Newsletter Thirty: What It Means to Be “Lucky”

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from November 2016, when I discussed what it meant to be “lucky,” in the context of, of all things, Joe Buck’s autobiography.

Last week, sports broadcaster Joe Buck released his memoir, Lucky Bastard. I know the Cool SB Nation-Approved Hip Internet Sports Human Constitution Handbook says I’m supposed to hate Joe Buck, but I don’t. I’ve defended him in print , he’s appeared on one of my podcasts, and we always set aside some time to chat when we run into each other at the World Series. I think he’s an excellent broadcaster, and a legitimately good person. Heck, he even likes Daulerio. I’m generally down with the guy.

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But. One of the gimmicks of any self-respecting memoir is that you need a hook, right out of the gate. You were abused as a child, you once tried to kill yourself, the person you thought was your sister turned out to be your mother, you overcame an addiction to the distilled urine of the Canadian narwhal. This is how memoirs work. A month before the book is released, your publisher releases to the press some sort of salacious detail that gets the promotional ball rolling. (They even did this for me with God Save the Fan, which was anything but a memoir.) This is how your memoir sausage is made.

They did this for Buck too. But, well … they had to strain a little bit. A Dutton Publishing publicist “leaked” to Sports Illustrated Richard Deitsch a few weeks before pub day the scandalous, breathtaking anecdote that … Joe Buck used hair plugs. Seriously. That was his gossipy, prurient anecdote. He did too many hair plugs. To quote: “Broadcasting is a brutal, often unfair business, where looks are valued more than skill. I was worried that if I lost my hair, I would lose my job. O.K., that’s bullshit. It was vanity. Pure vanity. I just told myself I was doing it for TV.This led to a botched hair plug treatment — his eighth — that temporarily paralyzed his vocal cord, leading him to take some time off from his job. This, Buck told Deitsch, was the reason he needed to write the book. “Whether the book is read by one person or one million doesn’t concern me,” he said. “Getting this out and being honest, really telling my story, that was was the impetus behind this.”

Now, I have no doubt that this was a difficult time for Buck, particularly because he was going through a divorce at the time. It’s a lot to go through. It would rattle me too. But. If this this is the worst thing that has ever happened to you, if this is your big this was the time it was all falling apart story that the publicists use to promote your book … you know, you’ve lived a pretty goddamned good life. (A fact that the title of Buck’s book makes clear he’s more than aware of.) When someone approached Buck to leverage His Brand into an autobiography, he had to think back about the darkest times in his life, times when it all seemed on the line. His dark place was that time I got too many hairplugs. You know, good for him. And I do like the book, for what it’s worth.

I think about this a lot about myself. I’ve written more than a million words in my life, often about my own life, and here I stand, at the age of 41, without anything all that horrible ever having happened to me. [two workers begin to yank the rope on their edge of the pulley as the piano slowly cranks its way up each floor of the building.]

I’ve had sad moments, I’ve lost some people I cared about, I’ve been worried about my career and/or my financial well-being. [as the piano reaches the sixth floor, Leitch walks around the corner, whistling a tune and flipping a coin in the air.]

But all told: I honestly cannot complain about a thing. I’m a straight white dude who knew what he wanted to do at a young age and, while there have been ups and downs, he’s been able to make a career out of it. [one of the workers hears something in his shoulder pop, and he begins to buckle.]

If you asked me to come up with the worst thing that ever happened to me, the odds are 98 percent that something worse has happened to you. [the other worker begins to slip on a wet spot on the pavement and tries to recover, vein popping out of his forehead, sweat dribbling down his brow. people nearby start to notice a commotion.]

I worry that I haven’t suffered enough, that I haven’t known the depths of complete despair enough, to ever be able to capture the world as it really is: I will always think that the universe bends toward justice and goodness and warmth and hope, because I’ve not, myself, personally, seen how truly cruel the world can be. [the piano gives way. Leitch skips mindlessly along the sidewalks and stops, just for a moment, for no particular reason.]

I’ve just been lucky. I guess I’m just that same kind of lucky bastard. I shouldn’t feel like I should apologize for it. But I do feel like I should apologize for it. [Leitch feels a briefly rush of cool air above him. He looks up.]

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Written by

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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