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by Tom Adelman

Buy The Long BallAT EIGHTEEN MONTHS of age, Carl Yastrzemski drags a tiny baseball bat with him everywhere he goes. A battered Philco floor-cabinet radio blares in the background, broadcasting battles between Allies and Axis, between Red Sox and Yankees, between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

Sometimes announcers talk to Williams after a game, and in an impatient, authoritative tone, he discusses batting against Lefty Gómez or Rip Sewell. Ted has been advised by two-time Triple Crown-winner Rogers Hornsby, “Get a good ball to hit.” Concise yet full of intriguing implications, this nugget is all that passes at the time for strategy in the bigs. Williams studies the snap of his wrists, the flex of his shoulders, his stance and pivot. At the plate, his cleats seek balance in the batter’s box as his mind weighs every factor, from the wind and light to the particular tree from which his bat was hewed.

Carl is eight when Ted Williams wins a second Triple Crown. By now, Carl is hitting tennis balls in the backyard while his father pitches. Scouts from the majors start to watch him catch Little League games. The Milwaukee Braves offer him a pitching contract. Carl refuses. He signs instead with the Boston Red Sox as a shortstop. They make him a second baseman.

When he is twenty, he meets, at last, Williams, his hero. Ted shares what he has learned in a career spent repeating and revising Hornsby’s homily. He works vigilantly to articulate the best ways in which a stick-bearing body might move in order to ricochet a propelled ball any prescribed distance. He has this idea of hitting as a kind of science. From Williams, Carl receives four succinct fundamentals: “Number one, close your stance and back away. Number two, watch the ball. Number three, hit the ball through the middle. Number four, be quick.”

Williams has played one side of Boston’s Fenway Park outfield since before Carl was born. Carl is strengthened, stabilized, encouraged by Tom Yawkey, the unassuming millionaire who owns the ball club and ardently adores this big-nosed Polish kid. In 1961 someone will have to replace the retiring Williams, and Yawkey thinks Carl is the one. It goes okay. Years pass. Boston managers come and go like magazines, one a month, but the fatherly Yawkey remains and his unwavering faith in his left fielder holds constant.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox sign other local ethnic boys with overly syllabic names. The ever-dwindling fans at Fenway shorten the names to paint them on placards, to fit them in their mouths and make them familiar. Yastrzemski becomes “Yaz.” Tony Conigliaro, a brash and beautiful Boston boy who homers in his first game at Fenway — Opening Day 1964 — is promptly dubbed “Tony C.” (the last initial becomes necessary to distinguish him from hockey’s Tony Esposito, or “Tony O.”).

There’s also the silent Americo Petrocelli, a shortstop with delicate features. To fans he’s just “Rico” (to teammates he’s “Petro”). When he arrives, he’s nothing but a melancholy benchwarmer, too shook-up to be very reliable, until Dick Williams is named Boston’s manager. He senses that all Petro needs is confidence, and Williams supplies it.

The year is 1967. Carl glances up and around the field. It dawns on him: this is a new ball club. Something has happened. Nobody from his rookie season remains, though his teammates still dress in the same flannels, the button-front jerseys and belt-loop trousers, the cap with the fancy red B on the bill, their chests saying boston in plain block capital letters just as they had when Ted Williams was a rookie. The view from the Fenway grass and bleachers is the same — indeed, the same as it’s been since the stadium was built in 1912. But this is a new ball club, and with a spectacularly invigorated Rico batting behind Tony C., who in turn is batting behind Yaz, the dependably droopy, dreary Red Sox engineer a dramatic turnaround. In 1966 they ended the season twenty-six games out, in ninth place. Now, with Dick Williams at the helm, they beat up the league for the first time in decades. The cheering of baseball in Boston is heard once more. Old fans flock back; new fans descend.

