How obvious to begin an interview with Ken Beatrice by asking him for the kinds of statistics which make him famous -- height, weight, speed in the 40. How easy for him to rattle off the numbers, just as he does on radio when someone calls about the second string nose guard at Fredonia Baptist or Musk Institute.
How strange then that Beatrice should be so vague.
". . . 5-10? 5-11, I guess . . ."
". . . 150, 155? 160, maybe; I can't remember the last time I got on a scale . . ."
You don't know your height and weight?
"You'd be surprised what I don't know about myself. I went for my driver's license and the man behind the counter asked me what color my eyes were. I honestly didn't know. He had to look to find out."
Where do you live?
"I honestly don't know. My zip code is 20854. I think it's Rockville, but I get mail in Potomac, Rockville and Bethesda. I guess I'm on the border of all three?"
And the 40?
He laughed loudly.
Although he refuses to give himself top billing, the main attraction of "Sportscall," WMAL's sports talk show, is Ken Beatrice. Ken Beatrice with the photographic memory.Ken Beatrice with the pahk-the-cah-in-hahvahd-yahd accent.Ken Beatrice with the (pick any or all) polite, pedantic, pompous,sensitive, servile, sycophantic manner.
But mostly, Ken Beatrice with the FACTS.
Facts about baseball, basketball, boxing, even bluefishing. Facts about golf, tennis, football, soccer, sailing, pro wrestling, probably even mud wrestling.
Facts. Facts. Facts.
Facts about players and schools you -- or me, or anybody -- have not heard of.Ask him about Joe (The Mad Bomber) N. Lie, a third string quarterback at Shanghai Wesleyan, and you get something like, "Oh, yes, a mahvelous prospect, 21 years old, a hair under 6-3, goes the 40 in 4.65, 4.55 wind-aided. My scouts really love him. We project him going low third or high fourth in the draft."
"Ken Beatrice is the most knowledgeable sportscaster I've ever heard," says Bob Ferry, general manager of the Washington Bullets.
"I've never seen anyone who knows sports the way Ken does," says Babe Parilli, quarterback coach of the New England Patriots and former head coach of the New York Stars in the WFL when Beatrice was that team's director of personnel. "The guy's a genius. He should be running a scouting combine."
"He was the best in town for hockey and soccer," says Andy Dolich, formerly an executive with the Washington Capitals and then the Washington Diplomats. "Sure, he talks about how hard he works, but when all is said and done, he is telling the truth. He does his homework."
Facts. Facts. Facts.
And apparently they're paying off in the Arbitron ratings. Beatrice has tripled his weekend audience and raised his weeknights audience by two-thirds within the last year. In the 7-8 slot on weeknights "Sportscall" is running two-to-one in front of the lighter, wittier "Sports Talk" on WTOP, hosted by Phil Wood, with both shows in a virtual dead heat between 8 and 9.
Beatrice's hard-core-facts approach results in his getting more mail, "and more positive mail than anyone on the station," according to Chris Core, one-half of WMAL's Trumbull and Core afternoon drive-time team. Core said that at a recent celebration for the returning hostages, one of them, Bruce German of Rockville, asked Core for a favor. "Could you please set up a lunch for me with Ken Beatrice?" German asked. "I really want to meet him."
The Postive Power of Facts, Facts, Facts.
A landslide of facts from the man who knows them all, or at least allows that impression to linger as he wraps himself in the credential of numbers.
Unfortunately, some of those facts are wrong.
Example: On a recent show Beatrice analyzed the New York Knicks and made three mistakes in the course of his analysis. He called Michael Ray Richardson, "Micahael Raymond Richardson." He said authoritatively that Reggie Carter was "in Red Holzman's doghouse"; most people familiar with Holzman's style of coaching, including Knick GM Eddie Donovan, believe that Holzman does not like to give rookies much playing time; nor does he believe in playing more than eight men whenever possible (the men with the least playing time on the Knicks -- Carter, Mike Woodson and DeWayne Scales -- are rookies). And he said that Sly Williams was playing with more consistency this season because of his marriage last summer. Williams is not now, nor has he ever been, married.
