Robinson's brother, Jim, was five years older than he, and Madden has two sisters but no brothers. "So John and I were like brothers, all the way through," says Madden.
"We didn't know what we had," he says. "We didn't know what we didn't have." Neither of them had any money. "But we didn't know that." They both had enthusiasm. "But we were kids. We didn't notice it. We lived in the streets, in the playgrounds. We used to sneak into everything. Ball games at Cal and Stanford. We used to sneak into drive-in theaters, just plop down by the pole, pull the sound box off. This with no car."
They played whatever was in season. "But we were interested beyond just playing," says Robinson. "We had a lot of friends who went to games, but John and I were the only ones who went to practices." They hitchhiked to the 49ers' training camp at St. Mary's College in Moraga. "We knew every 49er and where he played, and tried the best we could to fathom what the coverages were," says Robinson. "We'd talk, we'd wonder. We'd bounce things off each other for hours."
Their discussions were all the more frenzied, the more secret, because Madden and Robinson both stuttered. "We'd talk and talk," says Madden, "and no words would come out." This must have been when Madden's gestures grew to the expansive ones we know today.
Robinson's friends say that in later years he gave the impression of having such swift and multiple thoughts that neither his nor anyone else's mouth could have kept up. "No, no," says Madden. "He was a real stutterer. I got rid of it before he did. My wife says I only revert to it when he and I get back together."
"My biggest struggle was on the phone," says Robinson, "and talking to girls. People used to razz me about it, but it wasn't a paralyzing thing. I got to be student body president in high school."
"He was the only guy ever to have a new bat," says Madden, resisting talk about teenage stuff, dragging the story back to when they were young and easy, under the apple boughs. "For $2.50—and where he got that I have no idea—he bought this bat. It was black. Neither of us had ever had a new one...."
"Those things were treasures," says Robinson. "A baseball glove was like a house. It was so personally yours that I have nothing to compare it with in adulthood. You kept it for life."
"We had read somewhere that to make a new bat good, you had to bone it," says Madden. "So he got this huge bone from the butcher shop, and for weeks he carried around that bat and that bone, rubbing it, rubbing it...."
"In the show, in the dark...."