During the pennant stretch, Ted Williams happens to catch a game on TV. He professes deep concern about the way Tony C. hugs the plate. He gets a message through to Conigliaro — Back off, you’re gonna get beaned. Charming, gorgeous, popular, healthy, strong, and young, Tony laughs off Ted’s advice. Instead, on a Friday evening in Boston, August 18, he leans way in. He’s watching for a slider on the outside corner. He doesn’t see the high, inside fastball. (You rarely see the pitch that comes at your head.) At the last second, Tony flinches. His half-shell batting helmet flips off. Carl, standing on the top step of the dugout, hears “a deafening sound, a sickening sound.” Tony feels the baseball penetrate his skull. He imagines it coming out the other side. Rico runs over from the on-deck circle. Tony flails in the dirt beside home plate, barely conscious and bleeding from the ears, nose, and mouth. “It’s going to be all right,” Rico cries desperately. Tony’s jaw is visibly dislocated, the cheek smashed. Immediate hemorrhaging inflates his left eye into a black balloon. “You’re going to be fine.” Conigliaro is rushed to the hospital. In his stead, a pinch runner is put on first. Rico triples the man home and the Red Sox win, but everyone’s thinking of Conigliaro and wondering if he’ll live through the night.1

Tony does survive, to the surprise and relief of physicians and fans alike, but takes time to recover from his near-death experience on the playing field. He’s ravaged by terrible headaches. Boston’s 1967 Impossible Dream season drifts on without him. Carl becomes the only Boston player besides Williams to win the Triple Crown. The Red Sox claim the American League pennant in baseball’s closest race and tightest finish ever. But with Conigliaro’s bad depth perception, Boston must play the World Series without a cleanup hitter. Even so, seven games are required before the richly talented St. Louis Cardinals can claim superiority.

New England prays for Tony C.’s return. He is not just the hometown hero, the local high school star living out big-league dreams. Fenway’s close wall in left perfectly complements Tony’s punishing, right-handed swing. He is Boston’s most natural source of power; but as hard as it is for Tony C. to step back into a batter’s box, it’s harder still for him to see and hit the ball. Blind spots cloud his vision. He guesses a lot on location and speed. He studies pitchers, learns to read their tendencies. He manages occasionally to get lucky (he clouts sixty round-trippers from 1969-71), but far more often he swings at a pitch and misses by a foot. He makes no excuses, reveals no weakness, claims perfect vision. He’s too proud to tell the truth. All he’s ever wanted to do is play baseball, but he can’t judge fly balls in right field, he can no longer gauge the rotation on a major-league pitch. After endless frustrations and setbacks, in 1971, at age twenty-six, the former golden boy announces his retirement.

He tries this and that, he sings at bars, he travels, he opens a nightclub on the Atlantic shore. He’s at loose ends. In 1972 and again in 1974, his old team seems about to win a pennant, but without Conigliaro’s clutch hitting, the Red Sox fall short.

He fidgets restlessly, haunted by mirrors, viewing in them the reflection of a ruined romance, shattered dreams, a man destined until recently to be one of the all-time greats. Whenever he thinks about baseball, it makes him sick. His look changes. The smile is more tentative, the hair shaggier, the sideburns long and wide. The boyish features harden. The chocolate-brown eyes develop dark bags. Crags and furrows appear. In October of 1974, he snaps on the television and there’s the Dodgers’ ace Andy Messersmith pitching in the World Series. Tony can’t shake the feeling that he could hit this guy.2 His body screams for a second chance, but Tony worries he’s too old; he’s been away too long. He doesn’t want to look undignified, a child who won’t grow up. He’s thirty now. A friend reminds him that Ruth hit two-thirds of his home runs after turning thirty, and Ted Williams — well, he went away for the duration of World War II and came back fine.

