My last tracer?

September 4, 2019

I’m packing up my books to move 1,000 miles (this is part of a year-long process) and I’m trying to be ruthless with my baseball collection—I’m determined not to move several hundred baseball books that are either falling-apart paperbacks, or idiotic autobiographies I hated reading the first time, or reference books that cover MLB up through 1991, etc. but sometimes I look at one of them before pitching it in the reject pile and realize that I do have a good source for tracers here. Today it was Ken Harrelson’s 1969 autobiography "HAWK", which was filled with highly detailed accounts of games that, most likely, were highly fictional in nature. Harrelson has always struck me as a loudmouthed braggart, prevaricator, and general BS artist, so I decided to test my bias and see how well he remembered his own career. (Mind you, he was writing this book while his career was still in progress.)

At random, I opened up to page 118, where he was describing the very end of his rookie season, and in the process making his first MLB manager, Eddie Lopat, seem like an ineffective moron every chance he got. Here’s Hawk’s rendering of one of the final plays of the season:

Lopat, deciding to give the regulars a break started a makeshift lineup and the Indians just kicked our brains out. With our pitcher scheduled up in the eighth, Eddie looked up and down the bench for a pinch-hitter. Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, and I were sitting together, trying to make ourselves as small as possible because we wanted no part of Mudcat on a day like that.

When Eddie spotted us, he said, "Lumpe, get a bat."

"Not me," Jerry said, "I ain’t getting a bat. Mudcat’s throwing a little too hard for me today."

"Siebern, you get up there and hit," Lopat said.

"No, thanks," Norm said, "There’s about fifteen minutes left to this season and I want to come out of it alive."

Eddie turned to me and said, "All right, Hawk, you get a bat."

"Ed, you got the wrong boy," I said. "All I can see is Mudcat’s teeth, and I ain’t about to walk up to that plate."

The plate umpire was yelling for a hitter, and Lopat was going crazy looking for one. He finally went back to Lumpe and said, "Jerry, please hit, will you?"

"Well," Lumpe said, "I’ll go up there but I won’t guarantee to hit."

He got a bat, went to the plate, took three strikes and came back.


The true part is that Lumpe pinch-hit against Mudcat Grant in the final game of the 1963 season and he struck out.

That’s about it: "the Indians just kicked our brains out." Uh, no. Each team scored one earned run on six hits in the game, the Indians pulling ahead for good on an unearned run in the fifth inning. The final score was 2-1. When Lumpe batted, he represented the go-ahead run.

"With our pitcher scheduled up in the eighth,"—again, no. The A’s pitcher, John Wyatt, didn’t bat in the eighth inning, nor was anyone pinch-hit for in the 8th. Lumpe’s pinch-hit strikeout took place in the ninth.

"Siebern, you get up there and hit," Lopat said.

"No, thanks," Norm said, "There’s about fifteen minutes left to this season and I want to come out of it alive." Yet again, no. It’s very colorful dialogue that Harrelson attributes to Siebern, but if Lopat had asked him to bat, he probably would have said something far more colorful, because he’d already pinch-hit (against Grant) in the seventh inning.

Eddie turned to me and said, "All right, Hawk, you get a bat."

"Ed, you got the wrong boy," I said. "All I can see is Mudcat’s teeth, and I ain’t about to walk up to that plate."

This is perhaps the craziest part of Harrelson’s recollection, in that Harrelson, too, was ineligible to pinch-hit for anyone, having been inserted in the five-hole of the starting lineup and having already struck out three times in the game.

No, I change my mind—the craziest part of this story is that, instead of Lumpe being asked to bat for the pitcher in the eighth, he was asked to bat for (wait for it) Harrelson in the ninth.

In other words, just about every detail in this story, aside from Lumpe striking out against Grant as a pinchhitter, is not only wrong but not even possible under the circumstances. The picture of Lopat as a clueless dolt begging his bench to do their jobs, and failing miserably at persuading big-league batters to pinch-hit, is belied by Harrelson’s imaginary dialogue of those batters, including himself, standing up to the clueless dolt and telling him off bravely. This mis-telling speaks sort of loudly to the other stories Harrelson tells of Lopat’s ineptness, and of his tales in general.

