An Interview with Peter Schmuck
“I’m pretty sure the distinctiveness of the name has helped me throughout my career. It also has given me a thicker skin – in a ‘Boy Named Sue’ kind of way – in a business where that isn’t a bad thing to have.”
“I was always into humor, so I’d say my biggest influence from a sports and column perspective was Jim Murray, though I certainly don’t write like he did. It was just great to work in the same press box with him for a few years and get to know him. “
Peter Schmuck: Interviewed on December 2, 2008
Position: columnist, Baltimore Sun; talk show host, WBAL radio
Born: 1955, Southern California
Education: Cal State Fullerton, English
Career: Orange County Register 1978-1990; Baltimore Sun 1990 – ; WBAL radio 2003-
Personal: Married, two children.
Favorite restaurant (home): P.F. Chang’s, Baltimore
Favorite restaurant (away): Captain Jack’s, Sunset Beach, Calif.
Favorite hotel: Marriott Eastside, New York, “Great location – classic Manhattan charm.”
Peter Schmuck, excerpted from the Baltimore Sun, November 2, 2008:
News item: The Orioles will hold a rally this month to introduce the team’s new uniforms for the 2009 season. The road uniform is expected to have “Baltimore” on the front of the jersey.
My take: That’s great, but when it’s all said and done, I think fans are going to care more whether “Roberts” and “Teixeira” are on the back of a couple of them.
News item: The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series on Wednesday night after waiting 46hours between the top of the sixth inning and the bottom.
My take: Honestly, it was a very entertaining 3 1/2 -inning game, and it ended early enough for school kids to actually watch the Phillies’ celebration. That’s important because most of those kids will probably be collecting Social Security the next time a team in Philadelphia wins a world title.
News item: The Orioles still have not firmed up their plans for a permanent spring training site. They’re expected to be in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next spring but have made no commitment to train anywhere in 2010. The most likely location still appears to be the Dodgertown complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
My take: In the most likely scenario, however, the Orioles will try to play Vero Beach off the soon-to-be-vacant complex in Sarasota, Fla., and end up without a permanent resolution to a situation that has been unsettled since – believe it or not – 1990.
Bonus my take: Based on conversations with several people who have attempted it, negotiating with Peter and John Angelos is like trying to eat soup with a fork.
News item: Hundreds of thousands of Phillies fans lined the streets Friday for the city’s first world championship parade in 25 years.
My take: Now, let me get this straight. It was Halloween and everyone in Philadelphia was dressed up like a winner? I’m confused.
News item: New San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary took some heat last week after dropping his pants as part of a halftime rant during his head coaching debut last Sunday.
My take: I’ve got no problem with that, and I bet the great halftime motivator Knute Rockne wouldn’t have a problem with it, either. If the players don’t want to see it happen again, they need to get out there and win one for the zipper.
News item: The Green Bay Packers have signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a contract extension that calls for him to make more than $11 million per year through the 2014 season.
My take: The Pack would have locked Rodgers up for longer, but they’re pretty sure they can persuade Brett Favre to come back in 2015 if there’s a problem.
News item: Agent Leigh Steinberg, who was the inspiration for the movie Jerry Maguire, was arrested in Southern California last week on charges of being drunk in public.
My take: I heard he had the occifer at “Hello.”
Q. On your Facebook page you write: “I‘m the only person in the world who thinks it was a big advantage to grow up with the last name Schmuck.” Can you explain this, as well as the bit of history with the California Department of Motor Vehicles?
A. Well, I’m pretty sure the distinctiveness of the name has helped me throughout my career. It also has given me a thicker skin – in a ‘Boy Named Sue’ kind of way – in a business where that isn’t a bad thing to have.
In 1980, my girlfriend at the time applied for a vanity license plate with my last name on it. The California Department of Motor Vehicles rejected the request and sent me a letter saying that the plate I had chosen was in bad taste and offensive to public decency. The story made the wires and I spent the day doing a few dozen talk radio interviews. The DMV, faced with the embarrassing publicity, relented and sent me the license plate, which I displayed proudly for years in California.
Q. Your career started in print but now you’re a multi-platform performer? How did you make the leap? How would you characterize your radio voice and your screen presence?
A. I got asked to do some radio and TV after I came to Baltimore. I had never done more than an occasional guest shot in California. I was pretty raw at first, but you eventually get more comfortable. I don’t think I have a very good radio voice, but the station manager keeps asking me to do more shows, so I guess it doesn’t grate as bad on everybody else as it does when I hear a recording of it.
Don’t really know what kind of TV presence I have, but I usually know my stuff when I’m on and am fairly articulate. My favorite TV appearance was on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews when I debated Jose Canseco and his lawyer during the steroid fiasco. The lawyer tried to cast Jose as a whistleblower, and I said ‘The guy supplied steroids to other players and bragged about it in his book. The neighborhood I grew up in, we didn’t call that a whistleblower. We called that guy a drug pusher.’ The lawyer sputtered that I couldn’t call his client a drug pusher on TV. I said, ‘I’m sorry counselor, I just did.’
Q. You were pretty tough on a congressional panel last January for failing to call MLB players to testify about steroids. Looking back, how do you grade your own reporting and writing on steroids?
A. I think I did a pretty good job on the explanatory part of it, though I wasn’t involved in a lot of investigative work. I had more to do with the ephedra controversy after the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. But the week of the infamous Mark McGwire congressional hearings, I ripped the committee for making a backroom deal not to make McGwire answer any direct questions about his steroid usage. I thought it was going to be a grandstanding dog and pony show. I had to admit afterward – well afterward – that the congressional meddling did lead to a much tougher steroid testing program in baseball.