Tony decides to attempt another comeback. His eye seems improved. His vision is nearly normal. Once more he doggedly pursues the lost love of his life. He’s pure guts. His drive is relentless. He swings bats for months, heavy lead bats or weighted wooden ones, in basements, in batting cages, against pitching machines or indulgent hurlers.3

The pitcher Tony saw, Andy Messersmith, is indeed great. Messersmith’s twenty victories and six losses gave him the best won-lost percentage this year in the majors. And yet nobody in 1974, not Messersmith, not anybody, throws a baseball better than James Augustus Hunter, a droll, country bumpkin with rock-star clothes, lengthy brown hair, and the nickname of “Catfish.” Nearly all of Hunter’s victories are complete games; a considerable number are shutouts. He gives up fewer earned runs than anyone else in his league. He isn’t overpowering; he just wins a lot. He never seems to wear out. For almost ten years, he’s been throwing strikes on the corner of the plate without altering his motion, and when his overhand curve works right, it breaks twice — with the action of both a curve and a slider.

Hunter and his team, the Athletics, are owned by a consummate skinflint and showman named Charles O. Finley. When Finley first saw Hunter, he saw a hayseed in need of a handle. Immediately, Finley conjured up this name — “Catfish” — as well as a back story to lend it hick credibility. He convinced Hunter to play along. Hunter’s mother was saddened. She preferred “Jim.” Still, she was philosophical about the change. “He could have gotten a worse nickname,” she conceded, after some reflection. “If Mr. Finley had known that Jim loves bass fishing, he might have named him ‘Big Mouth’ instead.”4

The Athletics hate their owner. They regard Finley as unapologetically exploitative. All of them loathe the distraction of his marketing pranks: the fireworks after home runs, the team mascot, the cabdrivers bringing pitchers in from the bull pen, the use of Miss USA as a batgirl, the miniature zoo beyond the fence in left, the sheep grazing in right, the mechanical rabbit named Harvey who pops up behind home plate with baseballs for the umpire. Through it all, Finley cheats and manipulates and stabs his boys in the back. He assures the players he’ll keep the club in the Midwest, encourages them to buy homes and settle down nearby, then abruptly moves the whole operation to Oakland. All over the Bay Area, sports attendance is down — but even that doesn’t account for just how few bother to come out to the Athletics’ cold and colorless Coliseum (which the team itself calls the “Mausoleum,” complaining how the heavy air of despondency hurts their bodies and dispirits their swings). When, despite all of the owner’s petty cruelties, the team manages to succeed, Finley hogs every bit of the credit.

After Hunter wins the 1974 Cy Young Award, he receives even better news. An arbitration panel has determined that Finley sought a tax advantage by delaying payments that were due to the pitcher. Hunter’s contract with Oakland is declared invalid and Catfish is named baseball’s first free agent. “I feel like I got out of jail,” Hunter sighs happily.

Of course, no one in baseball is surprised that it is Finley, the bushy-browed bungler, whose shiftiness at contract time led to this. The other owners despise his incessant two-bit hustling, his reckless and rude micromanaging. Finley badgered them into using a designated hitter in the American League, got them to schedule the all-star and World Series games at night. He always wants more action, bigger payoffs. Fed up with the slow pace of the game, Finley suggests using orange baseballs so that sluggers can see them more easily. He recommends that batters earn a walk after three balls. He argues that his purchase of a world-class sprinter as a “designated runner” should win Oakland fifteen more games each season.

Charles Finley strikes even Tom Yawkey as a man with no class, and Yawkey is hardly a snob. Finley simply belongs to no tradition. He is no gentleman. Of all the owners, perhaps only George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees impresses Tom Yawkey as more crude than Finley — and thankfully, Steinbrenner shouldn’t even be around much this year. The Yankee owner has pleaded guilty to a federal felony, having misled law enforcement officials who were investigating his furtive contributions to Nixon’s reelection campaign. This scandal recently caused Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to ban him from acting as owner of the Yankees for two seasons. (Kuhn will later reduce Steinbrenner’s suspension to just 1975.)