He doesn’t seem to have gotten along with his managers in general, but he always tells it from a victim’s perspective when he seems, looking at the hard cold facts, to have a problem with any sort of authority. Gil Hodges, one of my personal favorites, was a very authoritative manager, and I always felt that he laid his ex-Marine boss-man managerial style a little thicker than he actually needed to, but Harrelson seems to have challenged Hodges’ style from the first day he was traded to Hodges’ Senators: on page 154, he tells about his first conversation with his new manager:

I had stolen nine bases in nine tries and had more steals than anybody on the Washington club. Alvin [Dark] had let me run on my own.

"Do you let any of the guys run on their own here?" I asked Hodges.

"No," he said. "Nobody but [Fred] Valentine. I’ll give you the signal when I want you to go."

"I was nine for nine over in Kansas City," I said. "I can steal a base for you."

"I’ll decide when you’ll steal a base."

"I might help the ball club," I said. "I usually can tell when a pitcher will throw a breaking ball or an off-speed pitch, and those are the kind I can steal on."

Hodges glared at me and said, "I told you I’ll give the sign when I want you to steal."

That was the end of the interview. And all during the time I played for him, Hodges didn’t once give me the steal sign.

The true part: Harrelson had stolen nine bases for the 1966 KC A’s. The BS part: he had been thrown out twice so far that season. The fundamentally BS part is that Harrelson was no kind of basestealer. Before the 1966 season, he had attempted 19 steals in MLB and had succeeded 10 times; after the 1966 season, he was 30 for 48. That means that, outside of the 1966 season, Harrelson stole 40 MLB bases successfully while being thrown out 27 times, an under-60% success rate. He did have a good year stealing bases in 1966, going 9/11 with KC and 4/5 with Hodges’ Senators, for an 81% stolen base rate. In his two partial seasons playing for Hodges, he stole 5 bases in 6 tries (this despite not once being given the steal sign) so maybe Hodges knew how to pick spots better than Harrelson (or did Harrelson just disobey Hodges no-steal order six times? You’d think Kenny would have shared some of the conversations he had with Hodges afterwards.)  The main point, however, being that the entire conversation beyond Hodges’ "No" is just Harrelson challenging Hodges’ managerial authority, and then being pissed off that Hodges didn’t take kindly to his new player undermining that authority.

Oh, yeah, he hadn’t stolen more bases than Fred Valentine as of June 23rd, either.

But since this is Ken Harrelson’s 78th birthday, I’ll give it a rest right here.


I suppose it’s all to the good that I’m not taking these hundreds of books with me. I can only tread water in this sea of bullshit for so long. But if anyone wants any of these books—lots of old Baseball Digests, the 19—Baseball Handbook, Green and Red books from the 20th century,  all sorts of memoirs and autobiographies, drop me a line at and I’ll be glad to mail you all you want. I’m kind of sick of running tracers at this point.


COMMENTS (25 Comments, most recent shown first)

Marc Schneider
MarisFan 61,

It's like the scent in, I think, "Annie Hall" where Woody Allen's character hears someone say "jknow" and interprets it as being anti-semitic.
9:29 AM Sep 10th
When Cosell and Uecker were on Monday Night Baseball together, Cosell used the same line:

"You probably don't even know what truculent means, Bob."

"Sure I do, Howard. If you own a truck, and I borrow it, I have the truculent."
3:37 PM Sep 7th
"I know that some would say that any time there's an underlying feeling of other, it's anti."

Perfectly put. I for one would not say it. I think diversity is a good thing and one of the things that's good about it is the variety of perspectives it brings. If we're not allowed to notice that otherness, we lose that.
6:32 PM Sep 6th
In a similar vein, here's a story that's either anti-Semitic, or not. I thought it wasn't. It reminds me totally of a piece that Bill wrote, maybe in Dummy Hoy's little bio in the last Historical Abstract, about how when people like Hoy were called things like Dummy, was it a slur or was it jut a recognition of something distinctive about the person?