Little mistakes. Piddlers. But three in one call, and none of them necessary -- all coming out of Beatrice's apparent need to assume a familiarity with his subject and create the impression that he was the ultimate factotum.
"It appears that he feels he must know more than everyone," says a local sportscaster. "In effect, he says, 'I'm going to tell you things that only I know.' So now someone is checking up on him."
"He tries so hard to be perfect and legendary in his knowledge that he misspeaks," says Ted Landphair, former news director at WMAL, the man who hired Beatrice. "He thinks of himself as invincible. He doesn't like to admit a mistake -- it's very pronounced with him."
Although Beatrice swears he has "never knowingly told an outright lie," he admits to "falsehoods, yeah. BSing with the guys." In what seems to be a thorough contradiction to his style on the air, Beatrice says, "I don't set myself up as an authority; I never have." His explanation for mistakes is: "When you're on the air as much as I am, when you say so much, you're bound to be wrong a few times. I think you'll find I'm 95 percent accurate . . . You can't be a phony and stay on four years. You can't give out misinformation and stay on . . . I make mistakes. EVERYONE makes mistakes, but I don't want to be picked up on every one. Give me a BREAK."
He was not looking well.
Pale. So pale and waxy that he could have been on exhibit at Madame Tussaud's.
And gaunt, like he hadn't eaten in weeks.
Nervously, he wiped his right hand hard across his forehead and through his dark hair, matting it. There were white flecks at the corners of his mouth. When he went to light his pipe his hands trembled. He took in great gulps of air. It seemed like he was drowning.
In fact, he seemd terrified.
About the prospect of this story.
Beatrice knew two weeks ago that The Washington Post had already begun making inquiries about him in advance of interviewing him.By the time he sat for the first of three interview sessions totaling at least eight hours he was convinced that "someone was out to get (his) hide."
"I'm totally and completely uncomfortable with this," he said, tightening his narrow body until he seemed bound by his own predicament. ". . . I'm not an entertainer. I'm not Glenn Brenner or Warner Wolf.I just talk on the phone. I hate it when people see me and say, 'That's Ken Beatrice.' Nobody's going to believe that, but it's the truth . . . I don't want to talk about personality -- haven't you heard me say that? I'm a guy who does a job -- that's all . . . When you bring in a plumber, so you care about his family? Whether his wife is sick? NO. All you care about is performance. Can he PLUMB?"
It was a theme he would return to often, that he wanted no part of celebrity, that interviews caused him anxiety, chest pains even.
That it was frightening, unbearable, that it caused him "every week for the past three years" to reevaluate if he wanted to stay in the sports talk show business, that even though he loved doing his show, loved talking on the air, that this was torture.
His word, "torture."
And they were, regularly, tortured exchanges. For no apparent reason his voice would shoot up, as if exploding. Occasionally he would bang his fist on his desk. Throughout, his eyes were glazed, and he seemed to use them less to see than to bore into his questioner. Once or twice, especially when the conversation turned to the effect of his celebrity on his family, his wife, his 14-year-old son, his 10-year-old daughter, Beatrice seemed on the verge of tears. Initially, he insisted his family not be brought into the story, but time and again he would return to them.
"My family has been HURT," he said. "Why SHOULD they be hurt? . . . My son's playing basketball and we're walking out after a game, and someone yells, 'Hey, Beatrice, your old man's such a hot-shot you stink; you missed two free throws at the end.' . . . I can't even watch him play because he thinks he has to be perfect when I'm sitting in the stands.
". . . I see my wife die a little every time a story comes out . . . Why should my kids be told, 'If my old man ever meets your old man, he'll punch him in the mouth?' . . . Do you know what it's like to have your daughter come home in tears three, four, five days in a row?"
Some of Beatrice's coworkers at WMAL had spoken of what they called his "Walter Mittyishness." They described him as "extremely insecure," "very defensive," "depressed."
This man was in deep water.
He was very uncomfortable now.
"No matter what you write -- good, bad, in the middle -- it's going to be bad for me, it's going to hurt my kids."