Yawkey knows this pitcher, Jimmy Hunter, very well. He likes him a lot. Though Yawkey is forty-four years older, he and Hunter are in truth very similar — two Carolina boys who like to hunt and fish. He badly wants Hunter to join his ball club and steady his pitching staff.

Yawkey is notorious for his open billfold. He’s been the sole owner of the Red Sox since he was Catfish’s age. When he bought the club, the press dubbed the team the “Gold Sox.” Yawkey’s salaries were high and bonuses large. He gave the St. Louis Browns $50,000 for a catcher and a southpaw. He gave the Yankees $100,000 for a pitcher and an infielder. He gave the Athletics $125,000 for Rube Walberg and Max Bishop . . . $150,000 for Jimmie Foxx and Footsie Marcum . . . $75,000 for Doc Cramer and Boob McNair. He bought another pitcher and an outfielder from the Indians, a second infielder from the Yankees, a southpaw from the Cardinals. For a quarter-million, the Washington Senators’ Clark Griffith even sold Yawkey his manager/shortstop/son-in-law, Joe Cronin (who had married Mildred Robertson, Griffith’s adopted daughter).

And this is the way, to Yawkey’s mind, it still should be. If you don’t possess enough talent, you deal with another gentleman owner. Perhaps it’s quaint, but the seventy-two-year-old Yawkey prefers it that way. Having legal arbitrators invalidate a baseball contract feels wrong; this has never happened before, it sullies the game, and the sudden availability of a Cy Young Award winner (which initially delights Yawkey) comes to trigger an altogether new breed of baseball transaction, far beyond Yawkey’s ken, in which no other team will be compensated. It will be, in no way, an exchange of athletes.

It’ll be an auction.

There will be no gentlemen involved.

The news of Catfish’s release drifts across the major-league landscape and smokes a series of wealthy white men out of their offices in the city.5 They arrive, as if by migratory instinct, at a seldom-used airport in northeastern North Carolina, where they rent black sedans with leather interiors and drive to the offices of Hunter’s attorneys. It’s the middle of winter.

These visitors are the proud keepers of baseball’s ledgers. They are neither glamorous nor, in any way, memorable. Most of these round-bellied men never played the game, and the negligible careers of those who have — such as Sully (the treasurer of the Boston Red Sox, Haywood Sullivan) or Smoky (the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Walter Alston) — left no lasting impression. The rest are vice presidents or general managers or chairmen of the board or executives in charge of player personnel — deskbound, clean shaven, and infrequently photographed. All of them wear dark suits of a conservative cut and neckties. They squint at the day like rodents brought out into the sun. Their hair is trimmed short in back, parted low on the side, and slickly combed over. Their eyes light up only when drunk.

Each receives an appointment to meet with Hunter’s attorneys. As this may be a slow process, the club representatives reserve beds at the town’s sole motel, the rustic Tomahawk. At night, they lie on lumpy mattresses in the coarsely furnished rooms, the ice machine purring in the hall as they wrestle with how much to pay for a first-place finish.

For the last three seasons, Hunter has steered a stormy, and at times rudderless, Oakland team to a world championship. Catfish not only has made the A’s great but has kept them great for a long time. A baseball dynasty of such prolonged excellence is almost unprecedented. In a century of organized ball, only the Yankees have accomplished such a feat: first under Joe McCarthy, then under Casey Stengel. The Orioles of Earl Weaver have not done it; nor have the Athletics of Connie Mack; nor the Giants of John McGraw or Leo Durocher; nor the Yankees of Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri; nor the Cubs of Tinker, Evers, and Chance; nor the Cards of Musial; nor the Dodgers of Koufax. It is hard to do. Slumps and injuries are inevitable. Three straight times in the seventies, the National League sent strong, deep teams — the Reds, Mets, and Dodgers — and all, playing their hardest, ultimately lost a World Series to Oakland.

The economics are simple. Tickets cost little, players make little, and few noncontenders turn a profit. Whoever signs Hunter receives the guarantee of twenty victories. Only the Astros, Angels, and Padres missed first by more than twenty games last year.

