The sun was pouring down on the 16th fairway of the Miami Springs golf course, and one had to wonder why Ken Harrelson was reaching into his golf bag for an umbrella. Playing the James Bond part, he unscrewed a cap at the bottom of the umbrella handle and extracted a small cylindrical tube that contained an 86-proof elixir.
"Man, I'm draggin'," Harrelson said, offering an excuse before taking a taste, "but this should get me goin' again." It did. He took a five-iron from the same bag and hit a shot to within three feet of the hole. He made the putt for a birdie 3, then birdied the 18th hole and went on to win the National Baseball Players' Golf Tournament for the second straight year—this time by 17 strokes with a record 72-hole score of 290.
The victory should not have surprised anyone, because Harrelson boldly announced he would win the tournament the minute he arrived at the course for the first day's play. "Yep, I know I finished fifth last week in that players' tourney in Las Vegas, but I played like the village idiot out there," he said. "But this is Miami, baby, and no one's going to beat me down here, 'cause I'm going to concentrate on nothing but golf."
Since his teen-age days in Savannah, Harrelson, who plays first base for the Kansas City Athletics, has been telling people that he can beat them at the game of their choice, whether it be pool, golf, bowling, baseball, basketball, football, gin rummy, arm rasslin' or just about anything else. "Now, don't get me wrong," he says, "I'm no Cassius Clay who goes around bragging, 'I am the greatest' and all that stuff. But if someone says they're good at something, then I'll say I'm better than they are and challenge them right on the spot.
"Oh, I've lost at things a couple of times, sure. Curt Merz, he's a big 270-pounder who plays on the line for the Kansas City Chiefs, got me down once in arm rasslin', and Rocky Colavito once threw a baseball farther than me. But I never admit defeat. There's always tomorrow and another chance to win."
Despite all this, Harrelson does not qualify as a "flake," which in baseball's lexicon means someone who is a bit daffy. "Kenny just has this great confidence that he can beat everyone," says Albie Pearson of the Angels. "There's nothing flaky about that, is there?"
"No, I'm not a flake," says Harrelson, "but I guess I've got a little—well, really quite a bit—of hot dog in me. When I feel like doing something I do it. I think the fans like that. Being a hot dog hasn't worked against me, even though I've said and done a lot of bad things at the wrong time. Hell, who's perfect?
"In fact, I guess I've been in real trouble only once. That was down in Caracas, Venezuela, when I was playing winter ball. Billy Bryan, who catches for the A's now, was with me one night in a bar and these natives in the place were being real sarcastic about the States. One guy came at me with a broken bottle. Bryan smashed him over the head with a chair, but a couple of his buddies had guns and they stuck them in our stomachs.
"The cops came and took us down to the station house in a taxi. As I'm getting out of the cab, one of the cops says to me, 'Pay the taxi, kid, will you?' That was the damnedest. You had to pay your own way to jail."
Harrelson, who is only 24, has the hot-dog look. He wears his hair almost Beatle length to compensate, he claims, for a hawked nose and probably the biggest ears in baseball. "And like that guy Samson, I get my strength from my hair," he says. He wears blazers with a KSH—for Kenneth Smith Harrelson—monogram, and his baseball pants usually reach to his ankles. Naturally, he has his own portable pool cue, which proves very handy on rainy days on the road, and his golf bag carries the inscription THE HAWK, KANSAS CITY.