He began answering questions that hadn't even been asked, as if it were a confessional instead of an interview.
"Maybe i'm in the wrong business," he said. ". . . there's no question that I'm too thin-skinned . . . I just don't see myself as a public figure. I know I am. And I know others have made their peace with it. I can't. I've tried. I just can't and it tears me up."
He pounded his fist on the desk.
"People SAY THINGS about me."
To make it easier one tries to change the subject.
Do you have any hobbies?
Any interests other than sports?
How do you relax?
"I'm not good at relaxing."
Not good at vacations, either?
"i'm lousy at vacations, lousy about believing people, lousy about caring about people who'd just as soon rather I was dead or go elsewhere."
Ultimately, the insecurity is inescapable. It may start as a fog, but it lands as a thunderstorm, soaking everyone and everything.
"I've made a lot of mistakes," he said. "But I've never intentionally hurt another human being. You came ONE person in this town who I've hurt. Have I hurt anyone? . . . People say to me, 'There are people in this town who hate you.' . . Why do people want to hurt me? People I don't even KNOW . . . Look, I've said things that were wrong, I ADMIT it . . . If I said it, I THOUGHT it was true. It was WRONG. Go ahead . . ."
He extends his arms in a pose of crucifixion.
". . . drive in the nails."
Beatrice likes to use the term "eclectic perception" to explain that what you think you heard him say is not necessarily what he said. It is one of his standard disclaimers when you call him on one of his FACTS.
At various time and to various people. beatrice has claimed he lettered in football at Boston College, earned a Ph.D. in psychology and, in working for the Boston Patiots (the original AFL franchise), he was instrumental in the Patriot decision to draft Fran Tarkenton. None of this is true.
When he was confronted with these questions Beatrice's typical method of operation was to first deny that he ever made any such claims. Then, when pressured, he pleaded guilty with an explanation. Then, he tried to switch the subject to avoid specifics.
Facts. Facts. Facts.
BC: He graduated in 1965 with a degree in political science. ("Oh? Was it political science?" Beatrice asked. "I wasn't sure if it was political science or philosophy.") He never played varsity football there. One local sportscaster said he heard Beatrice once claim to not only have lettered as a linebacker, but to have captained the BC team.
Beatrice: "I was a rotten athlete. I played every sport the same way -- lousy . . . I had two hip operations for a slipped epiphysus when I was 16 and 17, and they told me I couldn't pass a physical to play, so I played anywhere I would without taking a physical. I lied. I concealed -- anything to play. I played Park Leage footbal until I was 22."
Ph.D.: Beatrice has a piece of paper that says he is a "Doctor of Humanities" with a specialization in social science from The Liberty University in Girard, Ohio. There is no Liberty University in Girard, nor could one be found in any other city in this country. Neither the postmaster in Girard, nor Ronald Schuster, the superintendent of schools, nor Frank Albanese of the Ohio Department of Schools and Academies has ever heard of Liberty University.
Beatrice: ". . . I have the knowledge. I did the work. You can't ask, 'Do you or don't you.' . . Do I have a certified one? An accredited one? No."
To make a long story short, Beatrice says that in the late 1960s, when he was working for the state of Massachusetts (which he did for nine years), a coworker tipped him to "an external degree program" at Liberty. The coworker (whom Beatrice will not name, and whom Beatrice says is now deceased) showed him a brochure and told him that Liberty had applied for accreditation. Beatrice then gathered copies of all his postgraduate work and began sending them, along with tuition fees that he estimates to be no more than $1,500, total, to a post office box in Girard, Ohio. After repeating this process a few times, Beatrice received his doctorate in the mail. Beatrice says he realized his doctorate was worthless about 12 months ago, when he called the school and was told, "Don't call again." Before then, he says, it never occurred to him that the school was not legitimate.
Patriots: On the air, Beatrice claimed that in 1960 he worked for the Patriot organization and was instrumental in drafting Tarkenton.In 1960, Beatrice was 17 years old, which would have made him one hell of a whiz kid.
Beatrice: "I was a ball boy, sure . . . I didn't mean to imply I was on the scouting staff."