In my high school days I was in a Saturday morning bowling league. Maybe because it was on Saturday mornings I was usually the only [Jew] (in brackets to indicate that we're not really supposed to call someone that). One year, my team was romping to the championship and so on the last day there was no real rivalry between us and the team we were playing. Before the last game, one of the guys on the other team drew up the scoresheet, with everybody's name -- and next to the names of each guy on our team, he put a star, only next to my name he did a 6-sided star rather than 5-sided. I told my parents about it, proudly, but they were outraged. They said it was anti-Semitic. I was shocked; that hadn't occurred to me at all. But who knows.
What I think now: probably some underlying feeling of Jews being "other," but not anti-Semitic.
I know that some would say that any time there's an underlying feeling of other, it's anti.
3:40 PM Sep 6th
About the Cosell-Ali thing:

I didn't mean that there was any issue about Ali taking it that way. Of course he took it that way, because that's exactly how Cosell meant it, the only reason he picked that word for his next vocabulary jibe with Ali. It was striking and funny (if a little uncomfortably and apprehensively) because Cosell dared to use that word with Ali. And nowadays -- probably then as well -- I think just about nobody who even knows the word would choose to use it, because of what it inescapably sounds like.

(Would you? I sure wouldn't.)​
2:54 PM Sep 6th
Marc Schneider
Maris Fan,

I used Biden simply because of the recent kerfluffle about his stories not being accurate. I'm not anti-Biden. I thought .

Here is something I have thought about for forty years in regard to racism (or non-racism). When I was in college, I was sitting in the TV room with two African-American guys watching TV. One of them fell asleep and I said to the other guy, "well, some people are lazy." (I'm probably paraphrasing from forty years.) As soon as I said it, I realized how it might be taken (ie, the stereotype of lazy African-Americans) although I did not have that intention. I was simply making a joke about a guy sleeping without thinking. Some would say it was "unconscious racism" but I don't believe that. But I certainly understand how it could be interpreted in that context (and this was 1977 in Tennessee and I was certainly familiar with racism in the South). As it turned out, they turned it around and mentioned me being Jewish with a big nose (another stereotype) and we let it go. But I'm sure they thought that, at the least, it was an unconsciously racist remark. And, in fact, I have interpreted similar comments about Jews in the same way, ie, being anti-semitic, when the remark might have been perfectly innocent. And I might well have been wrong. I mentioned this to someone the other day, that groups that have a history of racism might interpret a seemingly innocent remark in a more negative manner, whether rightly or wrongly.

Perception means a lot. In Ball Four, Bouton talks about how Curt Blefary was friends with several African-American players and some other players were afraid not to like Blefary for fear of being considered racist themselves.

As for Ali's remark about the word "niggardly," there have been several incidents in which an African-American person interpreted the word as meaning something different than what it actually means.

To defend Harrelson to some extent, males often joke and kid about sensitive topics. I had friends that we used to joke about each of our religions but it was ok because we knew we didn't really mean it. With race, the history in this country makes that much more dfficult, but it also creates a barrier to friendship, I think, when you feel you have to watch what you say. But, obviously, I'm not suggesting that it's ok to say ANYTHING to friends. Context is important.
9:31 AM Sep 6th
Steven Goldleaf
Marc Schneider-- Lumpe wasn't a minor player in 1963 (he was in the middle of a three-year run averaging 157 games and close to 700 PA/year, with a .300 BA the year before, and an All-Star appearance the year after) though I take your overall point.
2:57 AM Sep 6th
(dam, I screwed up the italic again...)
8:49 PM Sep 5th
What about Klamb saying "....his cleverness in turning a [i]colorful[/i[ phrase"?


One of my favorite Cosell-Ali bits was when, soon after Cosell had asked Ali if he wasn't being "truculent" (and Ali had said, you have to tell me what truculent is --- if it's good, I'm that), he dared suggest that Ali was being "niggardly." (To which Ali said, right out, with a smile/mock anger, "Are you calling me a n____?")

I'm not sure I knew that "gypping" was about Gypsies.

BTW, how about when Father Guido Sarducci explained that he came across a vendor who was selling the actual check from The Last Brunch (the guy also had the check from The Last Supper but it was, as Father said, out of his ballgame), and the guy was asking 500 pesos but Father "Presbyterianed him down" to 200?

