What if your worst moment was somebody else’s only moment . . . with you?
This thought came to me this past week while I was poring over e-mails from ever-attentive and gracious Globe readers.
The topic du jour was Roger Clemens and his interaction with Hub fans over decades. Some of the fans’ stories were wonderful: Roger visits a hospital — unannounced — wearing his Red Sox uniform, and brings cheer to sick children; Roger donates thousands of dollars to charities; Roger helps old ladies cross the street. And then there were the nasty stories: Roger disses a bunch of sick kids who are pining for a picture down by the Sox’ dugout; Roger walks right past a fan in a wheelchair, making no effort to connect with the man or his family. It would only take a second to pose for a photo and bring them some joy.
I find some of it wildly unfair. Nobody wants to hear this, but it must really stink sometimes to be famous.
Call it sympathy for the devil if you like, but think long and hard about the downside of celebrity. Sure, we’d all like to have gobs of money and get great tables in fine restaurants. Why should we have any pity for the glamorous folks on the cover of “People”?
But what if your fame made you a target for almost every minute any time you are in public? Who among us could stand the scrutiny? How would you like to be forever defined by your worst moment?
This is what it must be like for really famous people. And I hear the stories all the time.
If you are a star out in public, you get one shot with many of your fans. And if you are in a bad mood at that moment, or perhaps just had a fight with your wife, or maybe are running late to see a sick parent, you will be judged by that fan — and everyone with whom he shares his story — for the rest of your life.
“Yeah, I ran into Player X one day at Logan,’’ they will say. “He was a real jerk. All I wanted was an autograph for my son and he treated me like a piece of dirt.’’
Disclosure: I had multiple dustups with Clemens while he pitched in Boston from 1984-96.
It was always something with the Rocket, and there were dozens of columns highlighting his greatness, and dozens more exposing his buffoonery. There were some nasty exchanges. Despite this contentiousness, when my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993 (Kate Shaughnessy is fine today, thank you Dana-Farber) Clemens sent her a giant teddy bear. I thanked him. Kate thanked him. And then I went on covering him in the same manner. Some good. Some bad.
Not everybody has good experiences to go with the bad. The Rocket could be a mean guy. I saw him shove Globe photographer Jim Davis for no apparent reason before Clemens’s famous playoff implosion in Oakland in 1990. No excuse for that.
But sometimes he was ripped unfairly. I remember when a reporter found a kindly grandmother who had been “stiffed” by big, mean Roger when she was only trying to get an autograph for her chronically-ill grandchild. Clemens’s heartlessness was deemed newsworthy, and we saw a photo of granny holding the unsigned photo of her grandchild.
The real story, of course, was that grandma was in the back of a pack of fans, behind a roped-off area, as Clemens rushed past them on his way to work. He never knew her situation. He didn’t stop and sign for everybody and he had no way of knowing she was there on her noble mission. But it was presented as if he had intentionally refused a request to sign for a dying child.
I once approached a star athlete to ask him to call a friend of mine who was paralyzed from the neck down while playing football at the age of 16. It would have been a life-changing moment for my friend to get a call from this ballplayer. The player refused to take my friend’s phone number. And I’ve hated the player ever since.
It was one moment. One chance. And I’ll never forgive the guy.
It’s not fair, of course. And I can’t imagine what it’s like to be David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, or Larry Bird. You can’t possibly stop and accommodate everyone.
And if you happen to be having a bad day, you may be creating a negative history that’ll outlast your career.
You only get one shot. And if you are rude at that moment, it’ll last forever in the memory of that person.
Maybe we should rethink things a bit. Maybe sometimes we need to give the famous folks a break.