In a further effort to credentialize himself, Beatrice has left the clear and distinct impression that he runs a nationwide scouting network. He says he has always claimed that it is "strictly an avocation" with him, as it is for the "35 or 36 scouts" that form the group Beatrice often talks about. He admits (and produces a check to prove same) that he was paid $2,500 by the Cleveland Browns in 1976 for his scouting service, but says he has not taken "a dime" since then. He will not disclose the names of any of his scouts, but he says most of them are in education and they are scattered throughout the country.
Beatrice: "It started in College with a group of friends. We didn't want it to grow like this, but nobody believes me."
Beatrice has said that he spends hours a day going over his scouting reports and talking on the phone with his scouting buddies. Beatrice says he works "at least 65 hours a week . . . probably 90-100 hours on many weeks." Many of WMAL don't know why he works that hard; he isn't asked to. Even beatrice says he works so much it distracts from the time he spends with his family. "How my wife stays with me, I don't know," Beatrice says.
He admits he is a compulsive worker. He says, in a proud, defiant tone. "I'll outwork anybody." It is, it seems, just another credentials. He has to spend so much time on his scouting reports, he says, because his massive work hours don't permit him to see as many games live or on television as he'd like. He says he has a videotape machine at home and the "friends" send him cassettes so he can become more familiar with the players and schools he talks about. Mostly, he depends on his scouts.
LeRoy Tillman, who produced Beatrice's show for 2 1/2 years before going over to WTOP recently, says that in all that time Tillman "never saw a scouting report, never met a scout, never even talked to scout on the phone."
Most sportscasters in Washington have mixed emotions about Beatrice, a self-confessed "loner" and "stuffed shirt." The admire him as an intertainer, admire the loyalty of his audience and the way he treats his callers, and, up to a point, they respect his knowledge. One sportscaster said, "He's great on prospects. He tells you about sleepers better than anyone." Another told of the time Beatrice -- off the top of his head -- ran down an NFL team's depth chart for him."He not only knew everyone on the team, but told me who'd replace who as the season wore on. When I finally saw the team play two months later I was amazed at his accuracy."
On the other hand, none of the sportscasters interviewed for this story (all asked for anonymity) trusted all of Beatrice's facts. "How can he bo so sure of those numbers?" one asked. "Anyone can looks up heights, weights and speed, but how many of those kids could he possibly have seen? There's no need for him to say all the things he says . . . I really feel sorry for him."
Beatrice remains an enigma even to those who worked with him.
Ted landphair, who hired him, called him a "moody genius."
Andy Ockershausen, executive vice president at WMAL, called Beatrice "an amazing talent," and added, "He lives in such a Walter Mitty world. He knows he's not perfect, but it's hard for him to come to grips with it, to admit mistakes . . . I just wish he'd understand that his greatest value is as an entertainer."
The problem, one worker at WMAL suggested, "is that nobody here ever calls him on anything, they just let it all breeze by. After a while, if you say something enough times, you naturally begin to believe it."
The story people at WMAL tell about Beatrice concerns an alleged scouting trip he made a few years ago to a Wisconsin-Illinois football game.
Beatrice allegedly told someone he was going to Madison, Wis., to see the game, thatt some of his scouts would join him there. On Monday, two days after the game, Beatrice was asked how he'd enjoyed Madison and the game, and he, as the story goes, said both were great.
In fact, the game was played in Illinois.
"I remember the incident; I don't want to tell you about it," Landphair said.
Jim Gallant, the operations manager at WMAL, also remembered the incident. "I didn't consider it a major screw-up," he said.
Beatrice is a completely different personality on and off the air. On the air he is confident. He doesn't sweat. He doesn't shake. He seems to come to life as soon as the "On Air" sign is lit. He will undoubtedly hate his choice of words but he is a terrific entertainer.
And his listeners love him. Then again, what's not to like? He is so very polite to them. "Sometimes I thought he was too polite," said Landphair, "that he went over the edge into obsequiousness. I told him to stop it, but he never did. That's just Ken's style." Ockershausen and Gallant have made similar requests, but again, that's just Ken. He seems to really believe it when he tells people, "So glad to make your acquaintance" and "Puhleeze get back to me real soon." His reality is talking on the phone.
