Charlie Sheen owes me. Sort of.
He got me fired from CBS. Sort of.
Let me explain…
Way back in 2003, I got a job as a production assistant for a big-budget morning talk show on CBS called “Living it Up! With Ali & Jack.” (If you’ve never heard of this show, I envy you.) One of my many tasks was to edit the bios that the segment producers put together for the celebrity guests. The producers, it should be noted, never bothered to research anything before the year 2000, so when Charlie Sheen was booked for an appearance on the show and I read the first draft of his bio, I noticed that my favorite story about him was missing: in April 1996, Sheen purchased more than 2,600 outfield seats at an Angels game to increase his odds of snagging a home run ball. (It should also be noted that he failed.)
With every celebrity interview, the producers’ goal was to come up with offbeat topics that the rival talk shows (read: “Regis & Kelly“) wouldn’t cover, so when I told my superiors about Sheen’s ballhawking obsession, they ran with it. The day before his appearance, they found a photograph of him in his empty section and paid Sports Illustrated $400 for the right to use it on the air.
Fast-forward a day. It was 7am, Sheen was set to arrive in an hour, and the producers decided that they wanted to have a baseball glove and ball for his segment. They asked me if I had that stuff at my desk. No. They asked if the nearby Sports Authority was open. No. But before they had a chance to panic, I offered to race home — only 14 blocks away — and retrieve my own glove and ball.
Sheen’s interview went great. They talked about his sitcom. They talked about his family. They talked about his baseball antics. And in the closing moments, co-host Jack Ford pulled out my glove and handed it to Sheen and told him that the folks at “Living it Up” were going to make his dream of catching a ball come true. Sheen put on the glove, and a young woman in the audience tossed my ball to him. (How clever.)
Five minutes later, I wandered into the hallway outside the studio and found the segment’s producer — a tall, slender, striking woman with wavy red hair. She said she’d gotten Sheen to autograph the ball for me, and sure enough, when she handed it over, I recognized his signature on the sweet spot. Moments later, Sheen walked by with his entourage and waited for the elevator, ten feet from us. My heart raced. I’d always liked him, and we had a wacky baseball connection, and I was dying to say a quick hello, but I couldn’t do it. The producer even said I couldn’t do it. The number-one rule for lowly employees like me was **NOT** to talk to the celebrities. No exceptions. Period.
My heart sank as the elevator doors closed behind him. I knew I’d never get the chance to see him again. But what could I do? I wandered back into the studio, helped move some equipment around, and headed downstairs several minutes later to return to the office across the street.
Sheen was still in the lobby and was getting mobbed by fans! He was signing autographs and posing for photographs — and didn’t seem to mind. I hung back as he made his way outside. His black Mercedes Benz (with tinted windows) was now waiting for him at the curb. People were still surrounding him. I was so conflicted. I wanted to join the crowd and shake his hand, but knew I’d somehow get in trouble, so I kept my distance.
At the very last second, just before Sheen was about to pull the door of his car shut, I held up my baseball and shouted, “Hey, Charlie, thanks for the autograph!”
He looked up and made eye contact with me.
“Hey, c’mere for a minute,” he said.
I hurried over, figuring it was now okay to talk to him since he was the one who’d initiated the conversation. I mean, if he didn’t want to talk to me, he could’ve responded by giving a thumbs-up, or he could’ve flat-out ignored me. Right? Anyway, he told me that he felt bad after signing the ball because he saw the “2126” that was written on it.
“I thought it was one of the Ripken balls,” he said.
“No, that’s how many balls I’ve caught,” I said, kneeling on the sidewalk and noticing the thick layer of makeup on his face.
“That’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been to a thousand games and never caught one.”
“Well let me know when you want me to take you to a game,” I half-joked. “It’s actually pretty cool that you signed it because out of all the balls I’ve ever caught, I’ve only gotten three of them signed: number one thousand, number two thousand, and this one from you. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks.”
“My pleasure,” he said.
We shook hands. I stood up. He closed his car door. I ran across the street and felt like a superstar.
The next day, the supervising producer of the show — the man who had hired me in the first place — called me into his office, and I had that sinking feeling in my gut. He’d heard that I had spoken to Charlie Sheen, and he told me that it was a violation of the strictest company policy. He said that my “job duties were being reevaluated,” and that as of the following Monday, I would no longer be allowed to enter the studio.
I felt sick. It was lunchtime, but I couldn’t eat. Instead I cried.
At least they didn’t fire me, I thought, but I was upset all weekend and emailed a thoughtful apology to my boss on Saturday night.
On Monday afternoon, I was fired.
Months later, I mailed a copy of How to Snag Major League Baseballs to Sheen and included a note that told him about my ordeal.
I never heard back.
So yeah, Charlie Sheen got me fired from CBS and owes me. Sort of.
As for his ridiculous attempt to snag a home run ball, you can read more about it in my new book, The Baseball, which is coming out in four days. Chapter Five — “Foul Balls in Pop Culture” — contains a whole section called “Celebrity Ballhawks.” You’ll find Mister Sheen on pages 81-82.