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Here comes Clif Keane now, over to the visitors' dugout. "We'll have some fun," Clif says, playing with his tie. Keane's ties always hang right down to the very equator of his ample belly, which, during the basketball season, he refers to affectionately as "the game ball." Keane peers around for some ballplayers to needle. Nobody is safe from him. "Hey, you big oaf," he yells to the player with the crew cut. "Are you ever going to stop jaking and start hustling? What an overrated bum you are. One lousy season you hit the cheap home runs in the easy ball parks off the 10� expansion pitchers. Big deal." Strangers in the dugout shudder in the twilight sun and cough self-consciously at their shoes. The ballplayer with the crew cut is Roger Maris. "Hello, Clif, you old bum," Maris says, smiling benignly.
" Ralph Houk," Keane screams at the Yankee manager. "The toughest Ranger of them all! Swallows live bullets and spits them right out. Beats up guys on Pullman cars. Picks 'em right up by the hair. I'm glad I don't have any," he adds more quietly, massaging his fuzz. Houk sprays some tobacco juice. " Houk is the only manager you need a couple of oars to get to see," Keane explains. "The Vulgar Boatman. Oh, well, if you guys get any lower in the league you can always try Henley."
"Don't take that from him," Elston Howard calls, approaching the dugout, bat in hand.
"Put the bat down, Howard," Keane says. "With your average, you look silly holding a bat." Howard curses him, good-naturedly. "The way you guys are hitting, I couldn't get hurt around here." Howard feigns bashing him. "And you're too old to hurt anyone, Howard. You're starting to look like King Tut."
Down at the other end of the dugout. Maris finishes an interview, and the announcer gives him a clock radio as a gift. "Does it work?" Keane screams at him.
"Clif," Maris replies, "everything I have works."
"Except your bat," Keane says. The Yankees, beaten, go out for batting practice.
Clif Keane is available for such bantering, because he is, by profession, a sportswriter for The Boston Globe. The players refer to him as "Poison Pen," a name immortalized on a bumpy flight that the Boston Braves made around 1950. First Baseman Earl Torgeson started to imitate a news broadcast, reporting that the Braves' plane had crashed. The players did not appreciate this grisly performance until Torgeson came on with the punch line. "The first person identified at the crash site," he announced, "was Clif Keane of The Boston Globe. Keane was immediately recognized by the poison pen clutched firmly in his hand."
However, if Keane fails to show up at the park to bug them, visiting teams feel slighted and will inquire about his absence. "You really look forward to going out that runway at Fenway," Minnesota Manager Sam Mele says, "because you know Clif'll be there. Ribbing is a delight with him."
"Clif only needles you if he likes you," White Sox Manager Eddie Stanky adds. "Figure that out." There are many sides to affection.