P.S. Good to see you, KL -- missed you!
8:48 PM Sep 5th
I would say Harrelson wrote a very racist remark without any racist intent. "All I can see is (Whoever's) teeth" is probably something Hawk heard often when he grew up in the pre-Civil-Rights Carolinas. I'm only speculating, but the phrase almost certainly began as a dehumanizing invective in the same Tar Baby tradition as minstrel blackface and Amos 'n' Andy (which was still on TV in syndicated reruns as late as 1966!). Over the years, though, repetition devalued the phrase from insult to idiom — just as people now say "No can do" with no intent to demean Chinese immigrants, and my generation of children knew nothing of itinerant Romanians' reputation as thieving Gypsies when we complained about getting gypped.

So here came Harrelson in 1969, putting made-up words in his own mouth as part of a fabricated and completely unnecessary anecdote. Since he published this quote in a self-aggrandizing autobiography, he presumably included it to show off not his racism, but his cleverness in turning a colorful phrase — and in so doing, he also inadvertently displayed his indifference to the phrase's obvious racism.

I've actually heard the phrase before, when I had a college roommate from North Carolina in the spring of 1972. He was a smart guy, friendly and empathetic, but he used the N-word as casually as I might have called someone a Belgian or a New Yorker. I remember the phrase more than the context, but I think he used it to convey the (a) fearsomeness and (b) race of a student speaking strongly in class.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Irrelevant diversion: Writing "Belgian" reminded me of a recent trip to the grocery store. It had a special display of overpriced, pre-packaged Belgian waffles. On each package, a sticker said "Imported From Belgium." (I resisted the urge to take a package to the store's bakery and ask if the cheese Danish were imported from Denmark.)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I did wonder at first if Hawk might have been provoked by his own failure against Mudcat Grant to describe him this way. He did not hit well against Grant in 31 plate appearances, all of them before 1970: 8-for-30 with a walk, a double, a triple and 9 strikeouts (.233/.258/.333). That .591 OPS was his 9th-worst against any pitcher he faced at least 30 times, but his 6th-worst was against Mike Cuellar and his 5th-worst was against Al Downing, whose pigmentation matched Grant's in darkness and who had the clearest title of any black pitcher to ownership of Harrelson. In 42 trips against Downing, Harrelson went 5-for-37 with a home run, 4 walks and 13 strikeouts: .135/.214/.216.

(At the other end of the spectrum, Harrelson hit 7 home runs in 40 at bats against Luis Tiant. A search for Hall of Famers helps explain the National League's dominance in the '60s. The only ones he faced more than 20 times were Wilhelm, Palmer and Ford — none more than 28 times. His OPS was .139 against Wilhelm, but over 1.000 against the other two.)

Having said all of that, this is something I feel strongly about:
A person's words and actions should be judged by the standards of the time those words and actions took place, and not by current standards that are (in Harrelson's case) 50 years removed — unless current standards are informed by information that puts those past words and actions in a better light (examples: Galileo's cosmic map, Raines's Hall of Fame candidacy).
This principle is violated with distressing frequency in our current society.
8:03 PM Sep 5th
Steven Goldleaf
It's possible it's not a racist remark. Also possible it's a mild or a subconscious racist remark. Your call.
7:24 PM Sep 5th
Unless you think that observing the objective and undeniable fact that a black man's white teeth contrast more against his skin than is the case with us pasty-faces, no, it's not racist. Unless you think that it's racist to take note of the objective and undeniable fact that humans come in different shapes and colors, no, it's not racist. Color-blindness is a myth, mostly promoted by real racists who are trying to judge people by the degree to which they conform to the white default.
4:21 PM Sep 5th
Steven Goldleaf
Of course, in Harrelson's defense, he probably never said what he quotes himself as saying to Lopat, anyway. So while I agree with the notion that the line is a tad racist, it's most likely imaginary.​
3:54 PM Sep 5th
Steven Goldleaf
I think it was a racist remark, but I distinguish between types of racist remarks. There are evil, deliberate, KKK-types of racists, probably the vast minority of racists, and there are --well, I won't say "innocent"--but "thoughtless," "insensitive," "unevolved," "subsconscious" etc. racists, probably the vast majority of racists, and I think Harrelson's racism, which I didn't catch at first, is of the latter type. I think it's racists like Harrelson who protest the most vigorously when they're accused of racism. You know, "My best friends are..." or "Not a racist bone in my...", all that crapola, and getting furious and on their high horses, babbling about how it's white folks who suffer the most from reverse racism and how their grandparents were living in Southwestern Mamunia when the Civil War took place, etc.

