Sports writer Joe Posnanski went on the “Two Writers Slinging Yang” podcast with Jeff Pearlman last week, and he told an amazing story. It’s a story about the time Posnanski, then a young sportswriter covering minor league baseball, had the courage to ask a dumb question of Billy Williams, a Hall of Fame outfielder who was then a minor league baseball coach.
As Posnanski recalls:
So I was sitting next to him, and we were talking a little bit. I don’t even know exactly what pushed me to do this, but I had been dying to know something. I turned to him, and said, “Mr. Williams, can I ask you a question?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “What is the difference between a curveball and a slider?”
And as I asked the question — I was probably 19 years old, 20 years old — there were some snickers in the press box, as you might imagine, from people who had overheard. And Billy Williams took my notepad — I had a skinny reporter’s notepad — he took my notepad and took my pen and started to draw the difference between a slider and curveball. And for the next 10 or 15 minutes, he just gave me this masterclass on the difference, how the curveball breaks this way, and the slider breaks this way, but there are different kinds of sliders: This is [Bob] Gibson’s slider, and this is Steve Carlton’s slider, and he would draw that, and this is Tom Seaver’s. He would go through all of that for different players. It was awe inspiring to be getting this lesson about something so basic from one of the best to have ever played the game.
And at the end of it, he said, “And by the way, don’t let these guys get you, the ones that were laughing. They don’t know the difference either.”
It’s a wonderful reminder: There are things that all of don’t know, but might be too afraid to ask. Why? Because simply asking the question might make us feel like we don’t belong in the room.
But it’s OK to ask! Be curious, and be willing to ask the questions you need to ask to get smarter. Often, you’ll find that others are more than willing to share what they’ve learned. You just have to be willing to ask the right question first, even if it feels a little foolish.
That’s a photo I took of then-University of Missouri pitcher Ryan Clubb. I have no idea what pitch he was throwing in this photo.