I have spent my entire professional life in sports journalism, and I couldn't be prouder of that profession than I was when ESPN's SportsCenter beat HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel to a story that transcends the mere mortal aspects of sports coverage.
And when I say that the Darren Daulton interviews on the two programs - first on ESPN on Sunday night and then on HBO on Tuesday night - were transcendental, I'm not exaggerating.
Daulton, you might recall, was a pretty good player for the Philadelphia Phillies until his career was cut short by injuries and his life temporarily spun out of control. He spent several weeks in jail after a series of arrests on drunken-driving and domestic charges before realizing that his life was playing out on more than one plane of consciousness.
In the HBO piece, Daulton talked about his out-of-body experiences and the limitations of linear time, which you can probably relate to if you're either a spirit guide or a major loon. Sadly, I missed the program because my underdeveloped spiritual life force and my corporal being still have to be in the same place and they were both watching the Orioles-Devil Rays game that night, but Daulton has been talking about this stuff for the past couple of months and reportedly is working on a book that is tentatively titled If They Only Knew.
Don't get me wrong. If Daulton feels he has found the path to enlightenment, more power to him, but you've got to wonder about the state of broadcast journalism when ESPN and HBO were fighting over the chance to put him on the air first. Gumbel thought he had an exclusive, but ESPN got to Daulton - or he got to them, depending on who you believe - and scooped HBO by two days.
The people at Real Sports told the Chicago Tribune that Daulton's people didn't like the way the interview went with reporter Mary Carillo and approached ESPN to get a different version on the air ahead of HBO. ESPN officials countered that the cable sports giant approached Daulton. Since SI.com already had done an Internet piece on Daulton's strange spiritual awakening, both accounts are plausible.
No sense quibbling about it. The important thing is that they got the story on the air before Daulton disappeared completely into a different dimension and contacted some network there.
Daulton claims that he first suspected there was another spiritual dimension when, as a member of the Florida Marlins in 1997, he got a hit and then felt like the ball had been hit by someone else. Considering the number of hits he got as a Marlin, it's entirely possible that his memory of the incident is perfectly accurate, but it kind of reminds me of the time I told my analyst, "I'm not schizophrenic ... and neither am I" and didn't even get a chuckle.
I interviewed Darren Daulton on several occasions during his playing career and he seemed like a decent guy. He was one of baseball's matinee idols and quickly hooked up with beautiful Hooters calendar girl Lynne Austin, whose reclining image used to sexily adorn the outfield fence at the Phillies' spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla. In short, he seemed to all of us homely overweight guys to have the perfect life.
If I remember correctly, Darren was one of the guys who used to talk about the importance of staying within yourself. Now, he's having out-of-body experiences. Make up your mind.
It's not Eastern philosophy. Daulton actually believes that the Mayan calendar predicts the ascendance of mankind to another dimension. He told SI.com that the last date on the Mayan calendar is Dec. 21, 2012, and that day "all who are ready to ascend will vanish from this plane of existence, like the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek."
Just so you know, this is really starting to freak me out.
It's probably no coincidence that he spent the bulk of his career in Philadelphia, where eccentric behavior by both athletes and fans is not only tolerated but also celebrated. Daulton played on the same team as Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk and in the same city as thousands of demented Eagles fans, who prove each Sunday in the fall that it is possible to have an out-of-mind experience.
I just hope in 2012 he is going to take all of them with him.
"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.