When I was young and living in Canada, the King and His Court came to town one summer night to play softball against a local all-star team. The King was Eddie Feigner, unhittable pitching from the mound, next to unhittable when he moved back to second base, and able to handcuff you chucking from center field–or on his knees, or wearing a blindfold. His “Court” consisted of three other guys–a catcher, a first baseman, and a shortstop. Feigner died in February, and the Tribune gave him a proper eulogy on its editorial page, remembering him not as a freak but as one of the greatest athletes of the last century. He barnstormed because there was no league for what he did.
Before the game in Canada, Feigner went on the radio to talk it up. The interviewer offered the obvious questions about Feigner’s amazing talent, and then he asked something remarkably specific: How much bigger around is your right arm than your left? Eight inches, said Feigner. The number astonished me. It was freakish. A few years later I heard Feigner performing the same radio duties on a station in Saint Louis. Same questions too, except for one, and I found myself silently shouting at the radio: “Ask him the size of his right arm!” If I’d known the word I’d have shouted, “Quantify! Quantify!” The guy on the radio didn’t and I was disgusted. Eight inches! Those two interviews taught me a lesson that as a journalist I’ve never had reason to forget: the difference between a pedestrian interview and a triumphant one one can be as little as one good question.