"They call me a lot of things," Keane explains fondly. " Zoilo Versalles calls me 'Jack the Reeper.' He keeps this jar of honey and I steal it before the game. Rocky Colavito says I write with a sword. I like that. I want them to fight me. I don't kid anyone who can't take it or doesn't want it. And it's no fun if they just take it. I guess what I really want is to come out even."
At 54, Keane believes that he is mellowing, but few people he writes about would agree, even after they get the hatchet out of their backs. As a reporter, Keane remains a model of brutal objectivity—or objective brutality. When President Eisenhower visited Newport to play golf, the Globe dispatched Keane, a golf nut himself, to cover the action. Keane wired back a story that began by reporting that the President cheated on the fairways and in the rough. That was the last President the Globe has let Keane cover.
Miraculously, however, he has never been hit in anger so far. Everybody, Keane particularly, emphasizes the "so far." He does, though, suffer minor abuses from every team he torments. Hank Bauer prefers a headlock. Jimmy Piersall punches Keane in the thigh. Clyde Lovellette, the basketball player who now fancies himself a lawman, used to steal Keane's typewriter. Billy Southworth invited Keane out to a clam dinner, then overturned the whole table on him.
Still, only Ted Williams has ever drawn blood—though even Keane thinks that Williams did not intend to wound him. Williams threw a baseball at Keane's legs. The ball hit a pebble, bounced high and cracked Poison Pen on the side of the head, breaking his glasses. Williams rushed up and offered to buy him two new pair, but Keane declined. "I'll get you, but I'll get you between the eyes," he told Williams.
Despite his battles with the Red Sox (and the Celtics, in season), Keane has only once been thrown out of a clubhouse—and that was the Baltimore Orioles'. In 1962, when Billy Hitchcock was manager, the Orioles had just come to Boston from Detroit, where they had accused Tiger Pitcher Jim Bunning of cutting up baseballs with his belt buckle. It was hot news, and Keane sidled over to the batting cage and started kidding the Orioles about it. "I don't just needle for fun, you know," he says. "Players tell you things when they know you and you're kidding around with them."
This time a couple of Keane's Oriole buddies immediately let on to him that the really funny thing was that their pitcher, Fat Jack Fisher, had also been cutting up the balls with his belt buckle. Keane wrote a story disclosing this, without identifying his sources (he still won't), and when Hitchcock awoke the next morning to find his team's darkest secrets spread all over The Boston Globe, he exploded. After various confrontations with Keane that afternoon, he finally sputtered, threw up his left arm, and with all the authority vested in him, pointed to the clubhouse door and cried: "Clif Keane, get out!" Embarrassed but proud, Keane strode out, to the giggles of the whole Baltimore team.
But, uh-oh, here comes Clif Keane now, into the Cleveland clubhouse. "We'll have some fun," he says, rubbing his hands together and peering over his bifocals for new targets. There are a lot of lines around Keane's eyes, but they are not like the crow's-feet on most people's, for they only appear when he laughs—or in the mere anticipation of hanging it on someone. This is what happens now, as soon as Clif sees Early Wynn, the pitching coach.
"Hey, you big dumb Indian," Keane calls warmly, "when're you going back to the reservation? You're so fat you couldn't get in the teepee anyway."
"You talk," Wynn says, thumbing at the game ball.
"When'll McDowell be really ready?"