Over the next few weeks, each delegation is welcomed, separately, into a small, drab room in the back of the lawyers’ offices and seated at a brown table. Cups of stale coffee are served from an unplugged percolator. A secretary is taking notes. Hunter is there, mustache thick, hair down to the collar of his flower-print shirt, a plug of Red Man in his cheek. His chewing keeps the room smelling of baseball.

The Yankees offer $1.5 million for five years, the Mets raise it to $2 million, the Padres to $3 million.

Hunter and his attorneys struggle to keep their jaws from dropping. The sums under discussion confound them. They had no idea that a simple ballplayer could earn so much. Players were making, on the average, $43,000 a year. To ask for a million was incomprehensible. After all, it’s still the same game as Little League — yes, the ball travels faster, the gloves are bigger, the bats are heavier, but it is still about hitting the cutoff man, avoiding the double play, moving the man over, stealing the signs, knowing when to bunt; grass, dirt, afternoon. The speed and scope of play may have increased since elementary school, but the fundamentals are the same.

The Rangers propose a huge farm annuity, $150,000 a year for three years, plus $30,000 a year for fifteen years.

The Royals submit a bid of $825,000 for six years, a farm-equipment purchase option, $5,000 per year per child for college, plus $50,000 a year for life.

With features carefully arranged to hide their astonishment, Hunter’s attorneys jot down the offers on legal pads and take notes. Catfish intently studies each visitor, chewing and saying little. As he watches these lifeless men, his poker face occasionally dissolves. He chuckles behind his mustache to hear how each of the sixteen teams with whom he is meeting is very near to winning a championship — at least, according to each club’s executives. Poor showings in the past have been remedied, every need has been addressed, the champagne is on ice, and the World Series rings are being sized.

Catfish shakes them off, but he has no sooner thrown out the last pitch than a new club steps in: the Red Sox, their delegation led by the pasty, balding executive vice president, Dick O’Connell.

O’Connell and Hunter shake hands, take each other’s measurements. An overhead light buzzes. Catfish’s features suddenly soften. A goofy grin breaks through his mustache. He bursts into Li’l Abner-speak, regales the room with country-flavored praise for Tom Yawkey. In 1966 the Red Sox owner regularly visited Hunter after his emergency appendectomy in Boston. “A good man,” drawls Catfish. “Real good man.”

Although Hunter seems slow and unsophisticated, O’Connell knows that he is not, for that is the mistaken assumption shared by most major-league batters. They allow themselves to be set up by Catfish’s easy motion, by the way he conceals the ball behind his glove and left knee, his long stride, his three-quarter delivery. His is the very definition of a crafty manner.

O’Connell looks calmly at Catfish. “Mr. Yawkey is not like any other owner out there.” He addresses the beguiling pitcher in earnest, direct language. “Mr. Yawkey is not in baseball to make a buck. He is not in baseball to feed his ego. The reason he is in baseball is: he loves the game. When he was younger, you know, and even up until a few years ago, he used to work out with the team, take batting practice with the boys before the game. He still closes down the park some days, puts on spikes, he puts on baseball pants and a sweatshirt, and he gets Vince Orlando — you know Vince? — to pitch so he can hit line drives off the wall in left.6 You should talk to the guys on the club, Cat. They will swear by him.”

One of Hunter’s lawyers coughs and holds high an assemblage of stapled notes. “Well, we did receive a telegram from Ted Williams. An affidavit of sorts.”

“Yes. He’s been notified of Mr. Yawkey’s desire to have Catfish join our squad. I hope that’s all right.”

“Of course. It’s quite a ringing endorsement. ‘Mr. Yawkey has the most humility of any person I’ve ever known.’”

“Ah, that’s . . . that’s Ted.”

