FLOAT LIKE A BLUE BIRD, STING LIKE A CUSTOM COACH
" Muhammad Ali just loved to drive buses," says Gene Kilroy, Ali's former business manager. "When he was young Cassius Clay, he bought an old one that needed lots of work. Him and Bundini Brown painted the thing and called it
. It got him the fight with Sonny Liston. Ali was getting frustrated because Liston kept ducking him. So one day Ali's driving
, and he says, 'I got an idea how to make Liston fight. I'll invade the guy.' He drives to Denver and parks in Liston's front yard. He honks the horn, flashes the headlights and guns the engine. Liston comes screaming out of his house: 'You s.o.b. I'll kick your butt.' Ali just sits in the bus, honking and flashing, honking and flashing, driving poor Liston berserk. 'I mean it,' Liston shouts. 'I'm gonna kill you." Finally Ali says, 'Let's get it on.' And that's how he got his title shot.
" Ali always wanted his own Custom Coach, so one day we flew out to the factory in Columbus, Ohio. He tells the salesman he wants one fixed up like the rock stars have—a shower, TVs, bedrooms, everything. The salesman says, 'That'll be $160,000.' I take the guy aside and say, 'Hey, let's work this out in trade. How about if Muhammad does a commercial for-Custom Coach and we call it even.' 'O.K.,' says the salesman, 'we'll shoot it tomorrow.' I tell Ali, and he says, 'I ain't waiting around for no tomorrow. I want it now!' 'But Muhammad,' I say. 'Listen,' he says, 'my butt is the one doing the roadwork, and my butt is the one sitting on the seat. Pay the bill and let's get out of here.' So I wrote a check for $160,000, and he drove a bus away that afternoon.
"Anyway, he's speeding along, going maybe 75 miles an hour, when a siren goes off and there's flashing lights behind us. State police. Muhammad stops the bus, runs out to the squad car and yells, 'I'm lookin' for Joe Frazier. Where's Joe Frazier?' The cop starts laughing and says, 'If you want to find him, you'd better slow down.' Ali never did get a ticket.
"Later, this big old truck cuts him off the road. Whoom! We end up in a ditch, and the truck keeps going. Muhammad pulls out, races up beside the truck and shouts, 'Learn to drive.' The truck driver hears this and says, 'Pull over! I'll teach you a lesson.' Well, Ali pulls over, and the truck driver slams on his brakes and jumps out. He's a little guy, five feet four. He doesn't recognize Ali at first, and he's mad as hell. He says, 'You think I cut you off? You cut me off.' Ali says, 'How crazy can I be? I'm getting ready for a championship fight, and I'm gonna cut you off in a big truck to get hurt? You got to be crazy!' The guy says, 'Are you...?' Ali says, 'Yeah.' The guy says, 'Well, you all look alike.' So Ali says, 'Hey, mister. I know you don't want to fight me.' The guy says, 'You're right about that.' Ali says, 'Come on, I'll treat you to dinner.' So we went to a diner, and we sat down and had dinner. The guy says, 'You know, I'm a redneck. I'm 100 percent redneck. I never cared for niggers, but I always liked you.' Ali laughs, and the guy says, 'I want you to do me a favor. I want you to call my little boy on the phone and tell him who you are, just to say he talked to you.'
"So Ali did, and the truck driver shook his hand and went on his way. And Ali won another fan. Truly the people's champ."
HUB KITTLE AND THE BUS OF DOOM
"I'll tell you the story about how I almost drowned in a bus," Kittle says. "I'm in Mexico managing the Hermosillo Naranjeros, and we're busing home after a game in Mazatl�n. We reach a river. There are no bridges—you've got to ferry across. But there's no ferry. We look 300 yards downriver and see all these trucks and horse-drawn wagons crossing, so our driver joins the parade. We're moving along pretty good, when our bus hits a sandbar. The sand is loose, like quicksand, and that baby starts to go down. And I mean down! Our driver opens the door and muddy water spurts down the aisles. Some of the players yell like crazy and say Hail Marys. Our driver jumps out and wades chin-deep to the shore. Everybody else swims after him. We build a big mesquite fire on the riverbank. It's colder than a well digger's behind. But we get gassed up pretty good on tequila and lots of cerveza. I sing The Bullpen Pitcher's Lament. It was written by a deaf knuckleballer, Tin Ear Medigini, in the back of a bus when I was managing Bremerton in the Western International League:
"I've been working in the bullpen,
All the livelong day.
I've been working in the bullpen,
Just throwing my arm away.
Can't you hear Hub Kittle shouting
Hey, come here on this mound,
And try to stop these sons of bitches
From knockin' the ball around."
SLOUCHING TOWARD JERUSALEM