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti and a couple of the other players."
The Twins weren't the only pro athletes who were fans: "In fact, it's hard to explain how big of fans they are," he said. "We just had Wade Boggs come to our show in Tampa, and he's like a little kid in the back, he comes up and hugs you and smiles. I think in the back of their minds they'd all like to be wrestlers for some reason. Here's a guy that can watch the seams of a baseball coming at him at 90 miles an hour, and he wants to be a professional wrestler."
Hockey players are the most enthusiastic: They want to get in there and wrestle you," he said. "They just have that want-to; they want to go around with you. A couple times I got in the ring with Mike Modano; he was with the North Stars when I was in Minnesota, and he just wanted to get in and see what it felt like. Most of them go about five minutes and they've had enough; they run out of air. It's a different type of sport. You see guys running back and forth on a basketball court or up and down an ice rink, but when you get in the ruing it's a whole different type of conditioning."
He thinks Shaq has the most pro wrestling potential of any pro athlete: "I think he'd be a dynamite wrestler," he said. "He's big, he's very agile, he loves wrestling, and he's young enough yet. A lot of times we get the professional athletes, but it's after their other career. A lot of times they have knee injures or back injures or neck injuries and can't give it 100 percent, but I think Shaq is just an awesome specimen for an athlete. A lot of them have amateur wrestling backgrounds from high school; the first thing they do is try to take you down. That's the worst thing to do. You get on top of them and just squash them, take the air out of them.
He still gets in the ring, happily: "Oh yeah," he said. "Always have my bag with me. Never know when the call comes that you have to put your gear on and get in the ring and wrestle somebody, or show somebody what wrestling's all about. I might not win every match now, but they know they've been in the ring with a former champion."
He thinks minor-league baseball and pro wrestling are similar: "They're entertainment," he said. "A lot of people think baseball's boring, so they have to bring other things like mascots, bringing the fans on the field, just like the game with the Baysox....It just gets everybody involved. That's the whole thing about entertainment, you have to get everybody involved. Everyone has a good time. Take me out to the ballgame."