Hank couldn't endure such dogma, such unfairness. It made his presence untenable in that clubhouse, impossible in that universe, damn near un-American in this America: He believed in a code more than he did in his own hopes and dreams. He'd point at teammates wearing conventional jewelry and say to his manager, "So...gold necklace is baseball? Religious necklace is baseball? Gold and silver are O.K., but glass beads aren't? You're wearing a wristwatch. Is that O.K.? Is that baseball?"
He belted 29 homers and drove in 100 runs in 1964, his third year of minor league ball, persuading the Mets, and then the Phillies, to keep waiting and hoping for the riddle of Hank McGraw to be solved. He hit 16 homers and .304 for the Phillies' Double A team in Reading in 1969, was promoted to Eugene in Triple A and was among the Pacific Coast League leaders in RBIs, home runs and extra-base hits in 1970. It was a felicitous surge, occurring in the season that both Phillies catchers, Tim McCarver and Mike Ryan, broke hands on foul tips in the same inning. Hank was 27, and he'd closed enough bars to smell it coming: last call. Last shot at the Show.
The Phillies changed managers at Eugene, called on no-nonsense, big-jowled Southerner Lou Kahn to run a tighter ship. Kahn called a clubhouse meeting and demanded that his players get proper haircuts. Hank, whose hair was bushy but didn't quite reach his collar, entered Kahn's office. "I said, 'Lou, is this a rule of yours to shake everybody up, or is this organizational?' " Hank said. " 'If it's organizational, then it's got to apply to the Phillies, the guys you're holding up as our models, and they've got longer hair than we do. Is that fair?' He said he'd call the Phillies' front office.
"Next day I show up at the yard and he says, 'You're suspended, no pay, and I don't want you in my clubhouse. Clear your gear out after the team's on the field.' All of a sudden I'm a terrorist.
"The wire services picked up the story. Letters started coming from all over: Go home, stay away from baseball, you Commie bastard. One mother blamed me for her daughter running off and marrying some long-haired freak. I stayed suspended for three, four weeks. Then the Phillies sold me to the Hawaii Islanders—a team with no big league affiliation. I knew then I'd never go to the Show.
"Oakland A's won the World Series a year or two later, with Afros and muttonchops and—." He stopped, whirled in mid-sentence and stabbed a finger at my shirt. "What's that?" he demanded.
I glanced down. Two small, faint letters were inscribed above my sinking heart.
"A logo!" he cried.
"But...but you can barely see it," I spluttered.
He lit another cigarette and grunted. I couldn't be sure, through the haze and the mustache, what worked across his lips. It might've been a grin.