"You know, I lived and died with you guys then," I said. "Skipped metal shop to see your catch."
Swoboda looked as if someone had just jarred the ball loose. Quickly he steered conversation back to the Sun Devils' dirty laundry and NFL expansion franchises and Jay Humphries.
If I ever meet Tommie Agee, I resolved, I'll approach him differently. I won't let him know.
The "C" in his autograph comes right off of Cleon Jones's face.
The man with the fishhook scar caught the final out of the Series, an ironic fly ball off the bat of current Mets manager Davey Johnson. Then he genuflected on the warning track. Not long after the Mets gave Jones his release in 1975, a friend of mine, vagabonding through the Deep South, found himself in Mobile and decided to look him up. Cleon and his wife, Angela, received him graciously in their rambling ranch house, which sat on a manicured lawn surrounded by shotgun shacks.
"I'll never forget that scar," my friend recalls. "You could be standing right in front of him, yet when he spoke to you, he'd position his shoulders and face so you couldn't see it at all. It was obviously a learned behavior. The only time I'd seen anything like it was when I was once introduced to Bob Dole [the senator from Kansas, whose right arm is disabled from a war injury]. Dole locks you in with his eyes and sticks out his left hand, and he waits for you to make the necessary adjustment."
Cleon told my friend that he had shed most of his bitterness over the Mets' handling of the incident from the previous year, in which St. Petersburg police (perhaps patrolman Mark Jordan?) found him sleeping nude in the back of a station wagon at 5:00 a.m. with a woman who was not Angela. Mets president M. Donald Grant summoned Jones to New York and forced him to read a public apology. Cleon did just that, in a scene that Red Smith described as "an exercise in medieval torture."
It was so wrong for Cleon Jones, a man who had lived his life behind a scar, to be humiliated by M. Donald Grant, a man who had lived his behind an initial.
I swung a deal during the 1969-70 hot stove season. I sent several NFL media guides to a collector in Jim Thorpe, Pa., for a '68 Mets program (cover mottled during a rain delay) and a '67 Tommie Agee autographed bubble gum card that, in theory, completed my set.
But I have always had misgivings about that card. Agee is posed heretically in a White Sox uniform. The autograph doesn't resemble to my satisfaction the facsimile signature on the card's face. And, as a card, it's somehow violate in and of itself. So from time to time over the past decade and a half I have cast about for a purer and more persuasive Tommie Agee.