Note to readers: The following manuscript was discovered in a doorway in an abandoned building on 15th Street, where it was being used as bedding. Apparently, the document was written by Tony Kornheiser during his "vacation period" last August. Presented to literary historians, the "Kornheiser papers" have been tentatively authenticated (pending DNA tests on the suspicious stains) and published here for the first time. Now we ALL have something to be thankful for.
My doctor, Lester, likes to introduce me as his "marginally famous friend."
I once asked him to define "marginally famous," and he responded, "Do you remember the Turtles?"
I did. They had a few hits in the '60s, including "Happy Together," which featured these unforgettable lyrics: "We're happy together/ How is the weather?"
"Well," Lester said, "now, 30 years later, you might be more famous than their drummer."
So I am marginally famous. How marginal became clear to me when I was a "celebrity" in a golf tournament recently featuring former great athletes like Bo Jackson, Dave DeBusschere, Yogi Berra, Jerry Kramer, Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca.
As the golfers gathered by the first tee, I walked over to the people in my group and introduced myself.
"I'm Tony Kornheiser," I said, thinking that was sufficient.
There were four of them: Gene, Edgar, Jeff and Ryan. Four players and one celebrity is the usual format.
We stood there a while, the five of us, and then Edgar asked Gene, "Who is our celebrity?"
I said softly, "Um, I am."
They regarded me curiously, the way they might regard a big bowl of cranberry sauce on a city bus.
"What do you do?" Edgar asked me.
I explained I write a column that appears in many fine newspapers throughout North America, including the Rhinoceros Times in North Carolina, the Sebring Shopping Guide in Florida and the Daily News of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. I also do a daily radio show for ESPN, and I am occasionally on TV. I offered to provide Edgar with references.
Edgar gave me a blank stare. "I've never heard of you," he said.
I felt like I was the mystery guest on "What's My Line?" and the panelists were still stumped even after they'd removed their blindfolds. Or maybe I was the million-dollar question on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (Who is Tony Kornheiser?) and not even Regis Philbin, who had the answer in front of him, was confident.
"I was hoping for Yogi Berra," Edgar said.
I got prepared for a long afternoon, but after a few holes it all smoothed out. Edgar pulled out a cell phone and called his sister in Washington, where I am widely known as a media whore, and she'd heard of me, so I was aces with Edgar. More importantly, Gene turned out to be a partner in the famous steakhouse Smith & Wollensky, which just opened downtown, and he gave me his card and told me to be his guest. What good would that have done Yogi Berra? At his age, he shouldn't eat red meat.
To show the flip side of marginal fame, the next week I went to Syracuse, N.Y., to do my radio show from our affiliate there, and I was treated like a god. I was chauffeured around in a stretch limousine. The Hotel Syracuse put me in the Governor's Suite--and it's a good thing the governor wasn't there, because it could have gotten very crowded in the bathroom, bada-boom.
The greatest honor of all was: I was asked to throw out the first pitch before a Syracuse Sky Chiefs baseball game. I heard I was chosen ahead of the bass player from the Turtles. The Sky Chiefs are a farm team for the Toronto Blue Jays, and the best part was I got one of those satin warm-up jackets the players wear. It's blue with red sleeves and "Sky Chiefs" written in script across the chest. But my eyes are so bad I thought it said "Sky Chefs," and I assumed the team was sponsored by an airline caterer.
When I got to the ballpark, I panicked that I wouldn't be able to reach home plate from the pitcher's mound. So I began throwing baseballs in the tunnel leading to the dugout. I was horribly wild. A couple of Sky Chiefs walked by and looked at me--fat and 50, straining to throw strikes in a satin jacket--and one said to the other, "Man, this geezer better not give up his day job."
After five minutes, I had completely thrown out my arm, of course, and I was estimating how much rotator cuff surgery would cost me when I was led to the dugout and introduced to the Syracuse manager. I told him I was afraid I might be so wild that my pitch might sail past the catcher and hit the screen behind home plate. He laughed and said, "You'll fit right in. Most of my pitchers do that." Then he told me, "Stick around, I might use you in the late innings."
I heard the public address announcer call my name, and to my great relief some people cheered for me--the others weren't saying, "Booooo," they were asking, "Whooo?" I walked out to the pitcher's mound and waved to the crowd like I imagined a real celebrity, someone like Leeza, would.
As the catcher knelt at home plate getting ready for the pitch, I wound up--and hummed a fastball at the mascot, a grown man dressed like a fuzzy parrot, who was standing 20 feet up the third base line. I popped him in the stomach, and he took an elegant pratfall. Folks in the stands laughed, which was music to my ears. The only discouraging word came from the mascot, who said, "I was hoping for Yogi Berra."