By: Mark Fitzgerald
It was the moment the 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound former professional wrestler whose ring name was “The Demon” crashed a metal chair against his back that a Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter thought that maybe his “Joe Meets Pro” series of staged confrontations with athletes had gone too far.
In the video posted on www.suntimes.com/sports, Joe Cowley collapses all-too-convincingly after the attack by Dale “The Demon” Torborg, now a minor-league strength conditioning coordinator in the Chicago White Sox organization. When Sox outfielder Nick Swisher ? who had been playing an announcer hyping the mock-feud between Torborg and Cowley ? stayed in character and approached the prone Sox beat writer, Cowley weakly waves him away and groans, “Oh, come on, seriously.”
And Cowley says there is a serious side to “Joe Meets Pro,” a feature in the great, but fading, tradition of newspaper stunt journalism that puts the reporter at the center of the story. It’s part of his job to get on the backs of Sox players who aren’t performing ? so if a pro comes at his back with a folding chair, well, turnabout is fair play.
“For ‘Joe Meets Pro,’ I’ve been going to guys I’ve ripped, and saying, let’s see how I’d do against you,” says Cowley, who turns the Big 4-0 in June. “Not that I deem myself an athlete ? but I do believe in accountability.”
Especially now, he adds, when pros hear more criticism than ever. This being the digital age, the feature was also specifically designed to draw Web traffic. Ironically, he got the idea for the series from Torborg, who suggested attending a pro wrestling camp: “He said, ‘You should come down to that and get your ass beat, and we can video it.'”
The first video in the series paired him at spring training against A.J. Pierzynski, the Sox catcher Cowley often ripped for his low percentage of throwing out runners trying to steal bases. On the video, Cowley brags that he will go 5 for 10 in his stolen base attempts against the catcher.
Based on the video evidence, he went 0 for 10 ? but he argued nearly every call, before finally conceding that stealing on Pierzynski is not as easy as it looks.
“Joe Meets Pro” had another inspiration, though ? Cowley’s own bout with an aggressive type of lymphoma. Last October, when doctors at last determined his remission was far enough along they could remove the stent for intravenous chemotherapy, he felt “a kind of freedom to try new things.” One of those new things presaged the pain of The Demon’s chair attack: Cowley had some cavities filled without getting Novocaine.
Next up for “Joe Meets Pro”? Possibly a contest with a player from the Chicago Wolves minor league hockey team. “I’ve never played hockey,” Cowley says, “but how hard can it be?”