Uh Oh! Fifteen Minutes To Judge Wapner…

It’s Thursday, which is a day of the week. That means there’s some sort of bizarre controversy coming out of Padres-land this morning, and this time it’s courtesy of Padres CEO Tom Garfinkel. If you missed it, Jeff Passan posted a piece documenting Tom Garfinkel’s thoughts from a recent Padres Season…uh, Member event. Where he likened Greinke to “Rain Man”, I can assure you that having social anxiety disorder and being an autistic savant aren’t even in the same ballpark.

Zack Greinke suffers from and manages social anxiety disorder and depression, as do I. So do a lot of people, including several other Padres fans you probably know. As a young man, where I wish I was counting cards and worrying about getting to a television to watch The People’s Court, I was instead dropping out of college because I felt like I was having a heart attack in the middle of lectures. I don’t know when it started, exactly…but it did. I don’t want to make any assumptions, but I’m sure something similar happened to Zack Greinke. For some people, this is the beginning of a massive downward spiral that, without treatment, can lead to deep depression and, potentially the following attempts to cope with an animal you had no idea you’d ever be forced to deal with: alcoholism, drug abuse, or suicide. This isn’t an easy thing to discuss openly. My heart rate is increasing just writing this; it’s something you hopefully get help for and learn how to manage, but never truly goes away.

That is precisely why I’m a fan of Zack Greinke. He’s successfully battled was can be an incredibly debilitating disorder, after missing almost all of 2006 to start tackling the issue. In and of itself, a major accomplishment. Especially in the narrow-minded world of sports, where everyone is a man (or else), it’s difficult to overcome your anxiety just to admit it exists and seek help. Grienke came back and has been a 29.5 fWAR pitcher since 2006. He came back from something that very well could have ended his career and has since become the second-highest paid pitcher of all-time. Right here at home, we saw how easily social anxiety disorder and depression can derail a career, with Khalil Greene. If it were his elbow that was fucked up, and not his brain, he’d be a hero.

Fans have been quick to scold the person who recorded Garfinkel at the event, and to a certain extent I agree. We met Tom a few weeks back at the preview night, and found him to be a friendly, intelligent guy. What I think a lot of fans and bloggers are railing against right now is that Garf is candid in small groups, like these season ticket holder events. I’m sure they see this as ruining things for everybody, going forward. I don’t like the idea of secretly recording someone, hoping they slip up. That’s where I take issue with the whole thing. As for the rest? If Garfinkel chooses his words a bit more carefully in the future (and he’s a smart guy, so I’m sure he will), I don’t see how this has to change anything for any of us.

On the other hand, what he said is offensive. It’s not a compliment, it’s not a joke, or any other rationalization I’ve seen this morning. It was wrong, plain and simple. I also believe he’s being contrite in response. I’m just trying to add the perspective of someone who really doesn’t care where his underwear is bought, as long as it isn’t K-Mart.


9:30 a.m. edit: Listen to the audio in the linked article, don’t just read the rundown. Judge for yourself based on that, not what others are telling you to think/feel.

PM edit: Tom Garfinkel was on Darren Smith’s show this morning to discuss the controversy. You can (and should) listen to that interview here.  All told, Tom sounds upset and genuinely apologetic for his comments. While some fans have tried to blame the person who recorded Garfinkel (and I had a few words about it myself, above), Tom said it doesn’t matter and that he may have offended ST holders in the meeting, just the same. He gets it.

Speaking of the leaked audio, John Gennaro has the full story and the full audio right here. If you haven’t read that, you really should.

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  • leila_forsythe

    Our nation (and world, I guess) has such a hard time understanding mental illnesses, the incredible spectrum of autism, and the many manifestations of depression and anxiety, etc. Honestly with astounding array of what our brains are capable of and how little they’re really understood, it’s a wonder that any of us function most of the time. I look forward to the day that mental illnesses/setbacks/disorders are recognized to be a pain and illness that are real, treatable, and require patience and compassion. Like you said, if he’d come back from an elbow injury, he’d be a hero.

    In the end, does it change the outcome of the brawl or the reasons behind it? Does it matter? Two guys had a history, got into it during the heat of the moment, and they’re both accepting the consequences. It happens to people from all walks of life, whether they have struggled with mental illness or not. Hopefully they’ll learn from it.

    Thanks for sharing your story, it’s one way to help society evolve in its understanding and acceptance of everyone’s remarkable, individual traits.

  • Well done.

  • SDPads1

    Well put David. While I can see how some people can get offended by this, I am not one of them, I don’t think Garf had malicious intentions.

  • I don’t really have much to add here except to say thank you. It could not have been easy hitting publish on this but the topic is an important one. I’m glad you did.

  • SingingFriar

    A very courageous and thoughtful post, David. Well done.

  • Melvin

    Great post. I also agree about Tom’s candidness in small groups which is so much appreciated. Sometimes people goof up when speaking, especially in front of people, as I’ve done as I’m sure others have. Not to excuse it, but when speaking off the cuff things come out wrong, and it’s not indicative of a major personality flaw.

  • My opinion is that Garfinkel is not a bad person, but somebody who made a mistake and seemed aware enough of it to apologize for it. That being said, I’m appalled by those trying to explain Greinke’s intentions by demonstrating a cursory understanding of his documented social anxiety issues, based partially on how he may or may not interact with players in the clubhouse. It’s a gross oversimplification of a much more complicated issue, a flippant attempt to provide Greinke with a backhanded compliment, and – frankly – just a depressing reaction to such a disparaging comment.

    For me, it comes down to the “Rain Man” joke being in poor taste, and also poorly-timed given that April is Autism Awareness Month and the Padres had Autism Awareness night on April 10th. I normally appreciate Garfinkel’s candor and candidness in intimate settings like this, but in this particular instance I feel he erred in pandering to his audience with an insensitive joke.

    I appreciate that you had the courage to share this, David, and hope that people take this opportunity to take a step back and realize that struggles such as these shouldn’t be taken lightly.

  • I said it before and I’ll say it again: here’s to you, sir. Awesome post.

  • While I’ve never been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, I can pretty safely say that if there is a social anxiety spectrum, I am definitely on it. There’s so much of me in David’s story. I also suffered panic attacks in college, was on the verge of alcoholism, and eventually dropped out. When speaking publicly, even in fairly casual situations, I shake like a leaf in wind. I’m uncomfortable in conversations, and when speaking I often have a hard time getting my thoughts out clearly

    It’s probably why I prefer the written word. It’s so much more comfortable to be able to type my thoughts with no one looking at me, without having to rush the words out, able to figure out the structure as I go, with the opportunity to delete and edit and proofread. It’s so much safer.

    In this way, I actually feel sympathy for Tom Garfinkel. I have no idea what would come out of my mouth speaking off the cuff to a bunch of people I don’t know. I’m sure I would say the wrong thing often if I were in his position, and end up apologizing way more often than I’d like to.

    What I wouldn’t do is say something I wasn’t even remotely thinking. So I don’t have sympathy for Garfinkel when he uses Greinke’s social anxiety as evidence he hit Quentin on purpose, or when he equated social anxiety to autism. These are things he thought about before he said them. He may have misspoke, like I do often, but he didn’t misspeak because his words got confused coming out of his mouth. He misspoke out of ignorance, or worse, malice.

    I have a hard time forgiving Garfinkel for this one. He did the right thing and apologized, but did he do it because he really feels guilt for what he said, or because he got caught? Maybe I’ve seen the Padres screw up so often only to apologize quickly aftwerward that I’m jaded.