Tebbetts reluctantly traded Hoak, along with Harvey Haddix and Smoky Burgess, to Pittsburgh for Frank Thomas in 1959. It was, of course, a fine trade for the Pirates since all three players contributed to last year's success, capped by the scrappy victory over the Yankees in the World Series. Hoak, jabbing in the needle, still refers to the Yankees as a "second-rate" team.
This season the Pirates have hardly been first-rate themselves. Missing is the ninth-inning rally that converted so many of last year's apparent defeats into victories. "I think they got fat heads," says a Pittsburgh cab driver. "They all have radio shows and commercials." Attendance is off at Forbes Field, and some of the players have noticed more boos than a year ago.
The Pirates, quite naturally, deny they have gone soft. "If anything," says Hoak, "we are trying too hard to repeat. Besides, we're not in a bad position. I hate to knock another club, but I think Cincinnati will fold. We'll be up there. There's nothing wrong with us that a good Vernon Law won't cure." This seems true enough. The Pirates, after 60 games this season, had lost six more games than they had last year. Law was 11-2 after 60 games last year. This year he was 3-4. If Whitey Ford had the same record, the Yankees would be in the same trouble. Law has been having pain in his right shoulder, but no one has been able to diagnose the cause. Returning to Pittsburgh on a bus the other night, Danny Murtaugh said to him: "Deacon, if I thought it would do you any good, I'd take you out and get you drunk."
If Hoak thought it would do any good, he'd go along and pick up the tab. He is a noted check grabber. He is also an inveterate gambler. Dick Stuart, the unofficial major league Indian wrestling champion, has whipped Hoak in under three seconds, yet Hoak is willing to bet a sizable sum that he would not lose a rematch. "He wouldn't lose, either," says his friend Prince. "He might have to rabbit-punch Stuart, but he wouldn't lose. Hoak will never believe anyone can beat him at anything. If you do beat him, he just says, 'O.K., now you only have to do it twice more to prove you're better.' That's the way he is."
Even Hoak's closest friends have found him a difficult person to understand. His personality can change with the wind. He can visit a children's hospital, be warm, gentle and encouraging, then go out on the sidewalk and unleash a torrent of foul talk that would drive a sailor to cover. "The other night," says Prince, "I had to drag him away from some guy he wanted to fight. A minute later he was crying his heart out."
Recently, Hoak spent an evening in the home of Jim Woods, another Pirate announcer. Hoak was growling about something when Gwen Woods spoke up. "You may act mean and tough, Don Hoak," she said, "but I think you have a soft heart." Hoak flushed and glared at her. "Go to hell," he said. Then he hurried over to the corner of the room to mix himself another drink.