Sporting absurdity, in all its gloriosity

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Take a guy. Add another. Then add beer. Put a game on the tube. Each addition in this equation will increase exponentially the baloney from a man's mouth.

That is not opinion, nor is it sexism. Linguists have written books on the male need for competitive, rather than cooperative, conversation. This is why guys ask each other stuff like:

"Would a major league batting champion dominate in Wiffle Ball? Could an Olympic swimmer dog-paddle and still beat a regular guy?"

Now there is a book dedicated to these aggressively goofy, ever so beery questions. It is authored by one of Western Pennsylvania's native goofballs, Todd Gallagher, 31, a 1995 graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic.

"Andy Roddick Beat Me With a Frying Pan" answers many a barroom blowhard's prayer, or at least the prayers of those looking to shut him up. Gallagher used his advance money to criss-cross the country setting up events like playing the tennis great, Roddick, with the pro using a skillet. Gallagher beat Roddick, but by then the publisher liked the title so much it stuck.

The book has that breezy, smirking, neo-fratboy style that more or less defines ESPN, for which Gallagher has written. Frustrated working in TV, he was going through old e-mails and documents a few years ago when he came across an old list of ideas.

Long story short, this strangely compelling book was born.

A fair number of Pittsburgh athletes show up, including Freddy Sanchez of the Pirates, the 2006 National League batting champion. Sanchez agreed to grab a plastic bat and face world-class Wiffle Ball pitchers.

The guy who could roll out of bed and hit a 90-mph fastball all over PNC Park was baffled by the dipping, weaving, gyrating, swooping plastic ball arriving from just 45 feet away. Sanchez struck out 18 times in 19 official at-bats, getting just one hit.

"I felt like I was going to hit the ball and it wasn't there," Sanchez told me over the phone from his home in Chandler, Ariz., the memory still fresh a year after the event. "Those guys are pros and they know what they're doing with that ball."

Sanchez is a class act, and giving this obscure skill its due typifies the book. My favorite chapter had the book's editor, Jed Donahue, who probably "would come in third in a race with pregnant women," race an Olympic sprinter.

Donahue and his friends had been arguing since the 1996 Olympics about how much of a head start he'd need to beat an Olympian. Would the guy need to wear combat boots or a parachute on his back?

As the sixth chapter makes clear, Donahue needed only a 31-meter head start plus the moving sidewalk in Los Angeles International Airport to beat Olympic gold medalist Maurice Greene by a nose in a 100-meter dash (100 meters for Greene, that is).

"Jed was flying (in the same way an Air Congo plane 'can' fly)," wrote Gallagher. "It looked a bit like Herman Munster being chased down by The Flash."

Politically incorrect humor zings throughout. Gallagher had students from the Tom Savini's Special Make-up Effects Program at Douglas Education Center in Monessen design a fat suit to replicate a 1,000-pound man. Why? To determine whether a humongously fat goalie could shut out a hockey team simply by filling up the net.

A college goalie in the suit had his oversized clock cleaned by the Washington Capitals in a practice session. Goals are easy enough when the goalie can't move.

I'd happily give this book to a junior high school nephew were it not for the chapter that answers a question about, ahem, how easy it is for athletes to score off the field. Gallagher had a former girlfriend go to a Cleveland bar frequented by athletes. Although not much happens, the adult situations and coarse language catapulted this book's rating straight from PG to R.

What's up with that, Greensburg Central Catholic boy?

Gallagher said the sex question came up so often he couldn't ignore it, but conceded, "If my grandmother were still alive, that chapter would not be in there."

What did his mom say?

"I skipped through that chapter," Charlotte Gallagher said when I called her, with her son's blessing. "I loved the book."

When he began, Gallagher admits, he thought most sports viewing and chatter to be a waste of time.

"In the end, this project gave me total clarity as to how sports should properly be defined: It remains a massive waste of time."


Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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