“Although here . . .” The lawyer shuffles between pages. He chuckles. “Well, it’s a bit amusing. On this here, it says, ‘Mr. Yawkey is soft as a grapefruit.’ And on this over here, it says, ‘He has a heart the size of a watermelon.’”

O’Connell grins.

The older lawyer knits his brow, volunteers an opinion. “That man certainly has great respect for fruit.”

“Ted Williams,” says O’Connell, “can do no wrong in the eyes of Mr. Tom Yawkey. I remember — do you remember? — when the ASPCA made a big stink because Ted was shooting at the starlings that roosted on the left-field fence. Mr. Yawkey defended him.”

From above the Styrofoam rim of his improvised spittoon, Hunter’s eyes twinkle mischievously. “What gauge was the man usin’?” Catfish asks. “Can y’recall?”

“Uh, no. Unfortunately. But my point is, Mr. Yawkey never criticizes his players. And if he has one credo, well, it is a demand for loyalty, because he is always so ready to give it. There is no telling how much money he spends aiding players or former players in time of illness or financial distress. His good deeds are done without fanfare. When a veteran player is released, Mr. Yawkey adds him to the Red Sox payroll in some other capacity. And it will always be that way. The managers arrive and depart, the clubhouse men, the public relations directors, even, I dare say, the general managers, but the owner is always the same.”

The air in the room grows stale, so the executive vice president rises. The others in his delegation follow suit. They head to the door. On the way out, O’Connell unexpectedly whirls around. “You pitch well in Fenway,” he reminds Hunter. “The mound suits you. You’re someone who needs good execution behind you and we’ve got ourselves a fine set of fielders. Rooster. Rico.”

“A pitcher gives up lotsa home runs in y’park.”

“A fair amount, yes. Not a lot. Far fewer than in Detroit. Fewer than in Cleveland. In fact, more home runs are hit in Yankee Stadium every year than at Fenway.”

“That a fact?”


Yet, Hunter thinks, with all that money, Yawkey ain’t been able to buy no championship — in two World Series, Boston failed to defeat St. Louis by one game. Are his Red Sox too pampered, like a well-fed dog that won’t hunt?

As Christmas passes in North Carolina and temperatures drop, the bids continue to rise. Hunter’slawyers are most delighted by the offer presented by the Dodgers: $3,000,000 for two years, divided up in whatever way they like.

In private, Hunter shakes his head. “I don’t care to go to the Dodgers,” he tells his representatives. He picked up a divisive vibe from the team during the World Series two months ago, more than the usual glimpse of cliques and factions, the hippies like Messersmith, the wusses like first baseman Steve Garvey, a sour chemistry behind all that talk of bleeding Dodger blue.7 “But,” Catfish finally reveals, after weeks of pondering options, “I’d really like to play for the Yankees. If I can get near or the same amount of money as the other clubs, that’s who I want to sign with.” Exasperated by the abrupt change of direction, Hunter’s attorneys roll their eyes. He smiles. “See what you can work out.”

So it is, on a late-December day lightly dusted with snow, that Hunter comes to terms with New York, despite deep reservations about working for Steinbrenner (“Couldn’t be any worse than working for Finley,” a friend points out), and despite the fact that the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since firing Casey Stengel in 1960. This is nonetheless a promising team that plays in a pitcher’s park, against hitters Catfish already knows. They have a heritage of cunning hurlers (Lefty Gómez, Whitey Ford, Waite Hoyt), the best catcher in the American League (Thurman Munson), two nineteen-game winners (Pat Dobson and Doc Medich), and a bull-pen ace, Sparky Lyle, with a hundred saves in three seasons. Their second-place finish in 1974 was the closest the Yankees had come to a pennant in ten years, but the frustration of not winning everything apparently sent them to the trading post. They came back with Bobby Bonds, fledgling superstar, to be positioned in the outfield with Elliott Maddox, Roy White, and Lou Piniella while Chris Chambliss at first and Graig Nettles at third would anchor the infield.

