I was there for maybe an hour, most of which was pleasant and relaxed. I did the talking, telling Gil how much I wanted to help pull the club out of its misery, and he seemed to be sympathetic and grateful.
Then I said, "Isn't there something I could do to help snap us out of this slump? We're too good a ball club to be lousing things up so badly. Maybe I should start a fight. A good free-for-all might get us all pulling together."
Now, some managers would have jumped at the idea. Others might not go for it, but I'm sure they would say something like, "No, don't start a fight, but thanks for the offer. It shows how much you're willing to do to help."
But Hodges reacted in a way of his own. Without a word of appreciation, talking like a school principal to a recalcitrant kid, he said, "I don't want you to start a fight. This shows me something about the kind of person you are."
Suddenly, the room felt as if an icy blast had just gone through it. The whole atmosphere changed so fast that I got up, thanked Hodges for listening, apologized for bothering him and left. And from that night on, he never spoke another civil word to me.
The next spring—1967—when I reported to the Senators at Pompano Beach, Fla., we had three first basemen, Dick Nen, Bob Chance and me. Neither Nen nor Chance could hit or field with me, and Hodges knew it. But he didn't let me play until about two weeks before spring training ended. I hit like crazy then and by the time we reached Washington I was the first baseman.
One thing I wanted to do more than anything else was to play Opening Day because the President and a sellout crowd always go to opening games in Washington. This would be my first, and I talked so much about what a thrill it would be that Hodges must have known how I felt. There wasn't a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I'd start. Although Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees' starting pitcher, was one of the best righthanders in the league, I had always hit him well, as Hodges well knew. I was just about to take batting practice with the other regulars when Hodges posted the lineup. I glanced at it, then stared, hardly able to believe my eyes.
Dick Nen was playing first base.
As I turned away and shoved my bat into the bat rack, Nen himself, a wonderful guy, very shy, very decent, came over and said, "Hawk, this is not right. I'm sorry I can't do anything."
"That's all right, Richard," I said.