Q. How did you learn to write? Who were your influences? What do you try to accomplish with a column and how do you know if it works?
A. I guess it came sort of natural to me. My mother gave me a portable typewriter when I was a kid and I liked to simulate news stories and write phony TV scripts. I had a high school English teacher take an interest in me and help me refine my writing style, then ended up on my college newspaper.
I was always into humor, so I’d say my biggest influence from a sports and column perspective was Jim Murray, though I certainly don’t write like he did. It was just great to work in the same press box with him for a few years and get to know him.
Q. Who and what do you read to keep up with sports?
A. I’m really not a guy who faithfully reads certain writers and columnists and not others. I read through several of the sports internet sites pretty much every day and, obviously, pay attention to what writers like Buster Olney (espn.com) and Ken Rosenthal (foxsports.com) are doing, since they dig stuff up. I’ll pop into some of the fan message boards once in awhile to see what the pulse of the internet is on a certain subject. My guilty pleasure is T.J. Simers (LA Times), who is the columnist I would be if I had the guts.
These days, when I read something on paper, it’s usually a novel – either contemporary or classic.”
Q. The Orioles have been lousy for years, while the Ravens have been generally good. Which inspires better columns?
A. My philosophy has always been, I don’t care if a team is very good or very bad, as long as it is either very good or very bad. The worst thing for a columnist is to get stuck in the middle.”
Q. Your blog is called “The Schmuck Stops Here”. What exactly does that mean?
A. It’s a play on my name and the old Harry Truman line, “The buck stops here.” Taken literally, it’s the site on the internet where I stop several times a day to interact with readers. So far, it has been fairly successful, but I’m still pretty new to the whole blogging thing. The future is on the internet and I want to have a future, so it seemed like a good idea.
Q. Fantasy byline: JJ Putz as told to Peter Schmuck. What kind of story would it be?
A. I don’t have to speculate on this. I interviewed J.J. for a column that I hoped would be a funny account of two guys talking about the pitfalls of having funny surnames. He was no help, however, claiming that he never got ribbed about his name because it was pronounced Pootz. If I recall, in the column I wrote that I didn’t know which bothered me more – the fact that he wouldn’t own up to the correct pronunciation of his name or that I never thought to tell everyone my last name was Schmook.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun, August 5, 2008:
Mariners reliever J.J. Putz pronounces his surname with a long “U” sound; why didn’t the author think of that earlier?
Seldom does a Seattle series go by that I don’t get several e-mails or personal entreaties to interview reliever J.J. Putz. And, of course, this is understandable because of the similar ridiculousness of our respective surnames.
Some of you probably remember that I did just that a couple of years ago for a column in The Sun. I approached J.J. in the Mariners clubhouse and introduced myself and expected some kind of reaction when he heard my last name, but he just stared at me as if I had just surfed back from Gilligan’s Island.
No problem. I explained to him that because I was a semi-respected journalist with a very silly name and he was an up-and-coming baseball star with a silly name, we should be having a bonding moment of mutual understanding after mutual lifetimes of middle school taunts and rebuffed marriage proposals.
When he finally figured out what I was talking about, he politely informed me that no natural kinship existed between us because his last name is not pronounced the way it would seem by the spelling. It is pronounced with a longer “U” sound (Pootz) and he was never the object of junior high or any other kind of name-related ridicule.
I suppose I should be happy for him, but if I recall the column I wrote at the time, I just felt stupid that it never occurred to me to tell everyone my last name is Schmook.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun, April 6, 2008:
News item: Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a rib cage injury.
My take: As you know, J.J. would be one of my favorite players if he would embrace his funny name and stop insisting that it isn’t pronounced the way we all know it should be. If I can be a sanctimonious Schmuck, he can be an unapologetic Putz.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun, May 28, 2005:
I also got several e-mails asking if I was going to interview J.J. Putz while the Mariners were in town, but that ship has sailed. I tried to bond with Putz when the M’s passed through Baltimore last year, but he wouldn’t play along.
The guy continues to insist that his name is pronounced with a longer “U” sound, rendering moot the semantic connection between Putz and Schmuck. This is a big disappointment for those of us who are defiantly proud of our ridiculous names.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun, September 27, 2004
It’s always fun to watch politicians stumble over sports, and both John Kerry and George Bush delivered Page 2 moments earlier this month.
Kerry may have lost some of the Green Bay Packers vote when he referred to their home stadium as Lambert Field, while President Bush was in nearby St. Cloud, Minn., making a speech at Dick Putz Stadium.
That’s right, the stadium that houses the St. Cloud Riverbats is named after someone named Dick Putz (definitely no relation).
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun, August 4, 2004:
IT HASN’T BEEN easy going through life with a built-in nickname, but when the Seattle Mariners arrived in town, I thought I finally had found someone else who could feel my pain.
The Mariners have a relief pitcher named J.J. Putz, a young right-hander who I was sure would be able to identify with my lifelong struggle to order a pizza over the phone.
No such luck. J.J. claims his surname is pronounced with a slightly longer “u” – so that it sounds more like “puts” than “putts.” That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
“He’s in denial,” said Orioles play-by-play man Joe Angel.
I don’t know what bothers me more – the fact that he won’t admit to the real pronunciation or that I never thought of telling people that my last name is Schmook.
(SMG thanks Peter Schmuck for his cooperation)