Dick O’Connell places a telephone call to Tom Yawkey on the last day of the year.

“Sir, I wanted you to know that the Yankees have a press conference scheduled for eight fifteen tonight.”

Yawkey grunts in acknowledgment.

“It’s to be held at their offices in New York.”

Another grunt.

“I think you know what this is about.”

“Jimmy Hunter.”

“His deal will be one hundred thousand a year for five years, half of it deferred.”

Yawkey is not the least bit startled by the figures. “That all?”

“No. Fifty-three thousand, four hundred sixty-two dollars and sixty-seven cents a year in insurance annuities for ten years; a one-hundred-thousand-dollar signing bonus; fifteen years at one hundred thousand per year until nineteen ninety-four; twenty-five-thousand-dollar college endowments for his children; two hundred thousand in attorney fees; plus a brand new Buick every year for five years.”

“All right.”

“Are you okay, Mr. Yawkey?”

“Sure, Dick. Fine, fine. Well, at least he didn’t sign with the hamburger king.” Yawkey had been worried about Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s and owner of the San Diego Padres.

“That’s right.”

“Well. You still say that Tony C. is gonna come back to us?”

“He asked if he could attend training camp with us this spring and I told him ‘of course.’”

“Yes . . .” There is a pause on Yawkey’s end. “Ah, damn.”

“Yes, sir.” Something tells O’Connell that the owner is still thinking about Hunter. “I’m truly sorry we didn’t get Catfish for you, sir.”

“Oh . . . I know, Dick. You tried, you tried. You know, I don’t know whether I want to stay in baseball much longer, Dick. I’m disturbed at what’s going on. That players’ strike made me stop and . . . and think what the future holds for this game . . .”

“I know, sir.”

“That Marvin Miller keeps saying all owners are SOBs and that really bothers me. I don’t think my players feel that way about me.”

“Of course they don’t, sir.”

“At least, they never said so to my face.”

“I think your players have great fondness for you, sir.”

“Thank you, Dick.”

“Have a good afternoon, sir.”

That evening at his forty-thousand-acre game preserve, Tom Yawkey is down in the kitchen with his press steward, Tommy McCarthy, and his colored help. It’s New Year’s Eve. They’ve popped open cans of beer and gathered around the transistor radio, which is set up on the shelf above the cutting board. The radio provides them with live coverage of a press conference in Manhattan.

“I always wanted to be a Yankee,” Jimmy Hunter is responding cheerily to a reporter’s question at the press conference. “I remember I used to get chills just walking into Yankee Stadium. Now there’s going to be a new Yankee Stadium. With a natural grass surface. I’ll be proud to be a part of it. All that great tradition.”

Yawkey spins angrily. His chest hurts. Why, of all teams, did Jimmy choose the Yankees? Here Yawkey thought he’d created a place that would attract guys like Jimmy: guys who drive Ford pickups with a dog pen in the back — Tarheels.

Yawkey stalks out through the servants’ entrance. His blue eyes burn like sapphires and then cool into something more sorrowful. He smokes a cigarette and grievously studies the night. Where did he go wrong? Shouldn’t a fellow like Jimmy Hunter feel he belongs? Certainly it wasn’t the money. Yawkey had okayed a bid for four million with the treasurer, Harrington.

Only twice during Yawkey’s generous span of ownership have the Red Sox managed to win the American League championship. In 1948 his boys tied for the AL pennant, lost it in a single play-off game; in 1949 they lost first place on the last day of the season; in 1972 they lost the division by half a game; and then this last year, 1974, the seven-game lead on August 23 just vanished and they finished the season in third. . . .

Time is running out. His boys will never win him a world championship. Why aren’t today’s great players welcoming a chance to play for Boston? Yawkey aches to blame it on the president of the players’ union, Marvin Miller. . . .

Everybody knows that Yawkey has 200 million bucks.

Nobody yet knows he has leukemia.

Copyright © 2003 by Tom Adelman

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