Beatrice: "I don't have a show without callers. I need them; they don't need me. And I treat each one just as if I'd invited them into my house as my guests -- really, the are my guests."
His listeners are as loyal and devoted here as they were in Boston, when he was on WBZ, first on weekends, then on weeknights, and finally on weekends again when Bob Lobel replaced him. So great a loyalty did Beatrice's fans show that for months Lobel got calls from listeners "who called me a jerk."
"I'll tell you this about Beatrice's listeners," says Jack Craig, The Boston Globe's radio-TV sports columnist: "They are devoted. I never received such an outpouring of outraged mail as when I wrote that Beatrice was half insincere and half faker."
In both cities the name of Beatrice's game was FACTS. He'd started out, like so many sports fans, as a draft bozo, and when he went on radio as guest on sports talk shows talking about an upcoming draft he was a smash. "He was incredible, firing off facts without having to look anything up," says Gil Santos, a sportscaster at WBZ. "He was such a good guest, we asked him to host his own show."
At the time Beatrice was working full time for the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles. He was, he says, "on my career path," making $24,000 a year and perfectly happy. Beatrice says he was relieved going back to weekends. "I was dying (doing two full-time jobs)."
Landphair heard him and offered him the job as sports director and talk show host at WMAL, a job that now pays him $38,000 per year. Some at WBZ were not particularly sorry to see him go. They questioned some of his facts, facts, facts, and they strongly suspected him of rigging a call with his father -- asking his father to call the show with a specific question.
Last week when this subject was brought up Beatrice said he remembered the charge. "They said I planted a call with my mother," he said. Then, he clenched his face and fists so tightly that his veins seemed bright blue. "Let me tell you something," he said. "My mother died. I don't have any proof, but I believe that my being in this business, and all the aggravation attached to it, killed her. I believe it."
Then, when he was told that the allegation concerned his father, Beatrice said, "That's another one. I don't even want to comment, How do you stop this sort of THING?"
Once again, he banged his desk.
A few days later, however, Beatrice voluntarily returned to the subject. This time his tone was apologetic. Speaking from an office and a phone he shares with WMAL sportscaster Johnny Holliday, Beatrice said, "I called my father. I asked him, 'Dad, did I ever ask you to call my show?' He said, 'Yeah, you did. You said if you weren't getting any calls, to call.' I said, 'Did you get on?' He said, 'I don't remember.' If that's a rig, I rigged a call . . . Look, if I don't get calls I've got nothing to say. Lots of times I'll get calls in my office and I'll say, "That sounds like an interesting topic of discussion. Why don't you call me on the air and we'll discuss it?'"
The word from Boston was that the deal was more specific, that it involved a specific player from a specific team -- a FACT Beatrice could dispense.
"I never discussed a specific question," Beatrice said.
He had his arms out again, waiting for the nails. And this gesture, perhaps, symbolized his insecurity. He takes every bit of criticism so seriously. He's never satisfied after a show, he always thinks it could be better. It's almost as if he thinks it's a judgment against him that it wasn't. He's a push-push-push person who wouldn't know a shade of gray if it called him on "Sportscall."
"If only he could understand that he's an entertainer and take some joy from it, and roll with it the way Warner Wolf and Glenn Brenner and Howard Cosell do," said someone at WMAL. "But he can't. He's so intense. He wants to be perfect. He thinks he has to know it all. He thinks he always has to be right."
He doesn't think; he knows.
"I'm paid to be right," Beatrice says.
Remember what he said about the plumber.
And as he walks into the studio you can't help but think that the corners of his life are getting smaller and the paint he's applying is getting thicker.
A few days ago, Ken Beatrice called Andy Ockershausen, executive vice president of WMAL, and asked for some time off. "He said he had to take some time with his family and think about his future," Ockershausen said. 'Naturally, I encouraged him.
"We desire very much that he continue on the air and do his thing."
Efforts to reach Beatrice were unsuccessful.