Maris described an incident in his dorm that seemed ok because they were all friends and joking around and making fun of racism, so that made it ok, except it ISN'T ok if the one black guy would have preferred that his white dorm-mates not make jokes about his race and is only going along because he's trying to defuse the racial tension in the dorm. I can imagine that the one black guy might have been (probably wasn't, but I can imagine otherwise) very sensitive about jokes but realized as most minorities do that there's no way to admonish people to behave as you would prefer, so he simply accepted the situation. Maybe it's nothing, as Maris maintains, but more likely it's just a way to cope with the discomfort of having only black guy in the dorm. Not saying it was horrible, but there was some racism inherent in the situation, and joking is one way to deal with it. Doesn't make it go away, doesn't fix it, but that's what we've got: we're all racists, you, me, Ken Harrelson, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, and we all have different ways to deal with it.
3:22 PM Sep 5th
(Don't understand the using of Biden for that little riff. I can think of far better Exhibit A's.....)​
12:57 PM Sep 5th
Marc Schneider
Aside from anything else, the notion that, in 1963 or whenever it was, that marginal players like Jerry Lumpe would refuse to hit, strikes me as idiotic. The players could be thrown out like trash.

To be fair, though, as with Joe Biden, these kinds of books don't necessarily rely on versimilitude for their effectiveness. I'm pretty sure most of the stories you see in books of this sort ("Slick" (which I actually liked), various Mantle-ghosted books, etc) are likely BS.
12:21 PM Sep 5th
Actually I think it would be unfair to consider it that. Maybe it's naive to see it this way but I'd say it's just the (I'm serious) :-) somewhat humorous articulation of an actual perceptual phenomenon.

In my freshman dorm at college, there were about 50 guys on each floor with one large common bathroom. The stalls had those doors that don't go all the way to the floor. Out of the 50, there was (well yeah, those times were racist, as are ours) just 1 black guy. One morning I walked in there to start doing my stuff at a sink, and I could see that one of the stalls was occupied, no big deal, and that the feet were of that color, no big deal either. One of the other guys walked in and loudly said, "Oh, I wonder who that is in there." The guy in there and I both laughed.

It wasn't racism, it was the somewhat humorous articulation of an actual perceptual phenomenon.​
12:13 PM Sep 5th
Steven Goldleaf
Didn't occur to me, but I think you're onto something. Hawk's certainly a good old boy.
8:38 AM Sep 5th
Is it just me, or does anyone else detect just a whiff of racism in the "all I can see is his teeth" remark about Mudcat?
8:00 AM Sep 5th
Steven Goldleaf
From New York City to coastal Florida, just about where Dorian touched down yesterday. (No damage to my Florida place that I heard of.) The Baseball Digests, in answer to an email query, are all over the place: I found one from 1950 yesterday, and ones from the early 1980s.
6:06 AM Sep 5th
Thanks. Interesting and entertainlng - and short enough for my attention span. Other than Bill James and Leonard Koppett, I've never been much of a fan of baseball books. I'm glad I spared great chunks of my life from reading BS.

Good luck with your move. Whereabouts are you moving from/to?​
9:52 PM Sep 4th
Green and red books! LOL
4:22 PM Sep 4th
Steven Goldleaf
I luv Ringo's poems.
4:11 PM Sep 4th
Ringo Starr recently put up a huge pile of personal memorabilia to auction and donated the proceeds to charity. I believe his rationale was that, hey, I'm not gonna live forever, I don't sit around all day admiring my bowling trophies (so to speak) so why not let someone else enjoy them?

Same with tons of my books. I do re-read lots of stuff, and I'm not looking to sell it - my thought is, just give it away to the Salvation Army.

I'm hanging on to a lot, but do I really intend to re-read Louis L'Amour's "Kilkenny?" Answer is, no. Will I ever re-read the 1984 Baseball Abstract again? Not likely. But I'll probably hang on to it a little longer for the reason Maris stated. On the other hand, I've got a copy of Slick (Whitey Ford's autobiography, which I will certainly give away, and if there are no takers, be tempted to burn.
3:33 PM Sep 4th
Nice job.
BTW, I might keep such books because of the bullshit! :-) -- because they give endless fodder for fun Tracers.
3:01 PM Sep 4th
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