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Recently, someone asked what was the most embarrassing thing that had happened during my career as a sports columnist.

It actually happened last year.

There was a lunch and news conference at The Alotian Club to announce an upcoming tournament.

Everything was going well and yours truly was lucky enough to sit right next to Warren Stephens, founder of Alotian and nationally noted businessman.

For the sake of transparency, yours truly is not a member of Alotian, nor is golf a hobby.

It has a beautiful clubhouse, not large, but incredibly detailed.

Lunch was amazing until dessert came, and that's when my phone rang.

Since it was a small room with only 22 people in attendance, the ringing seemed extra loud.

Before my hand got close enough to my phone, 20 people were staring at me, most with utter disbelief.

Apparently, rule No. 1 at Alotian is no cell phones in the clubhouse.

The one person not staring at me like I was diseased and contagious was Stephens who suddenly laughed.

He broke the tension by saying he was positive it wasn't the first time.

The phone was turned off and there were some chuckles, but it was truly an embarrassing moment shared with 21 people I barely know.

Later, I had a flashback to what could have and probably should have been a significantly embarrassing moment.

It was 1975, and I was working for United Press International in New York and was one of several assigned to the debut of Jim "Catfish" Hunter who was pitching for the New York Yankees.

Hunter had been an ace for the Oakland A's, but his contract was breached when the team didn't make agreed upon payments on an insurance policy.

At the time, Hunter became the highest-paid player in major league history when he signed a five-year, $3.35 million contract with the Yankees.

So his debut was a big deal.

My seat was the second one on the second row and about a minute before the game started a little, well-dressed older man with white hair asked if anyone was sitting in the first seat on the second row and proceeded to sit down.

It wasn't my place to tell this guy, someone's dad or uncle, that it was a working press box.

From time to time the man would make a comment but he never made a note. In the second inning he pulled a bag of peanuts from his pocket.

He leaned over like he was going to share the meaning of life with me and in a whisper said, "The secret to enjoying baseball is the peanuts."

For the next few innings he cracked the shells and ate the peanuts, twice offering me a few, but they were declined because enjoying the game is not the same as working.

Don't remember for sure what inning Hunter was pulled, but when he was, your trusty scribe slipped out of the press box and headed to the Yankees locker room.

I wasn't allowed in, but when the game was over I was the first in and was front and center at Hunter's locker. He was in the training room.

For the life of me, I don't know when or how it happened, but five minutes after the rest of the media arrived I was in the back of the pack.

The white-haired man was standing off to the side and motioned for me to join him.

When Hunter finished icing his elbow and headed to his locker, he stopped and visited with the older man and I took notes.

The white-haired man was Red Smith, the Pulitzer Prize winning sports columnist for The New York Times.

His column the next day was the best thing written by anyone who covered Catfish Hunter's debut as a Yankee.

Sports on 02/12/2020

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