When he is on a baseball field Don Hoak, the third baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is not a pleasant man. He is cruel and vulgar and aflame with hate. Nothing is more important to him than winning, and if it means telling his own tired pitcher that he is a coward in order to goad him into one more strong inning, then he does it. Let the pitcher despise him, as long as he retires the side.
Pirate pitchers do not despise Hoak, nor do any of the other players, for that matter. Most of them have been cursed, insulted or challenged by Hoak, and perhaps they have hated him briefly, but they realize they have been better players and a better team because of it. "He carried us last year," says one Pirate. "He kept us alive. We couldn't have won the pennant without him."
Off the field, dressed in a navy-blue jacket with gold buttons, Hoak looks like a young businessman on a suburban weekend. His hair is light and crew-cut, and his eyes are a cool green. He has a wide mouth, perfect for grinning or, if necessary, sneering. The only clue to his roughneck personality is a dent on his nose about halfway down, the result of multiple breaks.
Hoak contributed much more than his fiery spirit to the Pittsburgh cause last year. He hit .282, fielded magnificently at third and was almost invariably involved in the Pirates' late-inning rallies. This season the Pirates have been struggling to regain the 1960 magic, but Hoak has been better than ever. His .340 batting average leads the league and confirms his right to blast his teammates whenever he feels they are dragging.
Hoak doesn't needle all of the Pirates. Men like Vernon Law, Elroy Face, Bob Skinner and Bill Virdon are quiet, determined competitors who are always bearing down. Dick Groat, the team captain, needs no prodding either. On the contrary, Groat is so intense that Hoak often tries to make him relax.
Pitchers, apart from Law and Face, are his prime concern. "It seems like I'm always saying, 'Hoak comes over to the mound,' " says Bob Prince, the Pirate TV and radio announcer. "Some of the wives of the other players have complained to me about the number of times I mention Hoak. It's just that he's always doing something, and I have to report it."
Smoky Burgess and Dick Stuart also receive a lot of the Hoak treatment. "Smoky is a great hitter," says Hoak, "but he doesn't always bear down. Once in a while I have to tell him not to let this rinky-dink pitcher get him out." With Stuart, the big, good-natured first baseman, Hoak is merciless. "He really says some awful things to Stuart," says a teammate. Earlier this season Stuart was discovered writing a letter in the dressing room during a game. To Hoak this approaches treason. "I don't see how a guy..." he starts to say, and his voice trails off as he shakes his head in wonder.
Hoak may be rough on his teammates, but he is quick to defend them against outside attack. Early this season Roberto Clemente was knocked down by a Chicago pitcher. On the next pitch Clemente swung viciously and missed. It was an obvious warning to the pitcher against any more close throws. The Cub catcher, a rookie named Dick Bertell, told Clemente he'd better not swing like that again. Clemente said a few words back and was quickly surrounded by Cub players and coaches. Hoak led the Pittsburgh charge. "He was out there all by himself," says Hoak. "Somebody had to go out there and help him out. It all quieted down pretty quick. The next time I came to bat Bertell apologized. I told him to forget it."
When Hoak was with Cincinnati four years ago he "helped out" a teammate in a brawl with Brooklyn and got slugged in the eye from the side by the Dodgers' Charlie Neal. Before Hoak could fight back he was pulled away. After the game Hoak made such bold threats against Neal that League President Warren Giles issued a formal warning. "Hoak hasn't forgotten," says one Pirate. "He's still out for Neal, and he'll get him too."
Hoak has a fanatical desire to play every inning of every game. Recently Manager Danny Murtaugh put Johnny Logan in to replace Hoak late in a game. "Just remember, this is my position," Hoak growled as Logan took over. "I play 154." "We were winning 9-1," says Logan, "a real laugher. And Hoak's yelling, 'More runs, more runs!' "